Ahead of the release of his newest memoir, former President Barack Obama discussed the way forward from a polarized nation.
In an exclusive interview with BBC News, former President Barack Obama shared his thoughts about the current state of democracy within the United States and the challenges the country may face in the upcoming years, even under the Presidency of his pal and former Vice President Joe Biden. Just ahead of the release of his newest memoir, Obama also pointed out that systemic problems like racism and sexism would not change just because of the person sitting in the White House—something he witnessed personally as the nation's first Black President. He did acknowledge, nonetheless, that the youth of today, the young folks who are part of his daughters' generation, give him hope about what America could be in the future.
Obama affirmed in the interview, "We are very divided right now, certainly more than we were when I first ran for office in 2007 and won the Presidency in 2008." While divisions are growing, he said he saw "great hope" in the next generation's "sophisticated" attitudes towards activism and engaging in political discourse. He shared, "My daughters and their peers cannot conceive of treating somebody differently because they're gay, bisexual, or transgender." While he acknowledged that this group was not representative of all young people, he did convey that surveys of public opinion among people under the age of 30 have shown that they believe "surface differences" cannot determine how a person is treated in society.
This is particularly important as the United States finds itself at an inflection point. Obama said that the country was even more split now than it was four years ago, when Donald Trump first assumed office. Now, they face the huge task of undoing a culture of "crazy conspiracy theories" that have worsened political divisions. Some have called this "truth decay," by the country's media outlets and "turbocharged by social media." He quoted Rush Limbaugh's radio show as one of the many programs that have enabled "truth decay." Obama said Trump was, in part, responsible as well. The Republican President chose to "fan division because it was good for his politics," he claimed.
The 44th President claimed that Biden's rise to the White House was only one way to mend those divides. He affirmed, "It'll take more than one election to reverse those trends." According to him, bringing together a polarized nation is not something politicians can do alone—it requires structural change. People would have to start truly listening to one another again, he added, noting nonetheless that folks would have to agree on a "common set of facts" prior to engaging with each other. The country would also need to tackle misinformation at a larger scale. Obama explained, "I think at some point it's going to require a combination of regulation and standards within industries to get us back to the point where we at least recognize a common set of facts before we start arguing about what we should do about those facts."
Though the next generation of leaders have a few years left before they can storm Capitol Hill themselves, their commitment to positive change is something Obama truly believes in. He urged young people to "cultivate that cautious optimism that the world can change, [and] to be a part of that change."