Washington (CNN)Barack Obama directly confronts the racist politics of President Donald Trump in the first volume of his post-presidency memoir, bluntly suggesting how he believes his historic election in 2008 opened a wave of bitter and divisive turmoil that fueled Republicans’ obstructionism and ultimately changed the party, according to a copy of the book obtained by CNN.
Here are the key revelations in Obama’s new memoir 04:15″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 writes. “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.”The 768-page memoir, titled A Promised Land and due out on November 17, chronicles the future president’s childhood and political rise, before diving deeply into his historic 2008 campaign and first four years in office. Obama dedicates hundreds of pages to the fights and characters that colored his tenure, from his work to pass Obamacare in 2010 to the complexities of dealing with a slate of world leaders and finally his decision to approve the raid that killed Osama bin Laden.President Barack Obama, Vice President Joe Biden, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and members of the national security team receive an update on the mission against Osama bin Laden in the Situation Room of the White House May 1, 2011 in Washington, DC.But some of his most thoughtful examination comes at the expense of the party that opposed him and how it evolved during his eight years in office, starting with the elevation of Sarah Palin to the Republican presidential ticket in 2008. “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 writesThroughout, Obama casts his presidency as comprised of hard choices, sometimes made more difficult by internal disputes, mismanagement by the previous administration and obstructionism by Republicans, which he suggests was rooted in an attempt to appeal to anxieties about the first Black president.Yet he also acknowledges his own shortcomings on a range of topics, like calling his failure to pass immigration reform “a bitter pill to swallow” and acknowledging that the economy “stank” as he headed into the 2010 midterms, where Republicans reclaimed the House of Representatives on the back of the Tea Party movement.Read More”As far as I was concerned, the election didn’t prove our agenda had been wrong,” Obama writes of 2010. “It just proved that… I’d failed to rally the nation, as FDR had once done, behind what I knew to be right. Which to me was just as damning.”The timeliest reflections, however, come when Obama delves into the politics of Washington, particularly the work he put into negotiations with Republicans like Republican leader Sen. Mitch McConnell and then House Speaker John Boehner. But that introspection also offers a window into how Obama saw the opposing party change from his 2008 campaign to when he handed over the White House to Trump in 2017.US President Barack Obama meets with 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 (Photo credit should read JIM WATSON/AFP via Getty Images)Obama writes that he “wonder(s) sometimes” about whether 2008 Republican nominee John McCain would still have picked Palin if he had known “her spectacular rise and her validation as a candidate would provide a template for future politicians, shifting his party’s center and the country’s politics overall in a direction he abhorred.””I’d like to think that given the chance to do it over again, he might have chosen differently,” Obama writes. “I believe he really did put his country first.””We’re better than this”Obama’s views of his successor come through clearest in his recounting of the period in 2011 when Trump was fanning the racist lie that Obama was not born in the United States.Trump’s antics were seen initially in the White House as a joke. But Obama writes he came to regard Trump’s media ubiquity and characteristic shamelessness as merely an exaggerated version of the Republican Party’s attempts to appeal to White Americans’ anxieties about the first Black president — a sentiment he said “had migrated from the fringe of GOP politics to the center — an emotional, almost visceral, reaction to my presidency, distinct from any differences in policy or ideology.Trump, who Obama said phoned the White House in 2010 to offer his assistance helping plug an oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico (he was turned down), had determined that saying or behaving in ways previously seen as distasteful or unacceptable now earned him constant media attention. “In that sense, there wasn’t much difference between Trump and Boehner or McConnell. They, too, understood that it didn’t matter whether what they said was true,” he writes, adding: “In fact, the only difference between Trump’s style of politics and theirs was Trump’s lack of inhibition.”When Obama, against the advice of his advisers, released his long-form birth certificate during an appearance in the White House briefing room, he said he told young staffers afterward: “We’re better than this.” ‘I could trust him. I wouldn’t be disappointed’Obama’s views on the changing Republican Party are infused into all aspects of the book. When the former president writes about his trip to India in 2010, he links the themes of rising illiberalism in a conversation with Prime Minister Manmohan Singh to the rise of the Tea Party in the United States.Barack Obama and Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh (L) toast during a banquet in New Delhi on November 8, 2010. Domestically, too, Obama writes that the more confrontational Republican Party impacted some of the day-to-day decisions he made as president, especially when it came to dispatching then vice president Joe Biden, now the President-elect, to Capitol Hill to negotiate on his behalf.”One of the reasons I’d chosen Joe to act as an intermediary — in addition to his Senate experience and legislative acumen — was my awareness that in McConnell’s mind, negotiations with the vice president didn’t inflame the Republican base in quite the same way that any appearance of cooperation with (Black, Muslim socialist) Obama was bound to do,” Obama writes.The Obama tome has been a long time coming, the length confounding even close aides who marveled as the former president wrote — freehand — on scores of yellow legal pads. Obama himself admits that the writing process “didn’t go exactly was planned,” evident by the fact that the book has been separated in two volumes and that it was delayed.This is Obama’s third memoir — the first was “Dream from My Father” in 1995 and his second was “The Audacity of Hope” in 2006. Michelle Obama released her own memoir, “Becoming,” in 2018, selling millions of copies in under a year.The Obamas together were reportedly paid a $65 million advance for their memoirs by Penguin Random House.Despite writing the book before the 2020 election, there are clear echoes between the moments Obama describes and this current moment of political upheaval, especially when the former president describes his interactions with Biden, the President-elect. President Barack Obama speaks to the National Conference of State Legislatures as U.S. Vice President Joseph Biden looks on in the Eisenhower Executive Office Building of the White House on March 20, 2009 in Washington, DC.Obama recalls how Biden would offer differing opinions to many of his advisers, like when he was skeptical about the United States War in Afghanistan, leading other members of the Cabinet, like Defense Secretary Robert Gates, to consider Biden a naysayer. And how Biden would raise questions about how actions at the White House could impact Democrats in Congress.The most detailed recollections of the Obama-Biden relationship came when the former president described picking Biden as his running mate. “I liked the fact that Joe would be more than ready to serve as president if something happened to me — and that it might reassure those who still worried I was too young,” Obama wrote. “What mattered most, though, was what my gut told me — that Joe was decent, honest, and loyal. I believed that he cared about ordinary people, and that when things got tough, I could trust him. I wouldn’t be disappointed.”The memoir also details Obama’s relationship with his predecessor, former President George W. Bush, who welcomed him during the presidential transition despite the fact that Obama ran, in part, on a rejection of the Republican president during his 2008 campaign. The book’s release comes as Trump is fighting the results of the 2020 election and making the transition difficult for Biden, his successor.U.S. President George W. Bush shakes hands with President-elect Barack Obama, as former President Bill Clinton, and former President George H.W. Bush look on in the Oval Office January 7, 2009 in Washington, DC. (Photo by Ron Sachs-Pool/Getty Images)”Whether because of his respect for the institution, lessons from his father, bad memories of his own transition… or just basic decency, President Bush would end up doing all he could to make the 11 weeks between my election and his departure go smoothly,” Obama wrote, including noting that the Bush daughters, Barbara and Jenna, “rearranged their schedules to give Malia and Sasha their own tour.””I promised myself that when the time came, I would treat my successor the same way,” Obama said, a nod to his transition with Trump.”Friends as well as lovers”While the book spends considerable time on some of the heaviest moments of Obama’s presidency, it also delves into lighter moments like Obama’s childhood — he describes himself as an “incessant, dedicated partyer” — and his early love life, like how he used intellectual curiosity to impress the “various women I was attempting to get to know.””As a strategy for picking up girls, my pseudo-intellectualism proved mostly worthless,” he writes. “I found myself in a series of affectionate but chaste friendships.”He writes, somewhat lightheartedly, about how the stress of the White House led to his bad tendencies, like smoking, noting that he would sometimes smoke eight or nine or ten cigarettes a day and look for a “discreet location to grab an evening smoke.” He said he quit smoking by “ceaselessly” chewing nicotine gum after his daughter Malia “frowned” after “smelling a cigarette on my breath.”Obama explores his marriage to Michelle Obama throughout the book, recalling when they “became friends as well as lovers” and describing her as an “original.” Photos: Michelle Obama: Becoming FLOTUS Photos: Michelle Obama: Becoming FLOTUSMichelle Obama: Becoming FLOTUS – Take a look back at former first lady Michelle Obama’s journey to the East Wing and beyond. For more, watch CNN Original Series “First Ladies” Sundays at 10 p.m. ET.Hide Caption 1 of 40 Photos: Michelle Obama: Becoming FLOTUSObama was born Michelle LaVaughn Robinson in Chicago. Here, she is seen as a baby with her father, Fraser Robinson III; her mother, Marian; and her brother, Craig, in 1964.Hide Caption 2 of 40 Photos: Michelle Obama: Becoming FLOTUSObama attended Bryn Mawr Elementary School in Chicago from 1970-1977.Hide Caption 3 of 40 Photos: Michelle Obama: Becoming FLOTUSObama’s 1980 yearbook photo from Whitney Young High School in Chicago. The magnet school was far from her home on the south side of the city, and her round-trip commute was three hours.Hide Caption 4 of 40 Photos: Michelle Obama: Becoming FLOTUS”I was a pretty serious student,” Obama said in a 2014 interview. “One of the things I wanted to make sure was that I didn’t peak in high school. … So I focused on school. I was really clear that I wanted to go to college. So I needed to have myself together, go to my classes, be on point, be involved in the school.”Hide Caption 5 of 40 Photos: Michelle Obama: Becoming FLOTUSObama, seen here in her 1981 yearbook photo, was salutatorian of her high school’s senior class.Hide Caption 6 of 40 Photos: Michelle Obama: Becoming FLOTUSObama attends prom in 1982 with her first boyfriend, David Upchurch.Hide Caption 7 of 40 Photos: Michelle Obama: Becoming FLOTUSObama graduated from Princeton University in 1985. She received a bachelor’s degree in sociology and minored in African-American studies.Hide Caption 8 of 40 Photos: Michelle Obama: Becoming FLOTUSShe met Barack Obama when she was assigned to be his mentor at Sidley & Austin, a Chicago law firm. Here, the two pose for a photo in Hawaii in 1989.Hide Caption 9 of 40 Photos: Michelle Obama: Becoming FLOTUSThe couple married on October 3, 1992.Hide Caption 10 of 40 Photos: Michelle Obama: Becoming FLOTUSThe Obamas have dinner in 2000 with their first child, Malia. Malia was born on July 4, 1998.Hide Caption 11 of 40 Photos: Michelle Obama: Becoming FLOTUSThe Obamas are seen in March 2000, when Barack Obama, then an Illinois state senator, was running for the US House of Representatives. He lost the Democratic primary to four-term incumbent Bobby Rush.Hide Caption 12 of 40 Photos: Michelle Obama: Becoming FLOTUSThe Obamas are seen with daughters Malia and Sasha at Sasha’s christening. Sasha was born on June 7, 2001.Hide Caption 13 of 40 Photos: Michelle Obama: Becoming FLOTUSThe Obamas check in with poll workers in Chicago in November 2004. Barack Obama would go on to win a US Senate seat.Hide Caption 14 of 40 Photos: Michelle Obama: Becoming FLOTUSThe Obamas celebrate during a victory party in Chicago on November 2, 2004.Hide Caption 15 of 40 Photos: Michelle Obama: Becoming FLOTUSBarack Obama gives his wife a playful kiss as they tour the Iowa State Fair in Des Moines, Iowa, in August 2007. Obama was campaigning at the time for the Democratic presidential nomination.Hide Caption 16 of 40 Photos: Michelle Obama: Becoming FLOTUSMichelle Obama has breakfast at Pamela’s Diner in Pittsburgh in April 2008.Hide Caption 17 of 40 Photos: Michelle Obama: Becoming FLOTUSMichelle Obama speaks during the Democratic National Convention on August 25, 2008.Hide Caption 18 of 40 Photos: Michelle Obama: Becoming FLOTUSDuring his inauguration ceremony in Washington, Barack Obama takes the oath of office as his wife holds the Lincoln Bible.Hide Caption 19 of 40 Photos: Michelle Obama: Becoming FLOTUSObama’s Jason Wu inaugural ball gown helped put both them both on fashion “it” lists in 2009.Hide Caption 20 of 40 Photos: Michelle Obama: Becoming FLOTUSThe first lady meets with former South African President Nelson Mandela in June 2011.Hide Caption 21 of 40 Photos: Michelle Obama: Becoming FLOTUSPresident Barack Obama and first lady Michelle Obama visit with Queen Elizabeth II and Prince Philip, Duke of Edinburgh at Buckingham Palace ahead of a State Banquet on May 24, 2011 in London, England. Hide Caption 22 of 40 Photos: Michelle Obama: Becoming FLOTUSThe first lady exits a Target department store in Alexandria, Virginia, after doing some shopping in September 2011.Hide Caption 23 of 40 Photos: Michelle Obama: Becoming FLOTUSObama kisses her husband during an inauguration reception at the National Building Museum in Washington in January 2013.Hide Caption 24 of 40 Photos: Michelle Obama: Becoming FLOTUSObama, via satellite, announces the Oscar for best picture at the end of the Academy Awards show in February 2013.Hide Caption 25 of 40 Photos: Michelle Obama: Becoming FLOTUSObama dances with Jimmy Fallon on “Late Night with Jimmy Fallon” in 2013. Hide Caption 26 of 40 Photos: Michelle Obama: Becoming FLOTUSObama plants the White House Kitchen Garden on the South Lawn of the White House in April 2013. To help her, she invited students from schools “that have made exceptional improvements to school lunches.” It was part of the first lady’s “Let’s Move” campaign, which she launched in 2010 to reduce childhood obesity. Hide Caption 27 of 40 Photos: Michelle Obama: Becoming FLOTUSThe first lady rides a bike while vacationing in 2013 in Martha’s Vineyard, an island off the coast of Massachusetts.Hide Caption 28 of 40 Photos: Michelle Obama: Becoming FLOTUSObama dances alongside “Sesame Street” character Rosita at the White House in October 2013 as part of the first lady’s “Let’s Move” initiative.Hide Caption 29 of 40 Photos: Michelle Obama: Becoming FLOTUSObama listens as her husband speaks to members of the US military and their families at a 2013 Christmas Day meal in Kaneohe, Hawaii.Hide Caption 30 of 40 Photos: Michelle Obama: Becoming FLOTUSObama reacts as Ashtyn Gardner, a 2-year-old from Mobile, Alabama, loses her balance while greeting Sunny, one of the Obamas’ dogs, at a White House event in December 2014.Hide Caption 31 of 40 Photos: Michelle Obama: Becoming FLOTUSThe Obama family, including daughters Malia (left) and Sasha (right), pose for a portrait with their pets Bo and Sunny in the Rose Garden on April 5, 2015.Hide Caption 32 of 40 Photos: Michelle Obama: Becoming FLOTUSObama waves to the crowd before giving a speech at the 2016 Democratic National Convention, during which she says one of her most famous quotes: “Our motto is, when they go low, we go high.”Hide Caption 33 of 40 Photos: Michelle Obama: Becoming FLOTUSObama arrives on stage alongside President Obama during the Congressional Black Caucus Foundation’s Phoenix Awards Dinner on September 17, 2016.Hide Caption 34 of 40 Photos: Michelle Obama: Becoming FLOTUSObama poses with dogs Bo and Sunny as the family prepares to depart the White House in January 2017. In an accompanying tweet, she writes: “Thank you for the birthday wishes and for the greatest gift of all: the opportunity to serve as your First Lady.”Hide Caption 35 of 40 Photos: Michelle Obama: Becoming FLOTUSThe Obamas welcome a newly elected Donald Trump and wife Melania to the White House in January 2017. Hide Caption 36 of 40 Photos: Michelle Obama: Becoming FLOTUSVisitors encounter Amy Sherald’s official portrait of Michelle Obama at the National Portrait Gallery in 2018.Hide Caption 37 of 40 Photos: Michelle Obama: Becoming FLOTUSObama laughs while signing copies of her memoir “Becoming” in November 2018. She’d go on to win a best spoken word album Grammy for the audio version of her best-selling book.Hide Caption 38 of 40 Photos: Michelle Obama: Becoming FLOTUSA viewer watches the former first lady speak during the 2020 Democratic National Convention, which was held virtually due to the coronavirus pandemic.Hide Caption 39 of 40 Photos: Michelle Obama: Becoming FLOTUSObama shares a hug with a fan in her 2020 Netflix documentary “Becoming,” just one of the media projects she’s been involved with this year. The Obamas signed a multi-year production deal with the streaming company in 2018, and in July 2020 the former first lady launched a podcast.Hide Caption 40 of 40But there are passages throughout the book that exemplify the toll a life in politics, especially in the White House, can take on a marriage.”And yet, despite Michelle’s success and popularity, I continued to sense an undercurrent of tension in her, subtle but constant, like the faint thrum of a hidden machine,” Obama writes about his marriage. “It was as if, confined as we were within the walls of the White House, all her previous sources of frustration became more concentrated, more vivid, whether it was my round the clock absorption with work, or the way politics exposed our family to scrutiny and attacks, or the tendency of even friends and family members to treat her role as secondary in importance.”Obama adds that there were nights “lying next to Michelle in the dark, I’d think about those days when everything between us felt lighter, when her smile was more constant and our love less encumbered, and my heart would suddenly tighten at the thought that those days might not return.”‘They’re scared of you’The most personal and powerful recollections come, however, when race intersects with Obama’s reflections, particularly when the former president recalls how, in high school, he would ask why “Blacks play professional basketball but not coach it” and what it meant when “that girl from school mean when she said she didn’t think of me as Black.”It wasn’t until his time in Chicago as a community organizer that he “resolved the lingering questions of my racial identity,” Obama writes, adding that the years under Harold Washington, Chicago’s first black mayor, that made him “think for the first time that I wanted to someday run for public office.”But even in Chicago, Obama writes, questions about his race would linger. When he unsuccessfully ran against Rep. Bobby Rush in 2000, Obama notes that some asked the question, “Is he even black?”The most powerful self-examinations about race come during Obama’s years in the White House, though.When describing his decision to criticize the arrest of Henry Louis Gates in 2009, Obama recalls how then White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs asked if he would consider clarifying his statement. Obama writes that he told his top aide it will “blow over,” but he was wrong, learning later from his polling director that the incident caused a huge drop in support among white voters that he never recovered.”The reaction to my comments on Gates surprised us all,” Obama writes. “It was my first indicator of how the issue of Black folks and the police was more polarizing than just about any other subject in American life.”Those feelings just continued during the rise of Palin and the Tea Party, Obama writes, recalling how Michelle Obama “caught a glimpse of a Tea Party rally on TV.””She seized the remote and turned off the set, her expression hovering somewhere between rage and resignation,” Obama writes. “‘It’s a trip, isn’t it?’ she said. … ‘That they’re scared of you. Scared of us.'”
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