“We have to worry,” Obama said, “when one of our major political parties is willing to embrace a way of thinking about our democracy that would be unrecognizable and unacceptable even five years ago or a decade ago.”
The clearest example of this, Obama said, was the January 6 insurrection and how there are now “large portions of an elected Congress going along with the falsehood that there were problems with the election.” The insurrection at the US Capitol by Trump supporters came on the same day that 147 Republican lawmakers voted not to certify Joe Biden’s electoral victory in key states. The falsehood that the 2020 presidential election was stolen has been pushed by former President Donald Trump himself, who has since cheered on baseless Republican audits of elections.
Asked by Cooper about Republicans leaders briefly going against Trump following the insurrection, Obama said, “And then poof, suddenly everybody was back in line.”
“Now, the reason for that is because the base believed it and the base believed it because this had been told to them not just by the President, but by the media that they watch,” Obama said. He later added: “My hope is that the tides will turn. But that does require each of us to understand that this experiment in democracy is not self-executing. It doesn’t happen just automatically.”
‘We occupy different worlds’
Obama wrote at length in his memoir about how his historic election in 2008 created a wave of bitter and divisive turmoil that fueled Republicans’ obstructionism and ultimately changed the party into its current iteration. Trump, Obama argues in the book, encapsulates this, because to “millions of Americans spooked by a Black man in the White House, he promised an elixir for their racial anxiety.”
But Obama also looked beyond Trump in the memoir, noting that the real rise of this brand of Republicanism began when Arizona Sen. John McCain, Obama’s 2008 opponent, tapped then-Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin to be his running mate. “Through Palin,” Obama argued in the book, “it seemed as if the dark spirits that had long been lurking on the edges of the modern Republican Party… were finding their way to center stage.”
Obama lauded some Republicans in his interview with CNN for protecting the presidential election, notably Georgia Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger, who the former president said was “very brave,” despite being “viciously attacked for it.” Raffensperger became the target of Republican ire after he defended the election results in Georgia, which gave the state to Biden. Trump has has endorsed Raffensperger’s primary challenger, Rep. Jody Hice.
But some the former President’s most searching commentary came when asked about the root causes to the deep divisions in the country, rifts that Obama attributed, in part, to questions about sources of information and race.
“We occupy different worlds. And it becomes that much more difficult for us to hear each other, see each other,” Obama said, something the former President attributed to a nationalization of both media and politics.
“We have more economic stratification and segregation. You combine that with racial stratification and the siloing of the media, so you don’t have just Walter Cronkite delivering the news, but you have 1,000 different venues,” Obama said. “All that has contributed to that sense that we don’t have anything in common.”
Race and division in 2021
At the heart of some of these divisions, Obama argued, is race — a through line that defined Obama’s rise in politics and his election as the first Black president.
The former President said during the interview that it remains “hard for the majority… of White Americans to recognize you can be proud of this country and its traditions and its history and our forefathers and yet, it is also true that this terrible stuff happened.”
“The vestiges of that linger and continue,” Obama said. “And the truth is that when I tried to tell that story, oftentimes my political opponents would…