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September 18, 2021

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Obama offers Trump some advice on how to end his presidency

Former President Barack Obama, who in traditional postpresidential fashion has mostly kept his mouth shut for the past four years, opened up in an interview that aired Sunday on CBS’ “60 Minutes.”

In the wide-ranging interview, pegged to the release of his new book, “A Promised Land,” No. 44 talked about the impact of George Floyd’s death on the American conversation, put a shine on his own time in office and spoke plainly about the divisions he sees in the electorate and the challenges facing President-elect Joe Biden.

He also had some advice for President Trump: Accept defeat now, then get out of town in the classiest manner still possible.

“A president is a public servant. They are temporary occupants of the office, by design. And when your time is up, then it is your job to put the country first and think beyond your own ego and your own interests and your own disappointments,” Obama said.

“My advice to President Trump is, if you want, at this late stage in the game, to be remembered as somebody who put country first, it’s time for you to do the same thing.”

Here are the key takeaways from Obama’s “60 Minutes” interview.

There’s a way things are done, sir

Obama plainly laid out the traditions undertaken during a standard transfer of presidential power, noting that so far Trump hasn’t done what’s expected. He thinks the president — who hasn’t fully admitted defeat yet — should have conceded a day or two after the election, though the race wasn’t called for Biden by the news media until five days after.

“If my daughters, in any kind of competition, pouted and then accused the other side of cheating when they lost, when there was no evidence of it, we’d scold ’em,” Obama said.

The traditions are clear: The outgoing president congratulates the new chief executive and tells the government and agencies to cooperate with the incoming team. The president-elect is invited to the Oval Office for a visit, and then on Inauguration Day he and the incoming first lady are invited to the White House for a small reception and a ride to the ceremony site.

“The outgoing president sits there, is part of the audience, as the new president is sworn in, and at that point the outgoing president is a citizen like everybody else and owes the new president the chance to do their best on behalf of the American people.

“Whether Donald Trump will do the same thing, we’ll have to see. So far that’s not been his approach, but hope springs eternal.”

“The media landscape has changed, and as a consequence, voters’ perceptions have changed, so that Democratic and Republican voters have become much more partisan,” Obama said.

During his presidency, he said, Republicans would “confess” to him: “Look, Mr. President, I know you’re right, but if I vote with you on this, I’m gonna get killed, I’ll lose my seat.” Obama blamed voters who had “soaked in” too much information “demonizing” him and the Affordable Care Act for making it too difficult for those who wanted to agree with him to go ahead and do that.

“I am someone who does not blame the current partisanship solely on Donald Trump or solely on social media,” Obama said. “You already saw some of these trends taking place early in my presidency, but I think they’ve gotten worse.”

Trump is a dictator or something?

After expressing concern that GOP politicians “who clearly know better” were humoring Trump too much about the election, Obama went a little over the top with a genteel slam about the president’s conduct.

“I think there has been this sense over the last several years that literally anything goes and is justified in order to get power. That’s not unique to the United States,” Obama said.

“There are strongmen and dictators around the world who think that ‘I can do anything to stay in power. I can kill people. I can throw them in jail. I can run phony elections. I can suppress journalists.’ But that’s not who we’re supposed to be.”

While Trump has yet to concede, he hasn’t had anyone killed or jailed.

Kamala Harris and Joe Biden on Nov. 7, 2020

Vice President-elect Kamala Harris and President-elect Joe Biden wave to supporters on Nov. 7, 2020, in Wilmington, Del.

(Carolyn Cole / Los Angeles Times)

Biden has his work cut out for him

Obama thinks Biden can set a new tone in Washington but doesn’t think that will solve all the gridlock in the Capitol.

“I think we’re going to have to work with the media and with tech companies to find ways to inform the public better about the issues and to bolster the standards that ensure we can separate the truth from fiction.”

He said work needed to be done at the local level, where voters don’t have the same level of vitriol about their elected officials as they do on the national stage.

Trump wasn’t the source of all that ails D.C., Obama said.

“I don’t see him as the cause for our divisions and the problems with our government. I think he’s an accelerant, but they preceded him. And, sadly, are going to likely outlast him.”

Obama owes his wife a big thank you

In his new memoir, which will be released Tuesday, the former president shares a story about how Michelle Obama adamantly opposed his decision to run for president and asked him, sharply, when it would ever be enough. Clearly, he didn’t take “no” for an answer.

“The fact that she put up with it and forgave me was an act of grace that I am grateful for,” the former POTUS said. “And I’m not sure I deserved it.”

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