That’s Michelle Obama, the former U.S. first lady, speaking about how shocked she was when Donald Trump won the 2016 presidential election, someone who she had heard “openly and unapologetically using ethnic slurs, making selfishness and hate somehow acceptable.”
In an interview with the BBC on Tuesday, Obama was asked if it still hurts when the U.S. electorate chose Trump. “It still hurts,” she replied, adding that in her darkest moments, she felt that maybe her husband Barack Obama’s administration “wasn’t good enough.”
“[That is] that point in time where you have to ask yourself, was it worth it? Did we make a dent? Did it matter?” she said.
Trump narrowly defeated Democrat Hillary Clinton, the former first lady and U.S. senator who had been secretary of state in the first Obama term, by taking the so-called blue wall states of Michigan, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin by an aggregate 80,000 votes while losing the popular vote by some 3 million.
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Michelle Obama was speaking after an excerpt from her upcoming book, “The Light We Carry,” was published by NPR, where she said that the 2016 election felt “uglier” than a political defeat.
“I couldn’t help but return to the choice our country had made to replace Barack Obama with Donald Trump. What were we to take from that?” she wrote.
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“We understood that our presence as Black people in the White House said something about what was possible. Whether or not the 2016 election was a direct rebuke of all that, it did hurt. It still hurts,” Obama added.
In the BBC interview, she maintained that the 2009–17 Obama administration couldn’t fix everything it wanted to but had “laid a marker in the sand” for change.
“Did everything get fixed in the eight years that we were there? Absolutely not. That’s not how change happens. But we laid a marker in the sand. We pushed the wheel forward a bit. But progress isn’t about a steady climb upward. There are ups and downs and stagnation. That’s the nature of change.
“And that’s why the work that we’re doing today is about empowering the next generation, the generation that we’re handing the baton over to and making space for them to make their mark on history.”
When asked about how to mend the polarization amongst the political landscape nowadays, she said that “leadership matters.”
“The voices at the top matter. If we can continue to be susceptible to voices that want to lead by fear and division, we will follow suit.
“That’s why government matters, democracy matters, voting matters. So I think it starts with having leadership that reflects the direction that we want to go in as a people.”
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