Former President Barack Obama was David Letterman’s first guest on his new Netflix program “My Next Guest Needs No Introduction.” As usual, Obama was humble and his words were carefully chosen. The interview begins as Letterman and Obama trade retirement stories.
Letterman then poses this question, “Let’s just say… there’s a democracy. And the voting process is being monkeyed with by foreign countries.”
Obama: “Mmm hmm. Hypothetically.”
Letterman: “Hypothetically — what is more damaging to that democracy? Would it be the diminishment — by the head of the democracy — of the press? Or would it be somebody screwing around with the actual voting process?”
Obama: “One of the biggest challenges we have to our democracy… is the degree to which we don’t share a common baseline of facts.”
Obama then referred to one of the most revered quotes in rhetorical history: Senator Patrick Moynihan’s, “Everyone is entitled to their own opinion, but not their own facts.” He added that Russians “exploited” a problem that already existed in America, that we rely so much on social media for news, and tend to favor news organizations to the extent that one news organization may become the exclusive source of information. The former uses algorithms to exploit biases for clicks, while the latter is to relegates oneself to an echo chamber.
Obama said, “If you watch Fox News, you are living on a different planet than if you are, you know, listening to NPR.” He then said it’s important to figure out how to how to clamp down on confirmation biases of social media, as well as search engines.
When David Letterman asked the former president about former First Lady Michelle Obama, he ended up answering the question in such a way as to send a warning to Donald Trump — without even mentioning his name. Obama said, “One of the things that Michelle figured out, in some ways faster than I did, was part of your ability to lead the country doesn’t have to do with legislation, doesn’t have to do with regulations, it has to do with shaping attitudes, shaping culture, increasing awareness.” Although Obama was extremely hesitant about directly commenting about President Donald Trump, the message he sent was clear.
Of course, this interview will have been recorded some time ago, but it is jarring to juxtapose Obama’s dignity and grace against Donald Trump’s total lack of any of the aforementioned. Particularly on the heels of news release that, President Trump referred to African nations as “shithole countries” this week during a private meeting with legislators at the White House.
On a personal level, I think those of us on the left need to get our collective act together so that we will be worthy of another president in Obama’s league.