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barack obama

Barack Obama at his Chicago home.

Former president Barack Obama reminded everyone of his off-the-cuff sense of humor at a campaign rally for Democratic voters in Detroit on Saturday, October 29. Nearly six years after leaving the White House, the 61-year-old lamented that it was more challenging for him to be out on the campaign trail than it used to be.

“I have to admit that sometimes going out on the campaign trail feels a little harder than it used to,” the 44th president said to the crowd. “Not just because I’m older and grayer…”

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I've never been a fan of politics. I've always made conscientious decisions when I vote and engaged in discussions about challenges facing society, but the world of politics itself has always been a turn off. The partisan bickering, the power of expensive lobbyists to sway leaders who are supposed to work for the people, the mudslinging and inherently divisive nature of our two-party system—it's all just felt gross to me.

The office of the presidency, oddly enough, has not felt that way. Though a president brings their partisanship with them, of course, the office itself is non-partisan. The fact that it is a job held by a single individual has always humanized it for me, prompting me to feel some sympathy even for presidents I wasn't a fan of. "President of the United States" is an inarguably difficult position to be in, with impossibly hard choices to make. When unexpected crises land in your lap—the world's worst terrorist attack, a classroom full of first graders gunned down, the arrival of a global pandemic—it's your responsibility to handle it with care and wisdom. Every decision you make will be examined through the lens of history. Every statement you make becomes historical record. That's no small thing.

The weight of the office is unmatched in our country, and the status of the U.S. as a superpower makes it unlike any other position in the world. Everything U.S. presidents do and say matters, not just to Americans, but to people and governments all over the world.

Up until four years ago, I felt like every president understood that.

For some beautiful proof, consider this story of President-elect Obama's asking President Bush if he could meet the former presidents during his transition. A Facebook post from Sebastian Copeland shared an excerpt from Jean Edward Smith's biography of George W. Bush that reads:

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We're on day eleventy billion of Donald Trump creating his own alternate reality and convincing millions of people to live there with him, only now it's clearer than ever that it can't continue. President Trump, perhaps for the first time in his life, is hitting a wall he can't con or buy his way through. He lost the 2020 election. His own cybersecurity and election security agencies have said the election was fair and free from widespread fraud. His court cases are being dismissed or dropped left and right. Yet he refuses to acknowledge objective reality, insisting that Democrats cheated (without evidence), insisting he won the election (which he didn't), insisting two plus two doesn't equal four (which his loyal base would believe if he said it).

Trump's reaction to losing the election is a combination of disturbing, sad, predictable, and dangerous. At this point, we can't just brush it off as "Trump being Trump." Trump is president of the United States. His words matter. His tweets matter. His behavior matters. A sitting president delegitimizing the foundation of our democracy matters. It all matters.

Former president Barack Obama has some advice for President Trump, elicited by a question asked of him in a 60 Minutes interview this weekend. Trump will definitely not heed it, but the rest of us should hear it to remind us of what it means to lead this country. When asked, "What is your advice, in this moment, for President Trump?" Obama reminded us of what a president is and what his or her responsibility boils down to.

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When Trump entered the Oval Office on his first day as president, he was greeted by a note from his predecessor. In his letter, Obama congratulated Trump on "a remarkable run," offered a few bits of sage advice, wished him well, and told him that he and Michelle "stand ready to help in any ways which we can." It was a distinguished letter from a statesman, and a beautiful example of the peaceful and supportive transfer of power that has marked every election in modern history.

Since then, Obama has largely stayed above the fray and out of the spotlight, allowing President Trump a chance to do the job without interference. Even when his friend and former vice president Joe Biden announced his run for president, Obama held back on a formal endorsement, letting the political process run its course. At the Democratic National Convention, we saw a shift, as the former president finally let the public hear his frank assessment of Trump's job performance from his experienced point-of-view.

But at a drive-in rally in Philadelphia yesterday, Obama rolled up his sleeves, took off the gloves, and gave real voice to the frustrations half of America has felt for the past four years. And phew—it was gloriously cathartic.

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