Watch the potentially huge moment Obama publicly humiliated Donald Trump in 2011

Donald Trump at the 2011 White House Correspondents Association gala
(Image credit: Joshua Roberts/Bloomberg via Getty Images)

In April 2011, on the Saturday night that U.S. Special Forces were about to kill Osama bin Laden in a daring raid ordered by President Obama, the president was telling jokes at the White House Correspondents' Association dinner. It was near the end of peak "birther" fever, right after the State of Hawaii released Obama's long-form birth certificate, as demanded by one Donald Trump, who was then exploring a presidential bid himself. Obama roasted him, among many others:

In that video, it appears that Trump is more or less rolling with the punchlines. But New Yorker staff writer Adam Gopnik, who was at the dinner, remembers Trump's reaction as more like this:

Iframe Code

Subscribe to The Week

Escape your echo chamber. Get the facts behind the news, plus analysis from multiple perspectives.


Sign up for The Week's Free Newsletters

From our morning news briefing to a weekly Good News Newsletter, get the best of The Week delivered directly to your inbox.

From our morning news briefing to a weekly Good News Newsletter, get the best of The Week delivered directly to your inbox.

Sign up

View image |

It wasn't so remarkable that Obama "took apart Donald Trump, plastic piece by orange part, and then refused to put him back together again," Gopnik said — that's sort of how Washington's "nerd prom" works. "What was really memorable about the event," he recalled, "was Trump's response":

Seated a few tables away from us magazine scribes, Trump's humiliation was as absolute, and as visible, as any I have ever seen: his head set in place, like a man in a pillory, he barely moved or altered his expression as wave after wave of laughter struck him. There was not a trace of feigning good humor about him, not an ounce of the normal politician's, or American regular guy's "Hey, good one on me!" attitude — that thick-skinned cheerfulness that almost all American public people learn, however painfully, to cultivate. No head bobbing or hand-clapping or chin-shaking or sheepish grinning — he sat perfectly still, chin tight, in locked, unmovable rage. If he had not just embarked on so ugly an exercise in pure racism, one might almost have felt sorry for him. [The New Yorker]

Gopnik goes on to imagine a future "micro-history of that night" that either revolves around "the double life of Barack Obama as cool comedian and quiet commander" or, if Trump is elected, the moment "Trump's ambitions suddenly turned over to the potent politics of shame and vengeance," leading to the unleashing of his particular brand of ugly "populist nationalism" on the American body politic. Well, it's a thought. You can read the rest at The New Yorker.

Continue reading for free

We hope you're enjoying The Week's refreshingly open-minded journalism.

Subscribed to The Week? Register your account with the same email as your subscription.