Obama shows Trump how to be presidential

Polls close in Kenya's presidential election
Polls close in Kenya's presidential election

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Polls close in Kenya's presidential election 01:47

Story highlights

  • Jill Filipovic: Kenya holding tense elections; Obama has weighed in to urge credible, peaceful polling. Trump has said nothing
  • She says this shows the difference between commanding, respected presidential authority, and the easily-dismissed petulance of the current leader

Jill Filipovic is a journalist based in New York and Nairobi, Kenya, and the author of the book "The H-Spot: The Feminist Pursuit of Happiness." Follow her on Twitter. The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of the author.

(CNN)A decade after vicious election-related violence in Kenya left more than 1,000 dead and the country in shock, Kenyans were voting Tuesday in a hotly contested presidential election. Trust -- in politicians, in the integrity of the political system -- remains low. Fear -- that the vote will be compromised, that unscrupulous leaders will inflame the public -- runs high.

Enter a true global leader: Barack Obama.
Jill Filipovic
Obama, whose father was from Kenya and who remains a beloved adoptive native son, spoke out about the elections, imploring leaders and law enforcement to behave responsibly.
    "I urge all Kenyans to work for an election -- and aftermath -- that is peaceful and credible, reinforcing confidence in your new Constitution and the future of your country," he said in a statement. "Any disputes around the election should be resolved peacefully, through Kenya's institutions and the rule of law."
    President Donald Trump has had nothing to say about the election. He's spent this week on vacation, tweeting about a senator who criticized him and complaining, yet again, about the "fake news" of every reputable news source in the country.
    His presidency has become an international embarrassment, partly because of the cloud of Russian collusion, but largely because of Trump himself and the choices he makes: the trigger-finger tweeting that makes him seem more pubescent than presidential, the colossal ego he puts before the good of the country, the rambling and incoherent verbiage that makes some suspect something's not quite right.
    Kenya's 'James Bond' election
    Kenya's 'James Bond' election

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      Kenya's 'James Bond' election

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    Kenya's 'James Bond' election 01:30
    Obama has been largely silent during this calamity of a presidency. His absence from the public eye has allowed too many of us to forget what it means to be a true statesman. His message to the Kenyan government and its citizens to respect the election results and avoid violence, is a timely and necessary reminder: a public servant's role is to serve the public. It is to motivate and inspire, not to rage and whine.
    It's a sad and telling state of affairs when a former president has more influence on an important American ally than a sitting one. It's not just that Trump hasn't said anything about the Kenyan elections, it's that any statement he made would likely be met with a collective shrug. He's not just widely reviled and disliked here -- he's mocked.
    Obama remains respected at home and abroad, his name met with smiles and nods from many Kenyans and Americans alike. Say the name "Trump" and you'll get snickering and eye rolls.
    Leadership is about policy, but it's also about professionalism, competence and character. Whether you agree with Obama's politics or not, it's hard to deny that he commands a room, that his statements about global affairs, even months after his presidency ended, command attention and respect. We may disagree over his strategy and his decisions, but it's clear that Obama took his service to the country seriously, and that he continues to be thoughtful about how best to occupy his new role.

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    Trump, on the other hand, seems to serve nothing but his own interests and those of his immediate family. His best-known comments about Kenya involved false claims that Obama was born there (and ineligible to be president -- an early preview of what has been a long series of Trump lies).
    While Trump wastes his time and ours on social media, Obama uses his position for diplomacy and human rights, turning the eyes of the world toward Kenya, whose people want peaceful and fair elections. Obama's statement helps them move toward their wish, by letting the Kenyan power players, the army and law enforcement know that more of the world is watching. This is what it means to be presidential, not petulant.
    We never knew how good we had it.