When Donald Trump won last week’s US presidential election, much was written by people struggling with what to tell their children – particularly their daughters.
“How will I explain to [my daughter] about how many women have been hurt, badly, because of the sexism that surrounds them?” asked Jessica Valenti in the Guardian.
In an open letter to her ten-year-old daughter for Stylist.co.uk, meanwhile, Sarah Ditum wrote: “Do not allow terror to govern you. Never forget that women’s rights are human rights.”
Now, Barack Obama – who, as well as being the President of the United States, is also the 55-year-old father of Malia, 18, and Sasha, 15 – has revealed what he told his daughters on the morning Trump was elected.
“What I say to them is that people are complicated,” Obama told the New Yorker’s David Remnick.
“Societies and cultures are really complicated. … This is not mathematics; this is biology and chemistry. These are living organisms, and it’s messy.”
He went on to tell his daughters that “your job as a citizen and as a decent human being is to constantly affirm and lift up and fight for treating people with kindness and respect and understanding.
“And you should anticipate that at any given moment there’s going to be flare-ups of bigotry that you may have to confront, or may be inside you and you have to vanquish.”
Ultimately, Obama said, he counselled his daughters not to despair.
“You don’t get into a fetal position about it. You don’t start worrying about apocalypse. You say, O.K., where are the places where I can push to keep it moving forward?”
The relationship between Obama and Trump has been hostile since at least 2011, when Trump became one of the most prominent and persistent peddlers of the racist ‘birther’ conspiracy theory. He repeatedly alleged that Obama had been born in Kenya, questioned whether he was a legitimate U.S. citizen, and demanded that the president release his birth certificate (American presidents have to be born in a U.S. state).
In response, Obama took to openly mocking the reality star billionaire. At the 2011 White House Correspondents’ Association Dinner, which Trump attended, Obama walked onstage to the Rick Derringer song Real American. Later, he announced that he was about to show the audience his “long-form birth video” – before playing the opening scene from The Lion King.
During Trump’s presidential campaign, Obama struck a more serious tone in his criticism of the Republican candidate.
“One of the most disturbing things about this election is just the unbelievable rhetoric coming from the top of the Republican ticket,” he said. He added that Trump’s language “tells you he's insecure enough that he pumps himself up by putting others down – not a character trait that I would advise in the Oval Office.”
After Trump’s election victory last week, however, the two men met privately for the first time at the White House. According to the New Yorker profile, their conversation made clear that the President-elect’s “grasp of such matters” as the Iran nuclear deal, counter-terrorism policy and healthcare “was, as the debates had made plain, modest at best”.
But in a public statement, Obama said that the pair had had “an excellent conversation” and stressed that he would do his best to make sure that Trump’s presidency was “successful”.
Images: Rex Features