At his last press conference as US president, Barack Obama expressed his worries about the country, especially in regard to racial inequality. But when looking at his children and their peers, he said, he’s confident that America by and large is on the right track.
He said that while his daughters, Sasha and Malia, were disappointed in the outcome of the 2016 presidential election, they haven’t turned cynical. Instead, they “appreciated the fact that this is a big complicated country, and democracy’s messy, and it doesn’t always work exactly the way you might want.”
They understood, Obama said, that “if you’re engaged and you’re involved, then there are a lot more good people than bad in this country,” he said. “And in that sense, they are representative of this generation, that makes me really optimistic.”
In answer after answer, Obama expressed his confidence in the next cohort of Americans, from their resilience to their tolerance.
On LGBT rights, he said he “could not be prouder” of the transformation the country had gone through. There would “still be some battles,” he noted, but “if you talk to young people, Malia, Sasha’s generation, even if they’re Republicans, even if they’re conservative, many of them will tell you ‘I don’t understand how you would discriminate against somebody because of sexual orientation.’ That’s just sort of burned into them in…in pretty powerful ways.”
He also gave himself and his administration some credit in shaping the political and social consciousness of Americans who came of age under the country’s first black president.
“I have more confidence on racial issues in the next generation than I do in our generation or the previous generation. I think kids are smarter about it. They’re more tolerant. They are more inclusive by instinct than we are, and hopefully, my presidency maybe helped that along a little bit.”
Although his overall message was uplifting, Obama hinted at his biggest worries, “certain issues or certain moments where I think our core values may be at stake.” The concerns would nudge him to come back into the political spotlight, he said, include systematic discrimination, efforts to prevent people from voting, institutional efforts to silence the press or dissent, as well as the deportation of immigrant children covered by his DREAM Act, who”for all practical purposes are American kids.”
Although he would speak out on these issues, he said, “it doesn’t mean that I would get on the ballot.”
And it doesn’t mean his faith in the country’s next generation would be shaken. “At my core, I think we’re going to be okay,” he said.