Obama’s final contrast to Trump – Politico
He was sober and cautious, refusing to take several servings of bait offered up to him. He insisted on the importance of principles and norms. He asked for questions from an array of reporters, including a few critics. And he spoke sentimentally about his wife and daughters.
President Barack Obama presented a carefully constructed parting image for the American public on Wednesday at his final press conference and final public event in office.
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It was a performance that added to the long list of contrasts between the 44th and 45th presidents — one that will make even more jarring the shift that’s happening at noon on Friday in front of the Capitol.
“This is not just a matter of ‘no-drama Obama,’ this is what I really believe. It is true that behind closed doors, I curse more than I do publicly, and sometimes I get mad and frustrated like everybody else does,” Obama said, “but at my core, I think we’re going to be OK.”
Last week, President-elect Donald Trump’s first press conference since being elected was a constructed circus, complete with a prop of piles of alleged legal papers that no one was allowed to verify. He was eagerly combative with reporters piled into the closed-off lobby of Trump Tower, fuzzy on direct answers, and stocked with staff to cheer him on.
Obama, who tends to think carefully about the image he projects, brought only a presidential seal paper cup of tea to the White House briefing room, staring intently at reporters as they asked him questions and barely reacting. A reporter noting as part of a set-up that he was the first black president drew only a short, suppressed smile. The most animated he got was in talking about sports as he held up the U.S. Olympic team as a symbol of America’s strength through diversity.
“I think my views are clear. We’ll see how their approach plays itself out,” Obama said, answering a question about the sharp turn that the Trump administration appears about to make on Israel policy, but reflecting the larger philosophy he’s been insisting on.
Moving the American embassy to Jerusalem is the kind of unilateral move that “could be explosive,” he warned. But that’s true of a wide range of things that are going to come across Trump’s desk, especially as he’s determined to tear down all the assumptions that have built up a status quo that Obama acknowledged voters felt has left them behind.
“It is right and appropriate for a new president to test old assumptions and reexamine the old ways of doing things,” Obama said. “Just make sure you thought it through, and understand that there are going to be consequences and actions that typically create reactions. So you want to be intentional about it. You don’t want to do it off the cuff.”
He got in the weeds on commuting the sentence of Chelsea Manning, changing the wet foot/dry foot policy for Cuban immigrants as just the reasoned, fair things to do. He repeated points from his farewell speech about the dangers posed by inequality, and policies that ultimately help the rich despite promises to help everyone.
He landed firmly on an insistence that America needs to frankly face that the concept of voting restrictions “traces directly back to Jim Crow.”
Obama was reflective by the end, looking out at the packed room one last time. Asked how he and first lady Michelle Obama have spoken to their daughters about Trump’s win, especially given the personal stakes that she’d laid out on the trail about needing to reject Trump because of the way he treated women, people of color and LGBT Americans, Obama acknowledged that it wasn’t the kind of behavior they’ve been raised to expect from boyfriends, and that they were disappointed in the results themselves.
Still, “we’ve tried to teach them hope and that the only thing that is the end of the world is the end of the world.”
Then Obama got existential, looking ahead to the man he desperately didn’t want to be president, whom he sincerely believed and aides say continues to believe is a threat to the republic and risks bringing the country closer to nuclear war—not to mention putting America’s “core values” at risk, or the many ways the incoming administration plans to rip out the last eight years of his legacy.
By the end, he came very close to channeling Anne Frank, almost to the word: “In spite of everything I still believe that people are really good at heart,” she wrote in her diary. “I simply can’t build up my hopes on a foundation consisting of confusion, misery, and death. I see the world gradually being turned into a wilderness, I hear the ever approaching thunder, which will destroy us too, I can feel the sufferings of millions and yet, if I look up into the heavens, I think that it will all come right, that this cruelty too will end, and that peace and tranquility will return again.”
Obama’s version: “I believe in this country. I believe in the American people. I believe that people are more good than bad. I believe tragic things happen. I think there’s evil in the world, but I think at the end of the day, if we work hard and if we’re true to those things in us that feel true and feel right, that the world gets a little better each time.”
“We just have to fight for it, we have to work for it and not take it for granted,” Obama said, wrapping up quickly and exiting with a half wave.
“Thank you very much, press corps,” Obama said. “Good luck.”