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What President Barack Obama Said to His Daughters About the Election

In addition to addressing the American public about Donald Trump’s surprise election win, President Barack Obama had two very important people to try to reassure: his teenage daughters, Malia and Sasha.

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The Commander in Chief, 55, campaigned hard for Democratic candidate Hillary Clinton, who he hoped would help secure his legacy. After the Democrats’ shocking loss in the Tuesday, November 8 vote, the dad of two sat down with his girls to talk to them about reports of racially motivated abuse and harassment after the vote, he told The New Yorker in an interview for their November 28 issue.

Sasha Obama, left, and Malia Obama, right, look on as their dad President Barack Obama makes a joke before delivering a pardon to Abe, the National Thanksgiving Turkey, during a ceremony in the Rose Garden of the White House, on Wednesday, Nov. 25, 2015, in Washington.
Sasha Obama, left, and Malia Obama with Barack Obama on Wednesday, Nov. 25, 2015, in Washington.

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Obama recalled what he told his daughters, aged 18 and 15, during a sit-down with the magazine. “What I say to them is that people are complicated,” he said. “Societies and cultures are complicated. … This is not mathematics; this is biology and chemistry. These are living organisms and it’s messy. And 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. And it doesn’t stop … You don’t get into a fetal position about it. You don’t start worrying about the apocalypse. You say, OK, where are the places where I can push to keep it moving forward.”

Barack Obama speaks as his daughters Sasha and Malia look on before pardoning
Barack Obama speaks as his daughters Sasha and Malia look on during a ceremony at the White House November 26, 2014 in Washington, DC.

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It’s a theme the former Illinois Senator has repeated in remarks to the public, stressing that life will go on and that his main goal is to facilitate a peaceful transition of power. Obama told The New Yorker that his calm demeanor and optimism is not a facade. “Look, by dint of biography, by dint of experience, the basic optimism that I articulate and present publicly as President is real,” he said. “It’s what I teach my daughters. It is how I interact with my friends and with strangers. I genuinely do not assume the worst, because I’ve seen the best so often. So it is a mistake that I think people have sometimes made to think that I’m just constantly biting my tongue and there’s this sort of roiling anger underneath the calm Hawaiian exterior. I’m not that good of an actor.”

Obama met with Trump at the White House last week for an hour and a half, where they discussed policies and organizational issues in transition to a Trump Administration. When asked during the interview how their tete-a-tete really went, the outgoing president said, “I think I can’t characterize it without …” He then stopped himself and said he would one day tell the magazine’s editor David Remnick what his meeting with former birther Trump was really like “over a beer — off the record.” 

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