'Our divisions run deep; our challenges are daunting'

Obama, in new memoir, condemns Trump for ‘birther’ lies, stoking racial ‘panic’

Former US president says his tenure sparked ‘deep-seated’ racial fears and Trump ‘promised an elixir’; says US democracy on ‘brink of crisis’; admits he smoked while in White House

Then President Barack Obama meets with then President-elect Donald Trump to update him on transition planning in the Oval Office at the White House on November 10, 2016 in Washington, DC. (AFP/Jim Watson)
Then President Barack Obama meets with then President-elect Donald Trump to update him on transition planning in the Oval Office at the White House on November 10, 2016 in Washington, DC. (AFP/Jim Watson)

Former US president Barack Obama in a new memoir condemned US President Donald Trump for his promulgation of the “birther” lie that Obama was not born in the US, and for exploiting racial “panic” for his political benefit.

America’s first Black president wrote that his election to the White House played a role in Trump’s rise to power by stoking racial discord, and that the divisions in American “run deep.” Trump’s departure will not be enough to bridge the divide, he said.

“It was as if my very presence in the White House had triggered a deep-seated panic, a sense that the natural order had been disrupted,” Obama wrote. “Which is exactly what Donald Trump understood when he started peddling assertions that I had not been born in the United States and was thus an illegitimate president.”

“For millions of Americans spooked by a Black man in the White House, he promised an elixir for their racial anxiety,” Obama said of Trump, according to a Thursday report from CNN, which obtained a copy of the book.

Barack Obama’s memoir, A Promised Land

Obama reflects on the four years since he left office in the memoir, titled “A Promised Land,” which goes on sale on Tuesday.

He wrote that he fears for the state of US democracy in the 768-page book.

“Our democracy seems to be teetering on the brink of crisis — a crisis rooted in a fundamental contest between two opposing visions of what America is and what it should be,” the 59-year-old Obama wrote.

The crisis “has left the body politic divided, angry, and mistrustful,” he said in an excerpt published on Thursday in The Atlantic.

It has also “allowed for an ongoing breach of institutional norms, procedural safeguards, and the adherence to basic facts that both Republicans and Democrats once took for granted.”

Obama said he was “encouraged” by the election victory of his former vice president, Joe Biden, and his running mate Kamala Harris, and their “character and capacity to do what is right.”

US President-elect Joe Biden and Vice President-elect Kamala Harris deliver remarks in Wilmington, Delaware, on November 7, 2020, after being declared the winners of the presidential election. (Andrew Harnik/POOL/AFP)

“But I also know that no single election will settle the matter,” Obama wrote. “Our divisions run deep; our challenges are daunting.”

“If I remain hopeful about the future, it’s in large part because I’ve learned to place my faith in my fellow citizens, especially those of the next generation,” he said.

“My book is for those young people — an invitation to once again remake the world, and to bring about, through hard work, determination, and a big dose of imagination, an America that finally aligns with all that is best in us,” Obama said.

Former US president Barack Obama speaks at a rally as he campaigns for Joe Biden ahead of the 2020 presidential election, in Atlanta, Georgia, Nov. 2, 2020. (AP Photo/Brynn Anderson)

Obama also wonders whether his 2008 election opponent senator John McCain would have picked someone other than Alaska governor Sarah Palin to be his running mate “given the chance to do it over again.”

“Through Palin, it seemed as if the dark spirits that had long been lurking on the edges of the modern Republican Party — xenophobia, anti-intellectualism, paranoid conspiracy theories, an antipathy toward Black and brown folks — were finding their way to center stage,” Obama wrote.

Obama also confessed to smoking up to 10 cigarettes a day while in the White House and eventually switching to nicotine gum after his daughter Malia “frowned” after “smelling a cigarette on my breath.”

In the first volume of his memoirs, the 44th US president revealed that he writes longhand with a pen on a yellow pad instead of on a computer and confesses to an inability to be concise.

He said he and his wife, Michelle, were “drained, physically and emotionally” when they left the White House in January 2017.

“For a month, Michelle and I slept late, ate leisurely dinners, went for long walks, swam in the ocean, took stock, replenished our friendship, rediscovered our love, and planned for a less eventful but hopefully no less satisfying second act,” he said.

In a review in The New York Times, the Nigerian author Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie praised Obama for the “savage self-questioning” he displays in the book.

At the same time, she said, “for all his ruthless self-assessment, there is very little of what the best memoirs bring: true self-revelation.”

“So much is still at a polished remove,” she said. “It is as if, because he is leery of exaggerated emotion, emotion itself is tamped down.”

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