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I arrived slightly early and sat in the waiting area.
I was introduced to a deaf woman who worked as the president’s receptionist, a black woman who worked in the press office, a Muslim woman in a head scarf who worked on the National Security Council, and an Iranian American woman who worked as a personal aide to the president.
This assessment was born out of the president’s innate optimism and unwavering faith in the ultimate wisdom of the American people—the same traits that had propelled his unlikely five-year ascent from assemblyman in the Illinois state legislature to U. He addressed himself to his “fellow Americans, Democrats, Republicans, independents,” all of whom, he insisted, were more united than they had been led to believe.
America was home to devout worshippers and Little League coaches in blue states, civil libertarians and “gay friends” in red states.
These were not like press conferences—the president would speak in depth and with great familiarity about a range of subjects. He talked about the brilliance of Le Bron James and Stephen Curry—not as basketball talents but as grounded individuals.
Once, I watched him effortlessly reply to queries covering everything from electoral politics to the American economy to environmental policy. I thought of George Foreman, who once booked an exhibition with multiple opponents in which he pounded five straight journeymen—and I suddenly had some idea of how it felt to be the last of them. I asked him whether he was angry at his father, who had abandoned him at a young age to move back to Kenya, and whether that motivated any of his rhetoric.
Nonetheless, he agreed to a series of more formal conversations on this and other topics.
The improbability of a black president had once been so strong that its most vivid representations were comedic.
At the time, the president seemed untroubled by Trump.
(“As a general proposition, it’s hard to run for president by telling people how terrible things are,” Obama once said to me.)But if the president’s inability to cement his legacy in the form of Hillary Clinton proved the limits of his optimism, it also revealed the exceptional nature of his presidential victories.
For eight years Barack Obama walked on ice and never fell. I was always inappropriately dressed, and inappropriately calibrated in tone: In one instance, I was too deferential; in another, too bellicose.
The formidable GOP strongholds of Georgia and Texas were said to be under threat. He had been light on his feet in these last few weeks, cracking jokes at the expense of Republican opponents and laughing off hecklers. Then he flashed the smile that had launched America’s first black presidency, and started dancing again.
At a rally in Orlando on October 28, he greeted a student who would be introducing him by dancing toward her and then noting that the song playing over the loudspeakers—the Gap Band’s “Outstanding”—was older than she was. Three months still remained before Inauguration Day, but staffers had already begun to count down the days.