A high school student giving a graduation speech in the US state of Kentucky offered a lesson in politics over the weekend with a well-timed bait-and-switch.
Ben Bowling, valedictorian of his class at Bell County High School in Pineville – a tiny outpost in Kentucky’s coal country – mentioned an inspirational quote during graduation ceremonies Saturday.
“‘Don’t just get involved. Fight for your seat at the table. Better yet, fight for a seat at the head of the table’ — Donald J. Trump,” Bowling declared.
Just as the audience began to loudly cheer in this deeply Republican corner of America, Bowling held up his hand.
“Just kidding, just kidding, that was Barack Obama,” the 18-year-old said.
Obama, of course, was Trump’s predecessor in the White House and a Democrat.
The cheering quickly faded. There was a sprinkling of chuckles and a lone half-hearted boo.
The online clip of the fleeting moment captured the US media’s attention Monday, seen as emblematic of a political climate in which both sides think the other can do no right.
Bowling, who has granted no interviews since the weekend, except to The Courier-Journal newspaper of Louisville, said he thought the moment was lighthearted and funny.
“I just thought it was a really good quote,” he told the newspaper. “Most people wouldn’t like it if I used it, so I thought I’d use Donald Trump’s name. It is southeastern Kentucky, after all.”
During the 2016 election, Trump won in this part of Kentucky that Bowling calls home by a 62% margin over his Democratic opponent Hillary Clinton.
Among other things, the Republican promised to bring back jobs in America’s declining coal industry.
Obama delivered the quote Bowling cited during a 2012 commencement speech at Barnard College in New York.
“You are now poised to make this the century where women shape not only their own destiny but the destiny of this nation and of this world,” Obama told graduates at the women’s college.
“My first piece of advice is this: don’t just get involved. Fight for your seat at the table. Better yet, fight for a seat at the head of the table.”