“We need to worry,” Obama said, “when one of our major political parties is ready to adopt a way of thinking about our democracy that would have been recognizable and unacceptable five years ago or even a decade ago. “
The most obvious example of this, Obama said, was the January 6 uprising and how now “large sections of an elected Congress are going with the lie that there were problems with the election.” The rebellion in the US Capitol by Trump supporters happened on the same day that 147 Republican lawmakers voted not to attest to Joe Biden’s election victory in key states. The lie that the 2020 presidential election was stolen has been propelled by former President Donald Trump himself, who has since rejoiced over a baseless Republican audit of the elections.
When asked about Cooper briefly going against Trump after Republican leaders revolted, Obama said, “And then poof, suddenly everyone is back in line.”
“Now the reason Aadhaar believed it and Aadhaar believed it is because it was told to them not only by the president, but also by the media,” Obama said. He later said: “My hope is that the tide will turn. But this requires each of us to understand that this experiment in a democracy is not self-perpetuated. It does not happen automatically.”
‘We occupy different worlds’
Obama, in his memoir, detailed how his historic election in 2008 sparked a wave of bitter and divisive upheaval that fueled Republican inhibitions and eventually turned the party into its current iteration. Trump, Obama argues in the book, sums it up, because “millions of Americans were intimidated by a black man in the White House he promised an elixir for their racial anxiety.”
But Obama also looked beyond Trump in the memoir, noting that the real rise of this brand of Republicanism began when Obama’s 2008 rival, Arizona Sen. John McCain, tapped then-Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin as his running mate. did. “Through Palin,” Obama argued in the book, “it seemed that the dark souls that had long lurked at the edges of the modern Republican Party … were finding their way to center stage.”
Obama commended some Republicans in his interview with CNN for his defense of the presidential election, notably Georgia Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger, whom the former president called “too brave” despite being “viciously attacked for it”. . Raffensperger became a target of Republican anger after defending the election results in Georgia that gave the state to Biden. Trump has backed Raffensperger’s primary challenger, Rep. Jody Haise.
But some of the former president’s most investigative remarks came when asked about the root causes of deep divisions in the country, which Obama attributed partly to questions about sources of information and race.
“We live in different worlds. And it becomes even more difficult for us to hear each other, see each other,” Obama said, attributing the former president to the nationalization of both the media and politics.
“We have more economic stratification and segregation. You combine it with racial stratification and media silence, so you don’t just have Walter Cronkite, you have 1,000 different places,” Obama said. “All that has contributed to the sense that we have nothing in common.”
Obama said the solutions are face-to-face meetings where people are listening to each other’s struggles and stories.
“The question now becomes how do we create places that are meeting places for people to do so,” he said. “Because right now, we don’t have those and we’re seeing the results of that.”
Race and division in 2021
At the heart of some of these divisions, Obama argued, is race—a line that defined Obama’s rise in politics and his election as the first black president.
The former president said during the interview that it is “hard for the vast majority of white Americans to recognize that you can be proud of this country and its traditions and its history and our ancestors and yet, it is also true that this Terrible stuff happened.”
“The remnants of that linger and continue,” Obama said. “And the truth is, when I tried to tell that story, many times my political opponents deliberately not only blocked that story but tried to exploit it for their own political gains.”
As he does in the memoir, Obama points to his decision to criticize the 2009 arrest of Harvard professor Henry Louis Gates, who was detained while trying to break into his own home in Cambridge, Massachusetts. Obama’s remarks on the arrest – “Cambridge police did a foolish thing in arresting someone when there was already evidence they were in their home,” he said in 2009 – set off a firearm and, according to the former president Vote with your tank white voters.
“And it gives a sense of the extent to which these things are still there… They’re deep in us. And, you know, sometimes fainting,” Obama said in the interview. “I also think there are some right-wing media venues, for example, that monetize and capitalize on the fear and outrage of a white population that is seeing change in America.”
While Obama joked during the interview that he’s “a little too gray-haired” to return to community events, his daughters – Sasha and Malia – participated in the 2020 Black Lives Matter protests following the killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis. attended, making his father “my great source of optimism”.
“My daughters are a lot smarter and more sophisticated and talented than they are my age,” Obama laughed during the interview. “When people talk about … how I think about my legacy, you know, part of it is the kids who grew up during the eight years I was president. There’s a bunch of basic assumptions What they make of what the country can be and should be is what I think is still clinging to. They still believe in it. And they are willing to work for it.”
‘The line between success or failure’
Obama’s interview with CNN focused largely on his involvement in the so-called BAM – or Being a Man – circle.
The program, aimed at mentoring and supporting boys and youth, began in Chicago in 2001, but Obama first joined a congregation in 2013 and has been a part of the program ever since. The program was an important reference when Obama launched My Brother Keeper in 2014, as he worked to reverse trends that saw young men of color being more likely to drop out of school, have trouble with the law, or be unemployed. was.
During the interview, Obama also reflected on his somewhat unlikely path to the presidency, arguing that his struggles early in life were “similar” to those of the young people he mentored in Chicago.
Obama wrote in his memoir that he was a “constant, devoted party” growing up, and that as he went to school, he and his friends “did more than just sports, girls, music, and loads of plans.” not discussed”. Obama has come out about not focusing on his future at a young age, telling students at an event in 2014 that he often made “poor choices” as he grew up.
He told Cooper in a CNN interview, “I have to be careful not to exaggerate. I wasn’t, you know, going around, banging kids and setting things on fire.” “But I understood what it meant to not have a father at home. I understood what it meant to live in an environment in which you were an outsider.”
He continued, “Violence and drugs and some of the issues that people were dealing with on a day to day basis were different. But the mistakes I made, the struggles I went through were the same.”
Through the program, which is said to work with 8,000 youth in 140 schools each year, the former president meets for group interactions with youth in Chicago. During that time, Obama tries to explain that even though he became President of the United States, he struggled with many of the things these young people deal with on a daily basis.
“The most important thing for me to communicate was the first time I sat with these people, and I was President of the United States, in many ways, (you) are ahead of me where I was your age,” Obama he said. “I had some advantages that you guys don’t. I can make a mistake and get off on my feet.”
The advice is both comprehensive and practical. During the meeting, one participant noted how he had never learned to tie a tie or the difference between a fork at dinner.
In response, Obama joked, “I didn’t learn that until I got to the White House.”
Obama wrote in his memoirs that by college—first at Occidental College in California and later at Columbia University in New York—that he began to develop an academic curiosity. He notes that for three years while living in New York, he “lived like a monk—reading, writing, filling out magazines, rarely bothering with college parties or even eating hot meals.”
In the memoir, he wrote that he was lost in his own head about success and failure, something that has become a central question in his work with students in Becoming a Man.
“These kids are just as talented. They’re just as smart. That’s what they can achieve,” Obama said in an interview with Cooper. “One of the most important things I learned… Often in this society the line between success or failure is not determined by one’s inherent qualities.”
He continued, “It is related to the circumstances in which they are. This does not mean that they do not have an individual responsibility. … But it also means that as a society we continue to fail them. “
This story has been updated with additional details from the interview.