Former President Barack Obama, talks in an interview with Markus Lanz about the current political situation in America and his book “A Promised Land” by giving insights about his time as President and the life with his family in the White House.
He said he is not surprised that Donald Trump does not really acknowledge his election defeat. However, Obama said it prevented Joe Biden’s smooth entry into office.
He remembers the smooth and pleasant change of government between George W. Bush and himself, despite major political differences. “But I am very happy for Joe Biden and Kamala Harris. They are longtime friends and will do a great job,” Obama said.
Obama looks back on his time as president. After he had received so many threats like none of his predecessors, the security precautions for him and his family were particularly high, he said.
This made it all the more important for his wife, Michelle Obama, to make the children’s rooms modern and homely. The children should not live in a museum.
“The greatest psychological adjustment has to do with the security bubble in which one suddenly lives. For me it started very early, because as a presidential candidate I received more threats than candidates before me”.
After being appointed president, the shielding was perfect and everything changed. “You no longer go into the hotel through the lobby, but through a back entrance. Snipers on the roof. Normal human interaction suddenly changes. You sit in this security bubble. “I never got used to that.” He also wrote about it in his book.
Even two years after taking office, he always had the same dream: “I walk through a city and nobody knows me.” This idea of being able to move through the world anonymously has never left him. The loss of anonymity only becomes apparent when it has been lost. The privilege of being allowed to serve as president had cancelled everything, but he had never fully gotten used to it. “The anonymity doesn’t come back.”
Security measures may not be as strict today, but celebrity status would remain. “I had always thought that once I was no longer president, everything would return to normal”. He had tried it a few times when he had once been in New York and just wanted to take a walk through Central Park. Or when he was in Milan and just wanted to cross the Piazza Duomo from the hotel in the middle of the Piazza Duomo. When after a short time more than 5000 people stood in front of the hotel, he realized that “this part of my life is over”.
Family and friends had given him stability during his time as president. He and his wife Michelle had managed quite well to remain true to themselves and to convey to their children that this time would one day be over.
“I know this may sound strange, but you have to know how to go through life, that you are no better than others. He says it is a gift and he is very proud that his daughters Mailia and Sascha have become such great young women who don’t feel like something special, but are friendly and polite to everyone and don’t claim any privileges for themselves.
About the time in the Oval Office Obama said: “Bill Clinton called the White House the crown jewel in the American penal system. The White House had the advantage that everyone came to him and he did not have to visit anyone. About working in the White House, Obama said: “From the White House apartment, you walk for a minute to the Oval Office. He had been home for dinner every day. He saw his daughters much more often than before his presidency.
No president could start from scratch, every president would inherit many decisions from his predecessors, even if new things were added. Dealing with this would be very time-consuming. “For me it was the financial crisis, the Iraq war, the war in Afghanistan,” Barack Obama said in the interview. Ending the wars was very difficult, he said. It took two years to withdraw the majority of US troops in Iraq. In unstable Afghanistan, he had to increase the troops in order to prevent the government in Kabul from collapsing.
No decision was perfect, he said, and as president one learns to work with probabilities. “The chance for improvement is perhaps 55% and the chance for deterioration 45% and one does not know for sure if it will work. In any case, it rarely works as intended.”
The burden of decision making, especially in war and counter-terrorism, had been enormous. “You have a responsibility for young people who you put at risk of dying or serious injury. He had never got used to signing letters from fallen soldiers, this would remain. He visited Lazerette with wounded soldiers. This taught him that even in justified wars like Afghanistan, there is always a tragedy. In every war. “I never felt comfortable with it, never resigned to how many lives it cost.”
Barack Obama finished the first volume of his memoirs, with the scene at the Correspondents Dinner 2011 when he made jokes about Donald Trump after he spread the word that he was not born in America, while at the same time Navy seals were killing Bin Laden, because this would pick up the thread of the book. “Namely, that America has this incredible ability to work together and overcome difficulties.”
The attack on bin Laden was a very difficult and risky mission. There was no guarantee that the mission would be successful. A failure would have had far-reaching diplomatic and political consequences. As he faced these difficult decisions, he saw the political circus in the country.
The conspiracy theories fed by Trump that I was not born in the USA had been circulating on the Internet years before. But Barack Obama did not expect the media to take Donald Trump seriously. “I describe in one chapter my anger and frustration at having to deal with these absurd allegations while we focused on the use of Navy Seals, where courageous and highly qualified people put their lives at risk.
Barack Obama already described in 2007 that the American economy produces more inequality than any other Western country. But Donald Trump is not the answer to this, he said. The problems have existed before and will continue to exist after him.
In the USA there have always been competing views on deeper issues. “On the one hand we have the Declaration of Independence, all people are equal. On the other hand we had slavery, women and the destitute had no right to vote, Native Americans had no rights. Part of America’s history is this struggle.”
“On the one hand, “We the People” should apply to even larger parts of the population, should allow even more people to participate in democracy, economy and equal opportunities. On the other hand, there is the view that these privileges do not apply to everyone. The conflict often runs along ethnic and social dividing lines,” says former President Barack Obama.
Since the founding of the state, the USA has made great progress. As president, Barack Obama has tried to strengthen democracy, but the problems have still not been eliminated. Donald Trump and many Republicans had often tried to exploit the frictions in society for their own benefit.
It is true that there are many voters, white workers, in rural areas, far from cities, who reject globalization and are frustrated by technological, cultural and demographic changes. Not only in the USA, but also in Germany and Europe.
Progressives need to find better answers for building an economic system in which workers, craftsmen and people outside the metropolises do not feel that they cannot keep up and have been left behind.
“The country is divided, nobody knows how it will end,” Obama said. But he is confident and optimistic that the vision of an inclusive America will prevail, as the voting behavior and attitudes of the younger generation would show.
People are entitled to respect and dignity, regardless of race, religion or sexual orientation. This had already been seen in the protests of the population after the murder of George Floyd against police violence against blacks. These protests were not only by African Americans, but by people from the entire society. “This is the future of America,” said Obama.
But even the backward looking would have a loud voice in political America, which would also explain the Republicans’ resistance after health insurance was introduced during his presidency. This, incidentally, was not a left-wing liberal idea, but a model that had already been introduced in his state by the Republican Mitt Romney.
He would not have been afraid of the hatred against him, after the Secret Service is doing a very good job. The hatred against him had been stirred up not only by Fox News, but also by the mainstream media. This showed a fragmentation of the media landscape, which was accelerated by the social media.
There used to be three news channels and everyone watched them, whether conservative or liberal, Democrat or Republican. “There was agreement on the facts. Now we have an alternative reality. Take Fox News or Rush Limbaugh. Go to Facebook or those right-wing extremist sites. Everything is just made up,” says Barack Obama.
It’s hard to get through to the users. The consequences of this loss of reality can now also be seen in the way Corona is handled. “While we are talking here, the infection figures are exploding. The number of hospital admissions and deaths are rising dramatically, and yet the White House still claims: Everything will be fine! Many people in this country believe this.” Yet it is precisely where people do not wear masks and keep their distance that the case numbers are highest.
Obama had become aware, after 70 million Americans had nevertheless voted for Trump, that the people’s choice is not based on political programs or facts, but on a narrative, i.e. on a story that fits their life and their world.
He was elected because he told a pretty good story about how America can and should be, “My voters may not have known every detail of my health insurance and immigration plans, but they knew my vision. Trump’s voters are committed to his story and find stability in it.
For people who have chosen a story, it is very difficult to change the narrative. “Facts that contradict their own view are faded out. In today’s media landscape and on the Internet, everyone can choose their own facts, there is no need to listen to a counter-opinion. This makes it easier to ignore facts and support someone who has proven to be incompetent. This is a permanent problem for democracy,” Obama said.
But democracy in countries like the United States with a great diversity would mean that people agree on basic facts. One could think differently about what to do. One could disagree about how to deal with climate change, but not about the fact that it exists. “But if they deny the rise in temperature and say it’s all just made up, then it becomes really difficult to find a solution. We have to tackle this, not only in the USA, but also in Germany and Europe.
Being surrounded by so many strong women in his life, Barack Obama had shown very clearly how important it is to listen to women and to bring them into leadership responsibility. It is great that Kamala Harris is Vice President. Just like Angela Merkel who would lead Germany and Europe. Women have the ability to make smart decisions after they are not driven by their ego like men and feel they have something to prove all the time.
“They just do things.” Men are simply more ego-driven than task-oriented. “Michelle and my daughters saved me from losing my mind in all this crazy time,” Barack Obama said in the ZDF interview with Markus Lanz.
In his recently published book “A Promised Land” Barack Obama gives insights into his life as husband, father and president.
Barack Obama was born in 1961 in Honolulu, Hawaii. He was the 44th President of the United States from 2009 to 2017.
Obama is a lawyer with a focus on US constitutional law. In 1992 he joined the Democratic Party, for which he became a member of the Illinois Senate in 1997. He won his party’s candidacy in the 2008 presidential election and then prevailed against the Republican John McCain. When he moved into the White House in January 2009, this was the first time an African-American held the office of president. On 10 December 2009 Barack Obama was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize. He lives in Washington with his wife and two daughters Sasha and Malia.
The Interview here in german