Speaking with NPR’s Steve Inskeep for an interview released on Monday, President Barack Obama implied that racist attitudes towards him as the first black president were part of the reason why some “ordinary voters” have anxieties about his political vision. At his most gracious, Obama implied that opposition towards his presidency and policies was rooted in ignorance. At his worst, he described such Americans - particularly those supportive of Donald Trump - as racist, conspiracy-minded and paranoid, xenophobic, and dishonestly partisan.
Inskeep asked, “And you mentioned Donald Trump taking advantage of real anxieties in the country but that the anxieties are real. Some of that anxiety, as you know, focuses on you, Mr. President. And I want to set aside the politicians for a moment and just talk about ordinary voters. Do you feel over seven years that you've come to understand why it is that some ordinary people in America believe or fear that you are trying to change the country in some way that they cannot accept?”
“Well, look, if what you are asking me, Steve, is are there certain circumstances around being the first African-American president that might not have confronted a previous president, absolutely,” said Obama, framing himself as enduring unique presidential challenges as a result of his skin color.
"Are there certain circumstances around being the first African-American president that might not have confronted a previous president? Absolutely."
President Barack Obama
Ignoring good faith disagreements with his political orientation, Obama began to speak about those who believed he is a Muslim and/or not born in the U.S. Falsely framing these fringe perceptions as somewhat common, he attributed them to his “unique demographic.”
Speculating about other reasons why some Americans have concerns about his presidency, Obama pointed to his gait and countenance. “Some of them may not like my policies, some of them may just not like how I walk, or my big ears or, you know,” he said.
“If you are referring to specific strains in the Republican Party that suggest that somehow I'm different, I'm Muslim, I'm disloyal to the country, etc., which unfortunately is pretty far out there and gets some traction in certain pockets of the Republican Party, and that have been articulated by some of their elected officials, what I'd say there is that that's probably pretty specific to me and who I am and my background, and that in some ways I may represent change that worries them,” said Obama, as if he is first president to have his character assailed. Obama again implied that his skin color and name was an animating component of hostility towards his presidential tenure.
Placing himself in the shoes of those who oppose his policies but are not colored by racism, xenophobia, or paranoid conspiracy-mongering, Obama speculated that such persons were simply ignorant of the true impact of his policies. Commenting on those in coal country, he assumed that they would be sympathetic towards what he described as a false narrative of his “War on Coal,” given that coal mines and plants across the country have been shutting down in recent years.
“I think if you are talking about the specific virulence of some of the opposition directed towards me, then, you know, that may be explained by the particulars of who I am,” said Obama, ending with derision of opposition towards him as being grounded in opposition racial and ethnic aspects of his personhood.
Obama refused to consider good faith or informed political disagreements with any of his policies.
Earlier in the interview, Obama referred to racial disparities in the criminal justice system, implying that unequal ratios of blacks, whites, and others in jail are evidence of widespread racism in society and political institutions.
"There's no black family that hasn't had a conversation around the dinner table about driving while back, and being profiled, and being stopped," Obama said.