- President Barack Obama wasn’t surprised that the American public elected a populist.
- Obama, though, expected that populist to be more manly than Donald Trump.
- “I thought that the model wouldn’t be Richie Rich—the complaining, lying, doesn’t-take-responsibility-for-anything type of figure,” the former president told The Atlantic.
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Barack Obama wasn’t surprised that US voters elected a populist to the presidency, but told Atlantic reporter Jeffrey Goldberg that he would have expected it to be someone more manly than Donald Trump.
“He’s a symptom as much as an accelerant. But if we were going to have a right-wing populist in this country, I would have expected somebody a little more appealing,” Obama told the Atlantic in a longform interview published Monday.
Obama told Goldberg that when he thinks about the traditional “male hero” in American culture, it conjures up characters like John Wayne, Gary Cooper and Clint Eastwood. Masculinity in a classic sense means, to Obama, being true to your word, taking responsibility and being someone who defends the vulnerable from bullies.
“And so even if you are someone who is annoyed by wokeness and political correctness and wants men to be men again and is tired about everyone complaining about the patriarchy, I thought that the model wouldn’t be Richie Rich—the complaining, lying, doesn’t-take-responsibility-for-anything type of figure,” Obama said.
—Jeffrey Goldberg (@JeffreyGoldberg) November 16, 2020
While he wasn’t surprised that someone like Trump gained “traction in our political life,” he was surprised that long-time Republicans gave into his populism given how his values differ from the norm.
“I did not believe how easily the Republican establishment, people who had been in Washington for a long time and had professed a belief in certain institutional values and norms, would just cave,” he told Goldberg.
Obama attributes the start of the populist wave to Sarah Palin, who ran on the ticket with John McCain in 2008. The excitement at her rallies compared to McCain’s hinted that appeals to identity politics, nativism and conspiracies were gaining traction,” Obama said.
That wave was allowed to thrive with the assistance of right-wing media, like Fox News, as well as social media platforms, he said.
“I don’t hold the tech companies entirely responsible, because this predates social media,” Obama said. “It was already there. But social media has turbocharged it.”