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“This is not about you”: President Obama gives advice to Donald Trump in his final interview with Rolling Stone

President Barack Obama had his final interview with Rolling Stone on Tuesday. While his disappointment in the 2016 presidential election was palpable, he nevertheless struck a reassuring note — and offered readers some interesting insights into his vision for the future of America.

Perhaps Obama’s most intriguing comment came after the very first question, when he was asked about how he felt regarding Trump’s victory the night before (the interview had been conducted the day after the election).

“Well, I’m disappointed, partly because I think Hillary Clinton would be a very fine president,” Obama said, notably referring to the prospect of a Hillary Clinton presidency in the present rather than past tense (Hillary 2020, anyone?) “As I said on the campaign trail, a lot of the work we’ve done is only partially complete. And we need some continuity in order for us to maximize its benefits.”

He also recalled a personal experience which taught him about the unreliability of polls.

“I will tell you, New Hampshire, 2008,” Obama recalled. “I had just won Iowa and had this whirlwind tour of New Hampshire, huge rallies, huge crowds, and our internal pollster had us up by 10. And around 7:30, as I’m putting on my clothes to deliver my victory speech, I get a knock on the door by David Plouffe, David Axelrod and Robert Gibbs. And they’ve got sheepish looks on their faces [chuckles]. And they say, ‘Barack, we have some interesting news for you. We don’t think we’re gonna win this thing.’”

That said, for those who are hoping Obama’s own First Lady will consider a White House run, the president was quick to pour cold water on those hopes.

“Michelle will never run for office,” Obama declared near the end of the interview. “She is as talented a person as I know. You can see the incredible resonance she has with the American people. But I joke that she’s too sensible to want to be in politics.”

While Obama insisted that he was not “dismayed” because “I couldn’t be prouder of the work that we’ve done over the last eight years,” he refused to beat around the bush when it came to the impact of Trump’s election.

“I don’t want to sugarcoat it,” Obama said. “There are consequences to elections. It means that the next Supreme Court justice is going to be somebody who doesn’t reflect my understanding of the Constitution. It means that the work we’ve done internationally and domestically on climate is going to be threatened. It means that the Affordable Care Act, which has provided 20 million people with health insurance, is going to be modified in ways that some people are going to be hurt by. I think it doesn’t take us all the way back to the status quo, because, despite the rhetoric, the Republicans are going to conclude that simply throwing millions of people off the rolls with no health insurance isn’t smart politics.”

The interview became a little testy when Obama was asked how the Democrats lost so much support among white, working class voters. Instead of accepting the rationale that this happened because Democrats were out of touch with their economic concerns, Obama characterized the problem as “a cultural issue,” even cutting off his interviewer when he tried to interrupt him. After pointing to his administration’s effort to save the auto industry in Michigan, support for minimum-wage laws and family-leave policies, its investment in community colleges, and the Affordable Care Act, Obama made an argument that should sound familiar to anyone who remembers his 2008 election campaign.

“The challenge we had is not that we’ve neglected these communities from a policy perspective. That is, I think, an incorrect interpretation,” Obama said. “You start reading folks saying, Oh, you know, working-class families have been neglected, or, Working-class white families have not been paid attention to by Democrats. Actually, they have. What is true, though, is that whatever policy prescriptions that we’ve been proposing don’t reach, are not heard, by the folks in these communities. And what they do hear is Obama or Hillary are trying to take away their guns or they disrespect you.”

This, for those with long memories, is remarkably similar to Obama’s comment in 2008 about Rust Belt voters: “They get bitter, they cling to guns or religion or antipathy to people who aren’t like them or anti-immigrant sentiment or anti-trade sentiment as a way to explain their frustrations.”

That said, Obama does not see the 2016 election as a “huge turn to the right.”

“If you survey the American people, including Trump voters, they’re in favor of a higher minimum wage,” Obama said. “They’re in favor, in large numbers, of decriminalizing marijuana. They, I think, are, increasingly and with shocking speed, accepting of the need to treat the LGBT community with respect. They are hugely suspicious of Wall Street, hugely suspicious of the Establishment. Part of what Trump did, as well as Bernie, was run against that Establishment. Now the irony, of course, is that one would think Trump would be considered part of that Establishment and not a genuine outsider like Bernie was. So this doesn’t seem to be a moment in which there is a huge turn to the right.”

Finally, Obama offered a glimpse into the advice he gave Trump when the president and president-elect met shortly after the election.

“Well, I’ll have a chance to talk to him tomorrow, and I think the main thing that I will say to him is, number one, however you campaigned, once you’re in this office, you are part of a legacy dating back to those first Revolutionaries,” Obama said. “And this amazing experiment in democracy has to be tended. So aside from any particular issue, the president needs to recognize that this is not about you. This is not about your power, your position or the perks, the Marine band. This is about this precious thing that we’ve inherited and that we want to pass on.”

Matthew Rozsa

Matthew Rozsa is a breaking news writer for Salon. He holds an MA in History from Rutgers University-Newark and his work has appeared in Mic, Quartz and MSNBC.

Matthew Rozsa.

Source: Salon: in-depth news, politics, business, technology & culture > Politics

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