President Obama spoke to The Daily Show’s Trevor Noah for what’s likely to be his final talk show appearance prior to the inauguration of his successor, a very large engorged tick that’s thrust his orange pincers into the core of American democracy.
Though the interview took place after a number of seemingly catastrophic events for American democracy—for example, after the CIA released its assessment that Russia intervened in the U.S. election with the primary goal of getting Donald Trump elected, and after Trump baldly refuted that assessment, and also after Trump provoked China into flying a nuclear bomber around, and refused intelligence briefings, and was anticipated to tap (and since has tapped) Exxon CEO and Putin fuckboy Rex Tillerson as nominee for Secretary of State—if you’re looking for crisis language, look elsewhere.
Obama questioned the current political system that pushed the readily available information on Russian influence under the public radar pre-election, but didn’t go so far as to give voice to the fairly widespread notion that we’re about to get torpedoed from within by an enemy state. Which makes us wonder: if not this, what would inspire forceful rhetoric from President Obama?
“We determined and announced in October that it was the consensus of all the intelligence agencies and law enforcement that organizations affiliated with Russian intelligence were responsible for the hacking of the DNC materials that were being leaked,” the President told Noah, emphasizing the lack of public interest. “That was a month before the election, this was not a secret.” He noted that Russian email hacking is “not a particularly fancy form of espionage or propaganda,” and that they were more concerned about the possibility of vote tampering, which they did not find evidence of.
“I think what everybody has to reflect on is what is it about our political ecosystem, what is it about the state of our democracy, where the leaks of what were frankly not very interesting emails that didn’t have any explosive information in them, ended up being an obsession. And the fact that the Russians were doing this was not an obsession,” Obama said. “The President-Elect, in some of his political events, specifically said to the Russians: hack Hillary’s emails!”
He also proposed that Trump might “say one thing and do another” in terms of listening to intelligence agencies as president, suggesting he’ll eventually start taking briefings seriously because “if you’re not getting their perspective, you’re flying blind.” That second thing certainly sounds true, yes!
In the last segment of the interview, Obama and Noah discussed race. “I look up to you because we have a lot in common,” Noah said. “We both have parents who are black and white, both half-African, south side of Chicago, south side of Africa...” How did President Obama navigate the specter of racism throughout his presidency?
“There’s not been a time in my public life or my presidency where I feel as if I have had to bite my tongue,” Obama replied. “There have been times in my public life where I’ve said, how do I say this diplomatically?”
“Some might say you’re not fully speaking truth to power because of that diplomacy,” he added. “But I don’t think that trying to appeal to the better angels of our nature, as Lincoln put it, is somehow a compromise.”
Watch the full segment below: