Whenever we get to hear Barack Obama share his thoughts, it’s a reminder of what we had. In his first couple years post presidency, his comments on Donald Trump have been almost too diplomatic. We don’t want drama, but everyone is curious about how he really feels. Because there’s no way he doesn’t have strong feelings about what’s been happening the last four years. Now that Trump’s on his way out, Obama has become less diplomatic in his feelings. During an interview with NPR for his new book A Promised Land, he got honest about where we are as a country, the election, Trump, COVID and more.
If you ask some people, the Trump administration is a direct result of the Obama administration. And there may be a little truth to that. There was a whole group of white people who refused to accept Obama as president. Their racism hung over those eight years. And unsurprisingly, many of those who lashed out against Obama now unabashedly support Trump.
But even at its worst, the country was never as bad back then as it is now. “I think back even to my own first presidential election in 2008, the country didn’t feel this divided, what some people have called the great sort in which you have a combination of a political, cultural, ideological, in some cases, religious and geographical divide that seems to be deeper than just differences in policy. A lot of that I think has to do with changes in how people get information,” Obama commented.
Here are some other topics Obama weighed in on during his interview:
“If you watch Fox News, you perceive a different reality than if you read The New York Times,” he points in the interview. “But now partly because of social media and sort of the echo chamber, a lot of the people who voted for Donald Trump do not believe that in fact COVID was mishandled, contrary to the facts that now you or I might assert, those aren’t the facts that they accept,” he says.
Media now tends to skew in either direction. Many newspapers like the Times or The Washington Post tend to report using things like science and logic. Fox News tends to play to their base. Which means they’re going to tell them what they want to hear. Denying science, praying on their fear and vilifying the “left” is their end game. Which isn’t helpful when you’re fighting a global health crisis.
Sore Losers Never Win
Trump’s refusal to concede is also something Obama has feelings about. He makes it clear that regardless of beliefs or party, it’s the duty of the outgoing president to make a smooth transition: “I take it seriously. I don’t think he’ll be successful in denying reality. And you’re starting to see a few Republican elected officials go ahead and say, ‘Look, Joe Biden has been elected and we need to move on in the transition.’ I’m distressed that you haven’t seen more Republican leadership make this clear because the amount of time that’s being lost of in this transition process has real-world effects.”
You know Obama didn’t want to hand over the fate of the country to Trump. But because it was his job, he did it. Trump doesn’t get to decide he’s not going to concede. But this is how Trump works, he pretends the rules don’t apply to him. We already know he doesn’t care about the American people. Not making this transition easy is his final “fuck you” to everyone.
The COVID Disaster
Obama acknowledges Trump’s complete mishandling of COVID and the absolute mess that Joe Biden is inheriting, and makes it clear that people are only acting the way they are because of a lack of real leadership. “It’s been tough for the American people because they haven’t been getting one clear set of guidelines and information, and all of us, no matter how well-informed or conscientious we’ve been, have at times been confused with a bunch of conflicting notions of how we should be dealing with this,” he points out.
And it’s true. How can we expect people to adhere to rules if there is no incentive to? There are mask mandates, but no one is enforcing them. And the federal government is allowing each state to make their own rules. So of course people are going to do whatever they want.
Bipartisan Or Bust?
Some people believe that for Biden to make any real change, he’s going to have to play dirty with the Republicans. Others believe that the only way forward is to play nice. If Mitch McConnell remains Senate Majority Leader, he will make it hell for Biden to accomplish anything. He did it to Obama, and we know he’ll do it again. “I think it is a fair critique to say that if you are seeing constant obstruction just for the sake of obstruction, where there doesn’t seem a desire to cooperate even on issues or policies that Republicans previously themselves promoted as happened during my presidency,” Obama says.
He goes on to add that the problem isn’t solely that these men are purposely obstructing progress. The real root of the problem is lack of accountability. Mitch McConnell won his seat again in this election. Even though he’s denying the American public access to things like another stimulus. Time and time again, he makes it clear he doesn’t give a shit about the American people. And yet, they keep voting for him. Notes Obama, “Mitch McConnell, John Boehner, discovered that they could block everything, throw sand in the gears, and then were rewarded in the midterms. And so their attitude was ‘Well, we’re just gonna keep on doing this’ and they did it throughout my presidency.”
Obama is well aware of people’s overwhelming admiration for him. He’s so appreciative of the way people attach to him. But he points out that president is still a job holding weight. So the president can be a variety of things to the citizens of his country. But he also needs to understand the magnitude of his job. When you’re the leader of the free world, you have to be more than just the showman. Obama was great at that; the balance between being the face of the operation and doing his damn job.
“I think the big difference between a Ronald Reagan and Donald Trump is at least Reagan presided over an era where he still understood it was important to have people around him who knew what they were doing and were paying attention to running the government. What you saw over the last four years with Donald Trump, I think is just celebrity for celebrity’s sake and all the pomp and all the sizzle and not much of the steak,” he says.
It’s always a pleasure to hear anything Barack Obama has to say. Because he’s a reminder of what a coherent president sounds like. And because he always knows how to be diplomatic, but brutally honest. Now that he’s got enough distance from his presidency, it’s nice to see his candor a little bit more. And let’s face it, we love hearing him shade that POS Trump. We’re only human.