David Remnick at the New Yorker takes a long, hard look at the first two weeks of November through the eyes of President Barack Obama as he, like the rest of us, watched in shock as America voted to undo everything he has done.
When I joined Obama on a campaign trip to North Carolina just four days before the election, Hillary Clinton was hanging on to a lead in nearly every poll. Surely, the professionals said, her “firewall” would hold and provide a comfortable victory. David Plouffe, who ran Obama’s 2008 campaign, said that Clinton was a “one hundred per cent” lock and advised nervous Democrats to stop “wetting the bed.” In battleground states, particularly where it was crucial to get out the African-American vote, Obama was giving one blistering campaign speech after another.
“I’m having fun,” he told me. But, thanks in part to James Comey, the F.B.I. director, and his letter to Congress announcing that he would investigate Clinton’s e-mails again, the race tightened considerably in its final week. When Obama wandered down the aisle of Air Force One, I asked him, “Do you feel confident about Tuesday?”
“Nope,” he said.
But then, in Obamian fashion, he delved into a methodical discussion of polling models and, finally, landed on a more tempered and upbeat version of “nope.” He was “cautiously optimistic.”
There were reasons to be so. His Presidency, after all, had seemed poised for a satisfying close. As recently as early 2015, the Obama Administration had been in a funk. He had underestimated isis; Putin had annexed Crimea; Syria was a catastrophe. His relations with the Republicans in Congress, especially since the crushing 2014 midterms, were at an impasse. Then, in a single week in June, 2015: the Supreme Court ended years of legal assaults on Obamacare; the Court ruled in favor of marriage equality; and, at a funeral following the murder of nine congregants at a black church in Charleston, Obama gave a speech that captivated much of the country. Rather than focus on the race war that the killer had hoped to incite, he spoke of the “reservoir of goodness” in the living and the dead and ended by singing “Amazing Grace.”
A sense of energy and accomplishment filtered back into the Administration. Long before Election Day, books were being published about its legacy: an economy steered clear of a beckoning Depression, the rescue of the automobile industry, Wall Street reform, the banning of torture, the passage of Obamacare, marriage equality, and the Lily Ledbetter Fair Pay Act, the end of the war in Iraq, heavy investment in renewable-energy technologies, the appointment of Sonia Sotomayor and Elena Kagan to the Supreme Court, the killing of Osama bin Laden, the Iran nuclear deal, the opening of Cuba, the Paris agreement on climate change, two terms long on dignity and short on scandal. Obama’s approval ratings reached a new high. Clinton’s election as the first female President would complete the narrative, and Obama, his aides suggested, would be free to sit in the healing sun of Oahu and contemplate nothing more rigorous than the unrushed composition of a high-priced memoir.
Air Force One landed at Fort Bragg and the motorcade headed to a gym packed with supporters at Fayetteville State University. In shirtsleeves and with crisp, practiced enthusiasm, Obama delivered his campaign stump speech. His appeal for Clinton was rooted in the preservation of his own legacy. “All the progress that we’ve made these last eight years,” he said, “goes out the window if we don’t win this election!” He revived some of his early tropes, cautioning the crowd not to be “bamboozled” by the G.O.P.—an echo from Malcolm X—and recited the litany of Trump’s acts of disrespect toward blacks, women, Muslims, the disabled, Gold Star parents.
I was standing to the side of the stage. Nearby, a stout older man appeared in the aisle, dressed in a worn, beribboned military uniform and holding a Trump sign. People spotted him quickly and the jeering began. Then came the chant “Hil-la-ry! Hil-la-ry!”
Obama picked up the curdled vibe and located its source. “Hold up!” he said. “Hold up!”
The crowd would not quiet down. He repeated the phrase—“Hold up!”—sixteen more times, and still nothing. It took a long, disturbing while before he could recapture the crowd’s attention and get people to lay off the old man. What followed was a lecture in political civility.
“I’m serious, listen up,” he said. “You’ve got an older gentleman who is supporting his candidate. . . . You don’t have to worry about him. This is what I mean about folks not being focussed. First of all, we live in a country that respects free speech. Second of all, it looks like maybe he might have served in our military, and we’ve got to respect that. Third of all, he was elderly, and we’ve got to respect our elders. . . . Now, I want you to pay attention. Because if we don’t, if we lose focus, we could have problems.”
That night in Hershey, Pennsylvania, Trump informed his supporters that in Fayetteville Obama had been abusive to the protester: “He spent so much time screaming at this protester and, frankly, it was a disgrace.” Either Trump was retailing an account he’d found online in the alt-right media or he was knowingly lying. In other words, Trump was Trump.
And now, in two months, Trump will be President.
We all underestimated the inchoate rage of Trump voters, people who are our relatives and loved ones, people whom many of us still consider to be our friends and neighbors.
In the end, they voted for Donald Trump. We're all going to pay a price for that.
But some of us will pay a much, much higher price than others. And many of the people who did vote for Donald Trump are willing to pay that price if it hurts some of the rest of us even more. They're okay with that.
And the worst part is that they still will call themselves your friends.