“It shook me profoundly,” the former first lady writes.
It’s been six years since Donald Trump took the reigns of the United States from Barack Obama, but the former first lady who handed over the keys to the White House to a new family still feels the sting of that shocking election result.
Michelle Obama explains the pain she felt about Trump’s victory in her new book, The Light We Carry: Overcoming in Uncertain Times, which hits shelves everywhere on Nov. 15. That illuminating passage is one of several that Obama read aloud for NPR in advance of publication, and it’s an intimate peek inside how she handled that startling transition. She says Trump’s victory “still hurts” and says it felt like “something much uglier than a simple political defeat.”
In the excerpt, Obama explains what she and her husband stood for as the country’s first couple — things she feels were missing in the Trump White House.
“Barack and I always tried to operate on the principles of hope and hard work — choosing to overlook the bad in favor of the good, believing that most of us shared common goals and that progress could be made and measured, however incrementally, over time,” Obama writes. “We’d tried to live those principles out loud, recognizing that we made it as far as we had despite — and maybe even in defiance of — the bigotry and bias so deeply embedded in American life. We understood that our presence as Black people in the White House said something about what was possible.”
That’s why American voters’ embrace of what she characterizes as the harsh and divisive language from Trump was so personally hurtful, Obama explains.
“Whether or not the 2016 election was a direct rebuke of all that, it did hurt. It still hurts,” Obama writes. “It shook me profoundly to hear the man who replaced my husband as president openly and unapologetically using ethnic slurs, making selfishness and hate somehow acceptable, refusing to condemn white supremacists or to support people demonstrating for racial justice. It shocked me to hear him speaking about differentness as if it were a threat.”
And just like many Democrats reacted to Trump’s ascension, Obama adds that the results in 2016 made her question how much it was actually possible for the country to grow beyond some citizens’ worst impulses.
“Running behind all this was a demoralizing string of thoughts: It had not been enough. We ourselves were not enough. The problems were too big. The holes are too giant, impossible to fill,” Obama says.
The Light We Carry is Obama’s highly anticipated follow-up to her bestselling memoir Becoming, which was the most popular book in the United States that year. In the new tome, she wrestles with questions all of us face about using our power for good and living a life that changes the world for the better.
“In The Light We Carry, she opens a frank and honest dialogue with readers, considering the questions many of us wrestle with: How do we build enduring and honest relationships? How can we discover strength and community inside our differences? What tools do we use to address feelings of self-doubt or helplessness? What do we do when it all starts to feel like too much?” the book’s jacket reads.