Obama reflects on Biden election, Trump’s ‘birther’ conspiracy — and ‘bantam cock’ Sarkozy

·3-min read

Donald Trump’s exit from the White House will not be enough to heal America’s deep divisions, former president Barack Obama writes in his forthcoming memoir. He also delivers his verdicts on the foreign leaders he encountered, describing France’s Nicolas Sarkozy as having “his chest thrust out like a bantam cock’s”.

In the first tome of "A Promised Land," which goes on sale on Tuesday, America's first Black president reflects on the four years since he left office.

"Our democracy seems to be teetering on the brink of crisis – a crisis rooted in a fundamental contest between two opposing visions of what America is and what it should be," the 59-year-old Obama writes in an adapted and updated excerpt from his memoir, published on Thursday in The Atlantic.

The crisis "has left the body politic divided, angry, and mistrustful", he says.

It has also "allowed for an ongoing breach of institutional norms, procedural safeguards, and the adherence to basic facts that both Republicans and Democrats once took for granted".

Obama says he was "encouraged" by the election victory of his former vice president, Joe Biden, and his running mate Kamala Harris, and their "character and capacity to do what is right".

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"But I also know that no single election will settle the matter," he cautions. "Our divisions run deep; our challenges are daunting."

‘Elixir for racial anxiety’

In his memoir, the former president addresses the "birther" lie peddled by Trump that Obama was not born in the United States, according to CNN, which also obtained a copy of the book.

"It was as if my very presence in the White House had triggered a deep-seated panic, a sense that the natural order had been disrupted," Obama writes. "Which is exactly what Donald Trump understood when he started peddling assertions that I had not been born in the United States and was thus an illegitimate president.

"For millions of Americans spooked by a Black man in the White House, he promised an elixir for their racial anxiety," he says.

Obama also wonders whether his 2008 election opponent senator John McCain would have picked someone other than Alaska governor Sarah Palin to be his running mate "given the chance to do it over again".

"Through Palin, it seemed as if the dark spirits that had long been lurking on the edges of the modern Republican Party – xenophobia, anti intellectualism, paranoid conspiracy theories, an antipathy towards Black and brown folks – were finding their way to centre stage," Obama adds.

Sarkozy bling

The 768-page tome traces Obama’s political career from its early days to the end of his first term in office. He includes reflections on some of the most prominent foreign leaders and politicians he encountered.

Of Sarkozy, France’s former “bling bling” president, Obama says he had "his chest thrust out like a bantam cock's".

Known for his luxury tastes, Sarkozy spent an estimated $41,674 in gifts to Obama and his family in 2011 alone, including Hermès bags, crystal statuettes and Dior bathrobes.

But their often difficult relationship was not helped when a biography of Carla Bruni-Sarkozy claimed Michelle Obama told the French first lady that life in the White House was "hell". Both the Obama administration and the Élysée Palace denied it at the time.

In his book, Obama also describes Russia’s Vladimir Putin as “physically unimpressive” and recalls his boredom in a meeting with China’s Hu Jintao.

He likens Indian opposition figure Rahul Gandhi to a hapless student, in biting commentary on the dynastic scion who twice led his party to crushing defeats.

Obama writes that Gandhi has "a nervous, unformed quality about him, as if he were a student who'd done the coursework and was eager to impress the teacher but deep down lacked either the aptitude or the passion to master the subject", according to The New York Times’ review of his book.

The former president offers a more positive assessment of another Congress figure, former Indian prime minister Manmohan Singh, a mild-mannered economist whom Obama has also praised publicly.

(FRANCE 24 with AFP)