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Obama to New Yorker: "Nothing is the end of the world until the end of the world"

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giga

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Oct 28, 2006
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Really amazing interview with David Remnick, who was with Obama both before and after the election and captured what he was thinking and feeling.


http://www.newyorker.com/magazine/2016/11/28/obama-reckons-with-a-trump-presidency

Some highlights:

Addressing his staff the morning after:

The morning after Donald Trump was elected President of the United States, Barack Obama summoned staff members to the Oval Office. Some were fairly junior and had never been in the room before. They were sombre, hollowed out, some fighting tears, humiliated by the defeat, fearful of autocracy’s moving vans pulling up to the door. Although Obama and his people admit that the election results caught them completely by surprise—“We had no plan for this,” one told me—the President sought to be reassuring.

“This is not the apocalypse,” Obama said. History does not move in straight lines; sometimes it goes sideways, sometimes it goes backward. A couple of days later, when I asked the President about that consolation, he offered this: “I don’t believe in apocalyptic—until the apocalypse comes. I think nothing is the end of the world until the end of the world.

On the post-truth society:

The new media ecosystem “means everything is true and nothing is true,” Obama told me later. “An explanation of climate change from a Nobel Prize-winning physicist looks exactly the same on your Facebook page as the denial of climate change by somebody on the Koch brothers’ payroll. And the capacity to disseminate misinformation, wild conspiracy theories, to paint the opposition in wildly negative light without any rebuttal—that has accelerated in ways that much more sharply polarize the electorate and make it very difficult to have a common conversation.”

That marked a decisive change from previous political eras, he maintained. “Ideally, in a democracy, everybody would agree that climate change is the consequence of man-made behavior, because that’s what ninety-nine per cent of scientists tell us,” he said. “And then we would have a debate about how to fix it. That’s how, in the seventies, eighties, and nineties, you had Republicans supporting the Clean Air Act and you had a market-based fix for acid rain rather than a command-and-control approach. So you’d argue about means, but there was a baseline of facts that we could all work off of. And now we just don’t have that.”

On Trump's rise:

As we rode toward the airport, Obama talked about Trump. “We’ve seen this coming,” he said. “Donald Trump is not an outlier; he is a culmination, a logical conclusion of the rhetoric and tactics of the Republican Party for the past ten, fifteen, twenty years. What surprised me was the degree to which those tactics and rhetoric completely jumped the rails. There were no governing principles, there was no one to say, ‘No, this is going too far, this isn’t what we stand for.’ But we’ve seen it for eight years, even with reasonable people like John Boehner, who, when push came to shove, wouldn’t push back against these currents.”

His awareness that this wasn't in the bag for Hillary:

Obama said he had thought that the race was going to be very close. The negatives for both candidates were remarkably high, and there was so much volatility that whichever candidate was in the news most lost ground. “And for reasons that you’re well aware of”—Obama-ese for Comey’s letter and the acid drip, by way of Russia, of WikiLeaks—“Hillary had been in the news a lot for a week going into the election. And that was going to create, given the dynamics of this race, some challenges.”

The atmosphere at the White House:

The White House was, as one staffer told me, “like a funeral home.” You could see it all around: aides walking through the lobby, hunched, hushed, vacant-eyed. In a retrospective mood, staffers said that, as Obama told me, Clinton would have been an “excellent” President, but they also voiced some dismay with her campaign: dismay that she had seemed to stump so listlessly, if at all, in the Rust Belt; dismay that the Clinton family’s undeniable taste for money could not be erased by good works; dismay that she was such a middling retail politician. There was inevitable talk about Joe Biden, who might have done better precisely where Clinton came up short: in Pennsylvania, Michigan, Wisconsin, Ohio. And there was the fury at James Comey, who had clearly stalled Clinton’s late momentum, and at the evidence that Russia had altered the course of an American election through a cyber-espionage mission that was conducted in conjunction with Julian Assange and warmly received by the Republican candidate.

When they go low, we go high:

There is no denying the depths of Obama’s humbling. He fully grasps the nature of the bigotry and the nihilism that Trump has espoused in the name of working-class empowerment. Obama’s way is to keep cool while insisting on, and embodying, a faith in institutions.

“Look, by dint of biography, by dint of experience, the basic optimism that I articulate and present publicly as President is real,” he told me. “It’s what I teach my daughters. It is how I interact with my friends and with strangers. I genuinely do not assume the worst, because I’ve seen the best so often. So it is a mistake that I think people have sometimes made to think that I’m just constantly biting my tongue and there’s this sort of roiling anger underneath the calm Hawaiian exterior. I’m not that good of an actor. I was born to a white mother, raised by a white mom and grandparents who loved me deeply. I’ve had extraordinarily close relationships with friends that have lasted decades. I was elected twice by the majority of the American people. Every day, I interact with people of good will everywhere.”

…

How did he speak with his two daughters about the election results, about the post-election reports of racial incidents? “What I say to them is that people are complicated,” Obama told me. “Societies and cultures are really complicated. . . . This is not mathematics; this is biology and chemistry. These are living organisms, and it’s messy. And your job as a citizen and as a decent human being is to constantly affirm and lift up and fight for treating people with kindness and respect and understanding. And you should anticipate that at any given moment there’s going to be flare-ups of bigotry that you may have to confront, or may be inside you and you have to vanquish. And it doesn’t stop. . . . You don’t get into a fetal position about it. You don’t start worrying about apocalypse. You say, O.K., where are the places where I can push to keep it moving forward.”

On what's at risk for his legacy:

“Now that the election is over, no, I don’t believe it,” he said with a sharp, dark laugh. “Not because I was over-hyping it. I think that the possibility of everything being out the window exists. But, as a practical matter, what I’ve been saying to people, including my own staff, is that the federal government is an aircraft carrier, it’s not a speedboat. And, if you need any evidence of that, think about how hard we worked over the last eight years with a very clear progressive agenda, with a majority in the House and in the Senate, and we accomplished as much domestically as any President since Lyndon Johnson in those first two years. But it was really hard.” Obama said that he had accomplished “seventy or seventy-five per cent” of what he set out to do, and “maybe fifteen per cent of that gets rolled back, twenty per cent, but there’s still a lot of stuff that sticks.”

He went on, “Obviously, the Affordable Care Act, I think, is most vulnerable, because that has been a unifying bogeyman for Republicans over the course of the last six years. In the minds of a lot of the Republican base, it is an example of a big government program designed to take something from them and give it to someone else who is unworthy.” But he said that, while the Republicans would have to make some attempt to deliver on that, they had to proceed with care, because the program’s twenty-odd million beneficiaries included many Trump voters, “even if they don’t make the connection.”

The prognosis for Democrats:

And Obama related the Party’s losses this year to previous setbacks—and recoveries. “Some of my staff are really young, so they don’t remember this,” Obama said. “They remember my speech from the Boston Convention, in 2004, because they uploaded it on YouTube or something, but they might have been fifteen when it happened. Well, that’s the election that John Kerry lost. George Bush was reëlected. Tom Daschle, the Democratic leader in the Senate, was defeated. The Senate went Republican. The House was Republican. Me and Ken Salazar, of Colorado, were the only two Democrats nationally who won. It was a very similar period to where we are right now. Two years later, Democrats had won back the Senate; I think they had won back the House. And four years later I was the President of the United States.

“So this notion somehow that these irreversible tides have been unleashed, I think, surrenders our agency. It’s easier than us saying, Huh, we missed that, we messed that up, we’ve got to do better in how we organize. We have to stop relying on a narrow targeting of our base turnout strategy if we want to govern. . . . Setting aside the results of this election, Democrats are well positioned to keep winning Presidential elections just by appealing to the base. And, each year, the demographic improves.”

To put it more bluntly than Obama did, the nonwhite percentage of the population will continue to increase. “But we’ll keep on getting gridlock just because of population distribution in this country,” he went on. “As long as California and Wyoming have the same number of senators, there’s going to be a problem—unless we’re able to have a broader conversation and move people who right now aren’t voting for progressive policies and candidates. . . . All of this requires vigilance in protecting gains we’ve made, but a sense, yes, of equanimity, a sense of purposeful calm and optimism, and a sense of humor—sometimes gallows humor after results like the ones we just had. That’s how ultimately the race is won.”

The realities of the economy:

Trump had triumphed in rural America by appealing to a ferment of anti-urban, anti-coastal feeling. And yet Obama dismissed the notion that the Republicans had captured the issue of inequality. “The Republicans don’t care about that issue,” he said. “There’s no pretense that anything that they’re putting forward, any congressional proposals that are going to come forward, will reduce inequality. . . . What I do concern myself with, and the Democratic Party is going to have to concern itself with, is the fact that the confluence of globalization and technology is making the gap between rich and poor, the mismatch in power between capital and labor, greater all the time. And that’s true globally.

“The prescription that some offer, which is stop trade, reduce global integration, I don’t think is going to work,” he went on. “If that’s not going to work, then we’re going to have to redesign the social compact in some fairly fundamental ways over the next twenty years. And I know how to build a bridge to that new social compact. It begins with all the things we’ve talked about in the past—early-childhood education, continuous learning, job training, a basic social safety net, expanding the earned-income tax credit, investments in infrastructure—which, by definition, aren’t shipped overseas. All of those things accelerate growth, give you more of a runway. But at some point, when the problem is not just Uber but driverless Uber, when radiologists are losing their jobs to A.I., then we’re going to have to figure out how do we maintain a cohesive society and a cohesive democracy in which productivity and wealth generation are not automatically linked to how many hours you put in, where the links between production and distribution are broken, in some sense. Because I can sit in my office, do a bunch of stuff, send it out over the Internet, and suddenly I just made a couple of million bucks, and the person who’s looking after my kid while I’m doing that has no leverage to get paid more than ten bucks an hour.”

Post-presidency plans:

“I’ll be fifty-five when I leave”—he knocked on a wooden end table—“assuming that I get a couple more decades of good health, at least, then I think both Michelle and I are interested in creating platforms that train, empower, network, boost the next generation of leadership. And I think that, whatever shape my Presidential center takes, I’m less interested in a building and campaign posters and Michelle’s dresses, although I think it’s fair to say that Michelle’s dresses will be the biggest draw by a huge margin. But what we’ll be most interested in is programming that helps the next Michelle Obama or the next Barack Obama, who right now is sitting out there and has no idea how to make their ideals live, isn’t quite sure what to do—to give them resources and ways to think about social change.”

He seemed to be returning to the days when he was a community organizer in the Atgeld Gardens housing project, on the South Side of Chicago. “The thing that I have always been convinced of,” he said, “the running thread through my career, has been this notion that when ordinary people get engaged, pay attention, learn about the forces that affect their lives and are able to join up with others, good stuff happens.”
 

Vyer

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As I read this, it strikes me that I couldn't picture Trump saying, much less writing, anything like any of these well reasoned, intelligent statements.
 

faisal233

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As I read this, it strikes me that I couldn't picture Trump saying, much less writing, anything like any of these well reasoned, intelligent statements.

Obama wasn't perfect, but going from him to Trump is painful.
 

Eidan

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May 23, 2012
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Trump is such a...remarkable regression from this man, in every conceivable way.
 

Jarmel

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Mar 3, 2010
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It's amazing how we're going from such an articulate president to one who gives speeches at an eight grade level.

That's what a good chunk of America wants though, anti-intellectualism.
 

Garlador

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As I read this, it strikes me that I couldn't picture Trump saying, much less writing, anything like any of these well reasoned, intelligent statements.
The same. He's so articulate. I tried reading this in Trump's voice and it's just not possible.
 

kingocfs

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Dec 17, 2006
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The official line at the White House was that the hour-and-a-half meeting with Trump went well and that Trump was solicitous. Later, when I asked Obama how things had really gone, he smiled thinly and said, “I think I can’t characterize it without . . . ” Then he stopped himself and said that he would tell me, “at some point over a beer—off the record.”

Fuck.
 

RoboPlato

I'd be in the dick
Oct 29, 2006
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Actually teared up reading this. I don't think there will ever be another president whose words and demeanor inspire and comfort me as much as Obama's. I'm proud that I got to see him on the 2008 campaign trail and that my first ever vote was for him.

I'm trying really hard to keep my head up in the wake of Trump and it's been hard. Reading this helped. I hope he's visible in politics even after leaving the White House.
 
Oct 11, 2007
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Exactly. So many people are content with complaining and crying about things instead of persevering through whatever hard times/situations they have. So much bitching going on. It's fine to express concerns, but it's become more about the individual instead of fixing/pushing through the problem.

You aren't dead, good lord.
 

DustyVonEric

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Jan 11, 2014
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The official line at the White House was that the hour-and-a-half meeting with Trump went well and that Trump was solicitous. Later, when I asked Obama how things had really gone, he smiled thinly and said, “I think I can’t characterize it without . . . ” Then he stopped himself and said that he would tell me, “at some point over a beer—off the record.”



Yeah, that doesn't sound too encouraging. In fact, I feel... wtf
 

Hasphat'sAnts

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Jul 16, 2008
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Like all administrations, there are many things you can criticize about Obama's time in office.

But I've always felt nothing but pride that we were represented on the world stage by such a fundamentally decent, gracious man.
 

Lowmelody

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Oct 31, 2013
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Exactly. So many people are content with complaining and crying about things instead of persevering through whatever hard times/situations they have. So much bitching going on. It's fine to express concerns, but it's become more about the individual instead of fixing/pushing through the problem.

You aren't dead, good lord.

Very limp sentiment that makes me think you haven't been paying attention to how things are developing. People can express their contempt at the same time as "persevering through whatever hard times/situations they have."
 

valkillmore

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May 17, 2006
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Nah, too much racism in it's foundation. It seeps into every damn facet of it.

Would you rank Canada higher? If so, check out our history. Much to be ashamed of. Doesn't take away the fact that every day, progress is made, as are apologies for & solutions to the mistakes of the past.
 

NimbusD

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Jan 14, 2005
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I fucking love Obama.

While I don't agree that republicans aren't trying to implement plans that are trying to cement inequality, and I'm not as optimistic as him, I think his optimism and willingness to see the good in people is as much his greatness as it is his weakness. While I'd love to see our next democratic leader as more of a fighter, I appreciate everything he's done for us and where he's gotten us. There's so few genuinely intelligent and good people in government. It sucks he got the raw end of the deal thanks to an obstructionist congress. Hopefully they get the comeuppance they deserve with a horribly ineffective majority.
 

jroc74

Phone reception is more important to me than human rights
Jun 1, 2013
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Trump is such a...remarkable regression from this man, in every conceivable way.

.

Reading the rest of the posts...yea its absolutely saddening and maddening that Trump won.

Kudos for your optimism Mr President but man...its gonna be rough with Trump in office.
 
Jun 19, 2013
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Man that was a good read.

Exactly. So many people are content with complaining and crying about things instead of persevering through whatever hard times/situations they have. So much bitching going on. It's fine to express concerns, but it's become more about the individual instead of fixing/pushing through the problem.

You aren't dead, good lord.

Exactly what

Like how can you read that and your first reaction is to shit on people
 

broncobuster

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Apr 19, 2014
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Obama is the POTUS in my mind. If in thirty years if I'm playing Pictionary and pick "President of the United States," I'm drawing Obama.
 
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