A Statesman’s Perspective . . .

Atlantic’s Editor in Chief, Jeffrey Goldberg, sat down last week with Barack Obama for his most revealing interview since he left the presidency. Highlights are below; a link to the full conversation is attached at the end.

The first time I interviewed Barack Obama, he was a junior senator from Illinois trying, improbably, to become president. That initial meeting, in which we mainly discussed the Middle East conflict, evolved into a running conversation about his foreign policy, once he became president.The Atlantic has documented Obama’s historic rise to power for nearly a decade and a half. In 2007, Andrew Sullivan made an influential case for why Obama matters. Ten years later, Ta-Nehisi Coates, with whom the former president has engaged in an ongoing dialogue, powerfully contextualized what it meant for America to have its first Black president.This past week, I sat down with Obama in Washington, D.C., for his most extensive interview since he left the White House. Our conversation, in advance of his coming memoir, is now published online. We spoke about a great number of topics, from the moral arc of the universe to Genghis Khan to Donald Trump, race, and the pandemic. Here are a few of his notable quotes:

On Republican complicity with Trump: “I did not believe how easily the Republican establishment, people who had been in Washington for a long time and had professed a belief in certain institutional values and norms, would just cave … To see figures in the Republican Party do a complete 180 on everything they claimed to believe previously is troubling.”

On the crisis of disinformation: “If we do not have the capacity to distinguish what’s true from what’s false, then by definition the marketplace of ideas doesn’t work. And by definition our democracy doesn’t work. We are entering into an epistemological crisis.”

On Trump as Richie Rich, not John Wayne: “I think about the classic male hero in American culture when you and I were growing up: the John Waynes, the Gary Coopers, the Jimmy Stewarts, the Clint Eastwoods … Even if you are someone who is annoyed by wokeness and political correctness and wants men to be men again and is tired about everyone complaining about the patriarchy, I thought that the model wouldn’t be Richie Rich—the complaining, lying, doesn’t-take-responsibility-for-anything type of figure.”

On the American idea: “America as an experiment is genuinely important to the world not because of the accidents of history that made us the most powerful nation on Earth, but because America is the first real experiment in building a large multiethnic, multicultural democracy. And we don’t know yet if that can hold.”

I hope you enjoy the interview. Read their conversation in full.
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