America’s adversaries, even before the contentious U.S. election aftermath, had seen a weakened country given “cleavages in the body politic” that they think they can exploit, former President Barack Obama said.
Obama spoke on CBS’s “60 Minutes” about the unusual moment for the U.S., in which Democrat Joe Biden is the president-elect but President Donald Trump has refused to concede he lost the Nov. 3 election.
“When your time is up then it is your job to put the country first and think beyond your own ego, and your own interests, and your own disappointments,” Obama said. “My advice to President Trump is, if you want at this late stage in the game to be remembered as somebody who put country first, it’s time for you to do the same thing.”
Trump on Sunday appeared to give tacit if grudging acceptance to Biden’s victory in a tweet, but he recanted within 90 minutes. Trump later posted a Twitter message about more lawsuits coming from his campaign to challenge the election result.
“The president doesn’t like to lose and -- never admits loss,” Obama said. The “humoring” of Trump’s position by Republican officials, he added, “is one more step in delegitimizing not just the incoming Biden administration, but democracy generally.”
Earlier, on CBS’s “Sunday Morning,” Obama said that America’s deepening divisions are driven in part by the different mindset of Trump’s supporters and the conservative media that feeds those views.
Trump lost the popular vote to Biden even though more than 73 million Americans cast their ballots for him. “The power of the alternative world view that’s presented in the media those voters consume -- it carries a lot of weight,” Obama said.
The former president didn’t cite a specific outlet, but he and Democrats have long criticized Fox News Channel, which features a weeknight line-up of conservative hosts, including Tucker Carlson and Sean Hannity, who have been ardent promoters of Trump and his policies.
Trump has turned on the cable news channel recently, blasting its election coverage for being insufficiently loyal, and suggesting in a tweet on Thursday that his supporters switch to more conservative choices. “They forgot the Golden Goose,” Trump said. “The biggest difference between the 2016 Election, and 2020, was @FoxNews!”
Obama said the lack of consensus on the challenges the nation faces makes it difficult to make progress on them. “It’s very hard for our democracy to function if we are operating on just completely different sets of facts,” he told CBS.
In the final weeks of the campaign Obama played a prominent role, vigorously promoting Biden during appearances in several states.
Obama’s stump speech was a full-throated attack on his successor, in which he characterized Trump as a man fixated on his ego, claiming credit when things went well and taking no responsibility for the pandemic. Obama said that Trump had breached norms and undermined institutional values, and that it was important for him to speak out.
Trump has frequently been critical of Obama’s tenure in office, something that Obama said he didn’t take “personally or seriously” but that were “destructive and harmful” nonetheless.
Obama noted his own difficulties in getting his programs enacted while in office, citing income inequality, universal health care, climate change, immigration and criminal-justice reform as things he wanted to get done but didn’t.
No ‘Speed Boat’
He said he learned early on that “the federal government, headed by the president, is an ocean liner, it is not a speed boat.” He added that the work his administration did accomplish may be more appreciated in 10 or 20 years than it is now.
That was due in part to Republican roadblocks. Obama said he tried to improve his relationship with GOP lawmakers by doing everything from hosting Super Bowl parties to attending their caucus sessions, but with little success.
Obama also discussed his family, life in the White House and after leaving it, and his new memoir, called “A Promised Land.”