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Full Version: How Trump’s Election Shook Obama: ‘What if We Were Wrong?’
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WASHINGTON — Riding in a motorcade in Lima, Peru, shortly after the 2016 election, President Barack Obama was struggling to understand Donald J. Trump’s victory.

“What if we were wrong?” he asked aides riding with him in the armored presidential limousine.

He had read a column asserting that liberals had forgotten how important identity was to people and had promoted an empty cosmopolitan globalism that made many feel left behind. “Maybe we pushed too far,” Mr. Obama said. “Maybe people just want to fall back into their tribe.”

His aides reassured him that he still would have won had he been able to run for another term and that the next generation had more in common with him than with Mr. Trump. Mr. Obama, the first black man elected president, did not seem convinced. “Sometimes I wonder whether I was 10 or 20 years too early,” he said.

In the weeks after Mr. Trump’s election, Mr. Obama went through multiple emotional stages, according to a new book by his longtime adviser Benjamin J. Rhodes. At times, the departing president took the long view, at other points, he flashed anger. He called Mr. Trump a “cartoon” figure who cared more about his crowd sizes than any particular policy. And he expressed rare self-doubt, wondering whether he had misjudged his own influence on American history.

Set to be published next week by Random House, Mr. Rhodes’s memoir, “The World as It Is,” offers a peek into Mr. Obama’s tightly sealed inner sanctum from the perspective of one of the few people who saw him up close through all eight years of his presidency. Few moments shook Mr. Obama more than the decision by voters to replace him with a candidate who had questioned his very birth.

Mr. Rhodes served as Mr. Obama’s deputy national security adviser through some of the most consequential points of his presidency, including decisions to authorize the raid that killed Osama bin Laden, send more troops to Afghanistan, pull most troops out of Iraq, restore diplomatic relations with Cuba, seal a nuclear agreement with Iran, intervene militarily in Libya and refuse to intervene militarily in Syria.
Well, some of us know the answer to this:

Sometimes I wonder whether I was 10 or 20 years too early (Barack Obama).

Barack Obama is a mature reactive, the best sort that there can be -- someone who is unable to convince others of some great moral agenda, but on the whole shows respect for protocol and precedent. Unlike the worst sort of Reactive, he is in no way alienated. He does not use power to settle old scores (as with someone who might have thought 'those Jews/Poles/liberals/socialists, etc. offended me, so send them to the concentration camp!), which would be consummately dangerous as well as destructive and dehumanizing.

His sort typically follows the last act of an Idealist generation in achieving the apex of power -- if events go right. OK, so he is rational, learned, and honest... but he might be incapable of recognizing the sheer ruthlessness of his potential opponents. He thought that he could ridicule Donald Trump, a hollow man unlike anyone that America has known as a President on the assumption that that hollow man could fade into the obscurity best for all (and in view of how the Trump Administration has gone, probably for Trump himself and his coterie). It would be better had Trump been known simply as a loud-mouth billionaire whose shyster tendencies could be ignored by most of us.

Beyond any doubt, objective histories will recognize Obama as an above-average President far better than his predecessor, let alone his successor. But will history be objective? Not if America sinks into a new era of dictatorial rule that sticks. Obama might be seen as an example of a last gasp of liberalism that a Franco-like tyranny uses as an excuse for numbing conformity, severe inequality, and harsh repression. We need remember that the winners write the history books, and we can all just imagine how glorious the triumph of fascism or Communism might be -- or for that matter, how crazy was the idea of a bunch of people in powdered wigs standing up to the British Crown in 1776. Big mistake, Messrs. (Sam) Adams, Hancock, Jefferson, Madison, Washington, Marion, etc, as the gallows prove.

Things can get worse -- far worse -- than Trump.