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  • (upbeat music)

  • - This book is Barack Obama convincing Barack Obama

  • to remain optimistic.

  • And what I mean by convincing Barack Obama,

  • I think of like a young Barack Obama.

  • I think of a fledgling Barack Obama.

  • Not trying to emulate you per se

  • but rather anyone who's trying to make a change

  • in the world or their world.

  • That's what it feels like.

  • If you are writing to young people

  • to be optimistic, in the book,

  • what are some of the frustrations

  • that you understand on their side

  • that may hinder that optimism?

  • You know, because if a young person says,

  • "Yeah but the system right now is crumbling more and more."

  • How do you maintain that optimism?

  • Or do you think that there has to be a point where they go,

  • "I'm not optimistic.

  • "I'm just fighting to break what it is

  • "to create something new."

  • - Part of the reason that it's 700 pages long is because,

  • by reading the book, they'll see,

  • "Man, there are a lot of structural problems

  • "or barriers,

  • in making this place better."

  • We're learning right now in vivid,

  • a vivid example of the fact that our democracy

  • is not,

  • the way we would imagine it to be, right?

  • There are all kinds of elements to it

  • where the most votes don't necessarily translate

  • into the equivalent amount of power.

  • Very popular proposals can wither

  • on the vine because of a filibuster in the Senate.

  • And so, I don't try to gloss those over.

  • The Paris Accord did not solve climate change

  • but it created the first global framework whereby

  • all countries agreed we have to do something about this,

  • and here's a mechanism to do it.

  • You can still be terrified about the pace

  • at which we are burning up the planet,

  • and yet think that was a worthwhile endeavor

  • because it gives us at least the opportunity,

  • maybe three, four, five years down the road

  • to keep building on that.

  • So, that is the kind of mentality

  • I want young people to have.

  • A certain impatience, a certain frustration,

  • a certain anger about the status quo.

  • There are times now where, you know,

  • you have younger activists criticizing me for,

  • "Obama, why didn't you take care of this

  • "or that or the other?"

  • And,

  • I,

  • welcome them feeling frustrated

  • and impatient because that's how I was before I got started.

  • And then they'll get their own knocks on the head.

  • And you know, some stuff won't work

  • out exactly the way they want,

  • but the impulse is the one that I want to encourage,

  • because it's as a consequence of that

  • constant striving and imagining something better

  • that things don't get exactly

  • as we want it, but they get better.

  • - Have you maintained connections with those worlds leaders.

  • Do you send Angela Merkel memes?

  • Like, who are you still close with,

  • just as a human being?

  • - You know, I don't send Angela Merkel memes,

  • but I talked to her sometime.

  • Sometimes, you know, she'll give me a call,

  • I'll give her a call and we'll trade notes.

  • You know, there are a handful of folks who,

  • you've been in the foxhole with right?

  • You've done some good, important work.

  • Some of them are still in power.

  • So I don't want to mention that, you know

  • that I'm giving them a call because you know

  • who knows that might give them, get them in trouble.

  • You mentioned somebody like an Angela Merkel.

  • Look, you know the stance she took in Europe,

  • relative to immigration and the enormous political costs

  • she paid for that,

  • and yet there was something inside her that said,

  • "Look, I'm not going to simply abandon

  • "a million people who are in desperate need."

  • You know, you see that in somebody and you say,

  • it encourages you,

  • that for all the,

  • cruelty and and venality

  • and corruption around the world,

  • there are a lot of good people doing good work.

  • And some of them actually rise

  • to significant positions of power.

  • And in that sense, democracy can work

  • the way it's supposed to.

  • If, you know, we have a vigilant citizenry

  • and that's not always the case.

  • - What do you believe a leader is,

  • not just somebody who's in power, but a leader?

  • - The program we did in Johannesburg,

  • we gathered up 200 young leaders

  • from 50 countries on the continent of Africa.

  • And it was as varied.

  • You had young women who had started rural health clinics.

  • - [Trevor] Yeah.

  • - You had MPs, you know,

  • who, who had taken a more conventional political route.

  • You had entrepreneurs.

  • The thing they all had in common though,

  • was

  • this

  • sense, not only that the world could be better

  • and that they had a role to play in it,

  • but also the belief that they couldn't do it by themselves,

  • and that they had to, in some ways,

  • unlock the potential and power of other people.

  • A speech I gave in Johannesburg in conjunction with that,

  • it was, it was for the anniversary

  • of Mandela's hundredth anniversary,

  • where I contrasted that

  • sort of democratic

  • inclusive leadership to the strong man leadership

  • that, in some ways, we've seen ascendant

  • in certain parts of the world,

  • in some ways has was ascendent here in the United States.

  • And those are two different stories of what it means

  • to be a leader and power.

  • And that conflict, that battle between a more democratic,

  • inclusive vision, and one that's top-down, dominant

  • subordinate, that's a contest that's taking place here

  • in the United States and around the world,

  • and it's not going to be finished

  • just because the election is over and Donald Trump

  • was defeated because you see examples

  • of this in the Philippines and Hungary,

  • in a variety of countries in Africa and Asia.

  • And, and so that contest is going to continue.

  • - Should the world follow America,

  • or is it time for the world to start doing its own thing

  • and America to be less the world police?

  • - I think, it is a good thing that other countries

  • catch up and have their own capabilities

  • and their own agency.

  • That's not something that I think America should fear.

  • My argument would be that even in a more multipolar world,

  • where you don't have just one big power,

  • but you have other countries who are coming into their own,

  • the principles that America articulated at its best

  • about rule of law, human rights, freedom of speech,

  • democracy, those values, at least I choose to believe,

  • are not exclusively American.

  • You as somebody who lived in South Africa,

  • know

  • the play that in other countries,

  • sometimes you hear where somebody

  • who's doing something entirely for power and money

  • and influence will say, if they're criticized,

  • they'll say "Ah, you know,

  • "you've been just influenced by Western thinking.

  • "That's colonial thinking."

  • No, no, no, no.

  • You are stealing from your people.

  • Don't, and when we criticize you,

  • don't claim that somehow,

  • this is some American hegemony

  • being asserted against you.

  • We're calling you on the fact that you're a thief.

  • I think it's important for us to,

  • recognize that for all its failings,

  • that the values that America is often articulated

  • on the world stage, had been ones that I would still

  • believe in and that a lot of people took comfort from.

  • And when we are not asserting them, oftentimes they don't

  • you know, they don't play out on the world stage.

  • - As someone who had to make decisions

  • and someone who was in that leadership position,

  • do you sometimes grapple with how America did

  • or did not help itself in how it acted with the world?

  • Because in the world, like

  • I'll tell you as an international person,

  • we would oftentimes go like,

  • "Man, yes, America is great

  • "and it's doing wonderful things."

  • But then be like "But also man,

  • "sometimes they just break the rules

  • "and no one can say anything about it."

  • - Absolutely.

  • Well and I record examples

  • in the book of where I'm grappling with this, right?

  • And one of the interesting challenges

  • of being President of the United States,

  • but I think being head of government

  • or state in any country is,

  • you inherit a legacy, right?

  • So

  • if

  • I come in as President and,

  • I can't undo the Iraq war,

  • the decision to go into Iraq.

  • Now I can

  • manage as best I can

  • how we can wind down that war,

  • mitigate some of the damage that's been done,

  • but I can't reverse it.

  • - Did you ever envy though,

  • how, like Trump just came in and basically

  • broke shit though?

  • 'Cause I mean he didn't care.

  • - No, I didn't envy it because I do care.

  • And I,

  • do not think that is an option,

  • to simply

  • pretend

  • that the legacy of problems

  • or issues that you inherit are somehow

  • things you can just brush aside.

  • So, the answer is, yes.

  • I would struggle with the fact that any action I took,

  • particularly when you're talking about

  • you know, counter-terrorism.

  • - Right.

  • - That's probably the area where I wrestled with this most.

  • Because my obligation first and foremost,

  • in the United States was to make sure

  • that people didn't get hurt.

  • That's sort of the bare minimum that you expect

  • out of a nation state that you're living in,

  • is that you can defend against harm.

  • Because you're dealing with non-state actors,

  • that meant that by the time I took office,

  • you had networks that were embedded in societies,

  • not necessarily supported by those societies

  • but they're there.

  • And they are plotting and they are planning.

  • And that wasn't made up.

  • And there were organizations that,

  • if they could blow up the New York subway system,

  • they would.

  • If they could get their hands on a biological weapon,

  • they would use it.

  • You then are wrestling with,

  • how do I

  • protect

  • the American people

  • from those actors,

  • but do it in a way

  • that is morally and ethically justified.

  • And war is madness.

  • Kinetic action of any sort,

  • military action of any sort,

  • that results in death and destruction,

  • at a certain level is not the thing