Barack Obama talks race, says ‘siloing’ of media stokes US divisions

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Former President Barack Obama said in a new interview that racial inequality, nationalization of politics and “siloing of the media” is contributing to the intense political divisions in the country.

In a special interview with Anderson Cooper that aired on CNN Monday, the former president bashed Republicans for not pushing back on accusations that the 2020 presidential election was stolen – and questioned a growing debate on critical race theory.

Cooper asked Obama if he felt he had told “the story of race in America” during his eight years as president.

“Each and every time I tried to describe why it is that we are still not fully reconciled with our history,” Obama said. “But, the fact is, it is a hard thing to hear.”

“It’s hard for the majority of this country of white Americans to recognize that, look, you can be proud of this country and its traditions and its history and our forefathers – and yet it is also true that this terrible stuff happened,” he added.

“And that, you know, the vestiges of that linger and continue.”

Obama said his political opponents would “deliberately not only block out that story but try to exploit it for their own political gain.” Obama said that when, in 2009, he criticized a Cambridge, Mass. police arrest of black Harvard professor in his own home, his support among white voters dropped in his poll numbers.

Former U.S. President Barack Obama speaks during the funeral service of the late Rep. John Lewis (D-GA) at Ebenezer Baptist Church on July 30, 2020 in Atlanta, Georgia.
Obama ripped Republicans for not holding former President Trump accountable during his interview with Anderson Cooper.
Getty Images

“But I also think there are certain right wing media venues for example that monetize and capitalize on stoking the fear and resentment of a white population that is witnessing a changing America and seeing demographic changes,” he said.

“And do everything they can to give people a sense that their way of life is threatened and people are trying to take advantage of them.”

Obama said that notion of being threatened is being seen now in the debate over critical race theory.

“You would think with all the public policy debates that are taking place right now that the Republican Party would be engaged in a significant debate about how are we going to deal with the economy and what are we going to do about climate change?” he said.

“Lo and behold the single most important issue to them apparently right now is critical race theory. Who knew that that was the threat to our republic but those debates are powerful because they get at what story do we tell about ourselves.”

Obama discussed his recent memoir “A Promised Land” and bashed Republicans for what he felt was a lack of holding his successor, former President Donald Trump, accountable.

As an example he said “the so-called Republican establishment” should have pushed back on the White House response to Russian election meddling or in response to the president’s “very fine people” comment in the wake of the deadly 2017 alt-right riot in Charlottesville, Va.

“That’s a little bit beyond the pale,” Obama said. “The degree to which we did not see that Republican establishment say ‘hold on, time out, that’s not acceptable, that’s not who we are.’”

Instead, he said, the GOP was “cowed into accepting it” culminating with the Jan. 6 Capitol riots.

“What originally was ‘oh don’t worry, this isn’t going anywhere – we’re just letting Trump and others vent,’” he said.

“And then suddenly you now have large portions of an elected Congress going along with the falsehood that there were problems with the election.”

Former U.S. President Barack Obama speaks during a drive-in campaign rally for Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden in October 2020.
Obama said the most important issue to the Republican party is critical race theory.
Getty Images

Cooper noted that GOP leadership briefly went against Trump.

“And then poof!” Obama said. “Suddenly everybody was back in line.”

“Now the reason for that is because the base believed it and the base believed it because this had been told to them not just by the president but by the media that they watch,” he added.

“And nobody stood up and said ‘Stop, this is enough. This is not true.’”

He then revised that comment and mentioned some brave people stood up and did their jobs, such as Georgia Secretary of State Brad Raffensberger who took heat from fellow Republicans for certifying the local election results in 2020.

“And all those Congressmen started looking around and they said, ‘you know, what I’ll lose my job, I’ll get voted out of office.”

“Now, I’m still the hope-and-change guy, and so my hope is that the tides will turn but that does require each of us to understand this experiment in democracy is not self-executing,” Obama said.

“It doesn’t happen just automatically,” he went on. “It happens because each successive generation says these values, these truths, we hold self-evident. This is important. We’re going to invest in it and sacrifice for it and we’ll stand up for it even when it’s not politically convenient.”

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