The Letterman Interview: Obama’s Demonstration of Optimism in Turbulent Times

Posted by Mindy Gan & filed under Current Affairs.

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For the first episode of his new Netflix show, My Next Guest Needs No Introduction, David Letterman invited someone who certainly fit the criteria – Former President Barack Obama. While some may have found Obama’s recent interview with Letterman to be diverse in its topics but shallow in its exploration of them, I thought the interview painted a tidy and pleasant portrait of Obama as a humble and relatable person who is acutely aware of his current situation and the power he still wields outside of the Oval Office.

Currently, Obama seems to be investing his resources into supporting the youth of tomorrow through organizations such as the Obama Foundation. In his explanation of the Foundation’s purpose, Obama demonstrates a level-headed understanding of the need to lead by example and for building communities that support each other in their mutual goals.

“We’re social creatures, and if we see others who are volunteering we’ll think, “Well maybe we’ll volunteer.” If they see others voting…”Maybe I’ll vote.” If they feel as if there’s a community around them that says this is the norm, for us to feel like we have a say in our lives and we can connect with people, even if they don’t look exactly like we do, or worship in the exact same way, or have the same sexual orientation, but we have these common interests involved, and that’s the habits of the heart that we’ve developed…you know, it works that way too.”

Throughout the interview, Obama’s love for America and his belief in its future progress is ever present in his answers. Even as he discusses some of America’s issues – the polarization of biases and politics through social media algorithms or the delicate state of the economy as technology advances and money gathers at the top of the social pyramid – his tone remains optimistic.

“And so John Lewis and Dr. King, what they teach us is to ask ourselves questions if we see cruelty, if we see inequalities, if we see injustice, “why is that? Am I a part of this? Am I willing to do something about it? Are there sacrifices I’m willing to make to change it?” And that’s not always easy, but it’s necessary. That’s how progress is made. And that’s why I always say that the way America has become more perfect – not perfect, but more perfect – typically has to do with ordinary people deciding, “You know what, that’s not right.””

In an age where “Make America Great Again” is frequently touted both ironically and seriously, it’s refreshing to hear the words of a leader whose perspective on his country is simple but grounded. America is undeniably flawed. The nature of “MAGA” enforces the implication that America is not “great” in its current state. They chase an imaginary, prelapsarian vision of the “good old days” that have been soured by social shifts and the passing of time. But Obama looks at America in its entirety, from its problems to its progress and from its history to its future. It’s not perfect, but it has the potential to be better. President or not, Obama will continue to inspire change and lead people into a new age.

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