President Barack Obama sat down with Trevor Noah on Monday’s episode of The Daily Show, which devoted the whole half-hour to the White House interview. Noah dove right in with a question about Russia’s alleged meddling in the election before moving on to health care, Obama’s handling of race as president, and what he plans to do when his term is over. The conversation was fairly one-sided, with Obama holding forth in long, carefully worded monologues in response to Noah’s questions. His answers were nuanced and succinct; they conveyed intelligence and respect and something we already lack: sweet, sweet clarity.
Watching the interview after a month of non-stop, nonsensical Trump quotes and tweets was like taking a long gulp of water after marching through the desert. Drink in these five standout statements from his Daily Show interview.
“Russia trying to influence our elections dates back to the Soviet Union. What they did here — hacking some emails and releasing them — is not a particularly fancy brand of espionage or propaganda…What’s happened to our political system where some emails that were hacked and released ended up being the overwhelming story and the constant source of coverage, breathless coverage, that was depicted as somehow damning in all sorts of ways, when the truth of the matter was, it was fairly routine stuff? Going forward, I worry that we don’t spend enough time on self-reflection about how our democracies work and how our campaigns work.”
“Listen, what I’ve said before is, if [Republicans] had a great idea, they should have come up with it five, six years ago, when our path was built, because I would’ve loved to have something that worked even better and was even cheaper and was less controversial. The truth is, what we came up with were the best ideas at the time. There are some tweaks that can be made to the program — for example, a public option for those communities where there’s not enough competition among insurers…It will be interesting to watch Republicans who now actually have to produce, come up with a replacement that works better. I don’t think they will, and as a consequence, you should sign up now and count on the fact that you’re gonna have insurance for a while.”
“There have been very few instances where I’ve said, ‘Well, that was racist. You’re racist.’ There have been times when I’ve said, ‘You know, you might not have taken into account the ongoing legacy of racism in why we have so many black men incarcerated. And since I know that you believe in the constitution and believe in justice and believe in liberty, how about if we tried this.’ Now, some might say, you’re not speaking fully truth to power because of that diplomacy. But, you know, I don’t think that trying to appeal to the better angels of our nature, as Lincoln put it, is somehow a compromise. There may be times where you just have to call things out and name names. But the challenge we face today when it comes to race is rarely the overt Klansman-style racism, and typically has more to do with the fact that people got all this stuff they want to talk about, and it’s sort of uncomfortable. It’s somebody not getting called back for an interview, although it’s never explicit. Or it’s who gets the TV acting job, the actress who doesn’t quite ‘look the part,’ and what does that mean? In that environment, where you’re not talking necessarily about cut-and-dry racist behavior but rather about the complex ways in which society’s working these issues through, trying to reach folks in ways that they can hear, I think, is important.”
On climate change
“[Republicans] may change policy on climate change, but climate change is still climate change. That’s still happening. So if the oceans are still going up, some streets in Miami a mile or two from where the president-elect has a golf course are seeing flooding in the middle of sunny days, and it’s salt water coming up through the ground, that’s still gonna have to be dealt with one way or another. On all of these issues, reality doesn’t go away. And I’ve had several conversations with the president-elect in which I’ve said to him, ‘Look, if you can find different approaches to deal with the problems’ — I don’t pretend that I was the repository of all wisdom. What you can’t do is pretend they’re not problems.”
On post-presidential life
“I’ll be paying attention. I’ll be a citizen of this country that I love deeply. And I don’t anticipate that I suddenly just vanish. But I think it’s important to give the incoming administration the space, and to give the public clarity about what it is they’re trying to do so that that plays itself out a little bit. There may be occasions where even in the first year, if I think core values of ours are being threatened, I mean I’ve said this — if I thought a Muslim registry was being set up that violates the constitution, that violates who we are and would make us less safe because it would make it easier for groups like ISIL to recruit and radicalize homegrown terrorists — I might have to say something about that. If I saw Dream Act kids, young people who were brought here as children, who are for all intents and purposes Americans, suddenly being rounded up, contrary to who we are as a nation of laws and a nation of immigrants — I might have to say something about that. But it’s not my intention to be, I think I’ve said this before, the old guy at the bar who’s just kind of hanging on. I need to take some time.”