“Michelle Obama said yesterday that there’s no hope. But I assume she was talking about the past, not the future, because I'm telling you, we have tremendous hope and we have tremendous promise and we have tremendous potential. We are going to be so successful as a country again. We are going to be amazing. And I actually think she made that statement not meaning it the way it came out, because I met with President Obama and Michelle Obama in the White House. My wife was there. She could not have been nicer. So I honestly believe she meant that statement in a different way than it came out, because I believe there is tremendous hope and, beyond hope, we have such potential. This country has such potential. You watch. It's going to be so special. Things are going to happen like you haven't seen happen in many decades."Things are going to happen like you haven't seen happen in many decades.... I think I know what the Trump-is-Hitler contingent will say about that. But everyone will load whatever meaning they want into high abstractions like "tremendous promise," "tremendous potential," and "tremendous hope." I get that it will be big, but big what? You watch. Just wait and see. It's going to be so special. Special, eh? Special. Do I want something special? I might want something normal. I'm a little worried about special.
Of course, Obama's "hope" was always an abstraction that absorbed whatever meaning people saw in it. He's leaving now, having fulfilled some hopes and not others. One hope he has not fulfilled is the perpetuation of his party's power. He's as responsible as anyone for laying the foundation for Trump's campaign. He didn't mean to do that — I don't think! — but he never had the ability to control what was in the minds of the people who responded to his idea of hope, and now there will be a new President, bringing a different version of hope, and the old President's wife chooses to say that "we" are feeling the absence of hope.
Who's that "we"? The Democrats or the woeful people of America who — despite 8 years of Obama — still had to hope. Let's take a closer look at what Michelle Obama said to Oprah:
“So your husband’s administration, every -- everything, the election, was all about hope,” Winfrey said in a clip that aired Friday on “CBS This Morning.” “Do you think that this administration achieved that?”All right. That addresses my first question. Obama should already have fulfilled the hope he inspired.
The first lady responded in the affirmative. “Yes, I do,” she said, “because we feel the difference now.”
“See, now we’re feeling what not having hope feels like. You know? Hope is necessary. It’s a necessary concept,” Obama continued.Now, she's disengaged from Oprah's question. Instead of talking about what President Obama achieved, she's talking about the ongoing feeling that people ought to have. But hope is future-looking and based on continuing need. If Obama had achieved what some of those he inspired were hoping for, would hope still be the important concept? Wouldn't we transition to preserving what we have?
“And Barack didn’t just talk about hope because he thought it was just a nice slogan to get votes. I mean, he and I and so many believe that if you -- what else do you have if you don’t have hope?”You have all those things you've achieved! Health, happiness, security, understanding!
“What do you give your kids if you can’t give them hope?” said the first lady.You give them a safe, secure, loving home, a good education, solid character. What you give them, they have received. They have it. I wonder if I'm arriving at what Trump was groping toward when he said "I assume she was talking about the past, not the future."
Michelle Obama seems to confuse the past and the future in a strange way that relates to a criticism of Democrats one often hears: Their political strategy relies on maintaining economic dependency and feelings of victimhood. To say you must have hope is — think about it — a euphemistic way to say you must continue to feel needy.
"You know, our children respond to crises the way they see us respond. You know, it’s like the toddler that bumps his head on the table...they look up at you to figure out whether it hurts. And if you’re like, oh, my God, they’re crying. But if you’re like, you know what, babe, it’s okay.... I feel that Barack has been that for the nation in ways that people will come to appreciate,” she said.We, the people, are children.
“Having a grown-up in the White House who can say to you in times of crisis and turmoil, hey, it’s gonna be okay."So Obama has been the good father, calm in a crisis. That says nothing about whether Trump will be an equally good father figure or whether the father/children metaphor is ideal. I think Michelle is drifting back into a comfortable meditation on her husband's much-admired temperament. She doesn't leap into saying that Trump's demeanor is distinctly different from Obama's or that Trump's approach to fatherhood would be bad. There's no reason to think Trump would be an "oh, my God" type of parent, the one model Michelle seems to believe would not work.
"Let’s remember the good things that we have. Let’s look at the future. Let’s look at all the things that we’re building. All of this is important for our kids to stay focused and to feel like their work isn’t in vain. That their lives aren’t in vain. What do we do if we don’t have hope, Oprah?”None of that is Trump-specific. It's thoroughly abstract. But the main thing I see in her words is a wife's anxiety to protect her husband's reputation. The press has cherry-picked words that seem to denounce Trump as the end of all hope. That's not really what she was saying. I suspect she's upset that all of her husband's achievements will be undone and that he will be blamed for failing to preserve them, for allowing the election to be lost. But that's only an inference, not even a stated abstraction.