Following the aftermath of Donald Trump’s ascent to the presidency, New Yorker editor in chief David Remnick sat down with President Obama on November 10 for a long-ranging conversation about the future of our country in the hands of Donald Trump.
In a meeting with staffers the day after the election, Obama assured them that “This is not the apocalypse.” While I appreciate his positive outlook and his general sense of optimism, I have to respectfully disagree. This isn’t quite the apocalypse, but you can’t tell me that it isn’t something close –a second cousin, maybe. Close enough to feel anxious about, at the very least.
The most illuminating bit of Remnick’s conversation with President Obama came the day after Obama and Trump met at the White House to discuss the road ahead. According to reports, their 90-minute sit down in the Oval Office was fine, marked by the graciousness and magnanimity President Obama has demonstrated during his two terms in the White House.
When Remnick asked Obama about how the meeting really went, this is what he had to say (emphasis ours).
Later, when I asked Obama how things had really gone, he smiled thinly and said, “I think I can’t characterize it without . . . ” Then he stopped himself and said that he would tell me, “at some point over a beer—off the record.”
I wasn’t counting on that beer anytime soon. But after the sitdown with Trump, Obama told staff members that he had talked Trump through the rudiments of forming a cabinet and policies, including the Iran nuclear deal, counter-terrorism policy, health care—and that the President-elect’s grasp of such matters was, as the debates had made plain, modest at best. Trump, despite his habitual bluster, seemed awed by what he was being told and about to encounter.
Great. Really great. Also enjoyable in a bleak sort of fashion was White House Chief of Staff Denis R. McDonough’s reaction to the results of the election; after taking a stroll with Jared Kushner, a 35-year old newspaper publisher who should under no circumstances be advising a President-elect, McDonough said:
“Everything’s great!” he said. He clenched his teeth and grinned harder in self-mockery. McDonough is the picture of rectitude: the ramrod posture, the trimmed white hair, the ashen mien of a bishop who has missed two meals in a row. “I guess if you keep repeating it, it’s like a mantra, and it will be O.K. ‘Everything will be O.K., everything will be O.K.’ ”
While everyone in the White House and a lot of people in the rest of the country are quietly freaking out in their own ways, President Obama is still optimistic, or something close to it.
Throughout the campaign, he had told his audiences that if Trump—“uniquely unqualified” and “temperamentally unfit” to be Commander-in-Chief—were to win, eight years of accomplishment would go out the window. I asked him if he still believed that.
“Now that the election is over, no, I don’t believe it,” he said with a sharp, dark laugh. “Not because I was over-hyping it. I think that the possibility of everything being out the window exists. But, as a practical matter, what I’ve been saying to people, including my own staff, is that the federal government is an aircraft carrier, it’s not a speedboat.
Obama said that he had accomplished “seventy or seventy-five per cent” of what he set out to do, and “maybe fifteen per cent of that gets rolled back, twenty per cent, but there’s still a lot of stuff that sticks.”
The possibility of “everything being out the window” is a terrifying one to say the least, but take solace in the speedboat metaphor (I did, briefly) if you can and read the entire piece here.