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Regardless of what President-elect Donald Trump’s plans are for immigration, President Barack Obama says there will be “inevitable” changes to the demographics of the United States.
“If you stopped all immigration today, just by virtue of birth rates, this is going to be a browner country,” Obama told NPR’s Steve Inskeep in an interview that aired Monday. “And if we’re not thinking right now about how we make sure that next generation is getting a good education and are instilled with a common creed and the values that make America so special and are cared for and nurtured and loved the way every American child is treated, then we’re not going to be as successful.”
Obama said it’s natural for the nation to have “some growing pains” because of the substantial changes to the world during his eight years in office:
I started my presidency inheriting a massive crisis of proportions that we haven’t seen since the 1930s. It laid bare some long-term and troubling trends about globalization, and technology, and rising inequality, and the fragility of our financial systems, and the way in which middle-class folks felt they were getting squeezed. And the fact that the ladders of opportunity seem to be farther and fewer between for people who are trying to get out of poverty.
And throughout that process, we also then started seeing — because when the economy’s not doing well some other tensions get laid bare — changing attitudes about sexual orientation, and about race, and about the nature of families. And all of this has been amped up by the revolution in information, throwing through social media and the Internet. And so it’s a big dose. It’s been a lot of stuff that’s been coming at people really quickly, and it’s made folks anxious.
But Obama said the national conversation about race is “long overdue.”
“All these smartphones suddenly taking pictures are not documenting a suddenly worsening relationship between the African-American community and the police,” the president said. “They are recording what has been a long-standing tension and the sense on the part of police that they’re put in a very difficult situation of trying to manage law enforcement in poor communities where guns are easily accessible, the African-American community being rightly convinced that there is a long history of racial bias in our criminal justice system.
“And as painful as it is, that conversation is long overdue,” he continued. “So, my feeling is that if everybody takes a breath, and if we can structure a conversation that is less about how somebody else is trying to take advantage of me, and structure the conversation around how can we work together to solve problems that makes everybody better off, that America can emerge stronger. But that requires leadership. It requires citizenship. It requires all of us doing self-reflection at the same time as we’re fighting on behalf of the things that we care deeply about.”
Obama said he plans to do that self-reflection after he leaves office.
“I can say, and I can demonstrate, I can document that the country is a lot better off now than it was when I took office in almost every dimension,” the president said. “But what I can also say is that we could be doing even better. There are times where I reflect and ask myself, ‘Is there’s something else I could have done, something that I could have said slightly differently that would have led to additional progress and less polarization?’ And I’ll probably, you know, as I reflect on my presidency, once I’m out of just the day-to-day scrum of this thing, I’m sure I’ll come up with a whole bunch of things to add to my list. But I think all of us have to do that.”
The president also reiterated his desire to work to help foster a younger generation of progressive “talent” like the people who worked on his two successful presidential campaigns.
“I’m less likely to get involved in all the nuts and bolts of electioneering,” Obama said. “In that realm, I’m much more likely to just give advice. What I am interested in is just developing a whole new generation of talent. There are such incredible young people who not only worked on my campaign, but I’ve seen in advocacy groups. I’ve seen passionate about issues like climate change or conservation, criminal justice reform, you know, campaigns for a livable wage, or health insurance, and making sure that whatever resources, credibility, spotlight that I can bring to help them rise up.”
Obama has faced some criticism for not doing more to build up the bench of Democratic candidates during his tenure in office. But the upcoming election cycle is particularly important for the party: Control of governorships and state legislatures will determine how electoral seats are redistricted across the country after the 2020 census.
In an interview with Rolling Stone last month, Obama said that after he hands the keys to the White House to Trump, he plans to “sleep for a couple weeks” and take first lady Michelle “on a well-deserved vacation.”
“I’ll spend time in my first year out of office writing a book, and I’m gonna be organizing my presidential center, which is gonna be focused on precisely this issue of how do we train and empower the next generation of leadership,” Obama said. “How do we rethink our storytelling, the messaging and the use of technology and digital media, so that we can make a persuasive case across the country?”
He told NPR that he sees his role as both a “talent scout” and “coach” for the Democratic Party — “somebody who can build on the incredible work that has already been done by young people and that to a large degree was responsible for getting me elected.”