In the Wake of Trump’s Election, Revisiting President Obama’s Visit to Marc Maron’s ‘WTF’
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The widespread shock and despair over the election of President-Elect Donald Trump (oh, but it hurts the brains and the fingers to have to write that!) among people who are not terrible is attributable primarily to richly merited disgust for the rancid orange bloviator and his deplorable followers and ideas. But part of it is also attributable to a sense of respect bordering on reverence, and a sense of affection veering on love, that a lot of people on the left felt, and continue to feel, towards the man whose job Trump will be taking over.
Just as much of the hatred towards Trump is rooted in his cult of personality, all free-floating rage, unhinged paranoia, and unselfconscious egomania, the cult of Obama is equally rooted in his just as strong, but otherwise antithetical, personality. On a personal level, I just like Obama. He’s an aspirational figure to me, a man who came from nothing and through hard work, dedication, a perfect temperament, and brilliance rose to the seat of the highest power. Honestly, I’m a little disgusted that Obama is even being made to treat Trump as an equal, a successor, and a serious man instead of merely as a crazy-haired TV clown he can blow off.
I don’t just agree with Obama politically, I think he is the kind of man I would love for my son to emulate: intelligent, thoughtful, compassionate, slow to anger, and blessed with an almost preternatural sense of patience and reserve. Furthermore, among comedy geeks, there was a sense that Obama was one of us, that he liked The Daily Show With Jon Stewart and Jay-Z and Beyonce and did the weird anti-comedy thing on Between Two Ferns. On a deeply superficial level, I am going to miss how beautiful and elegant and poised the President and his family are, how they embody my conception of the American dream.
In real and merely symbolic ways, Obama is our guy, and part of being our guy entails being the first, and perhaps last, president ever to be interviewed on WTF by Marc Maron. Obama being interviewed on WTF was a big deal. It was validation not just for Maron’s particular podcast, which similarly came from nothing to conquer the globe, but for podcasting as a medium. President Obama tells Maron that he’s big time early in his historic episode of WTF. When the President of the United States tells you you’re big time, motherfucker you are big time.
Maron begins WTF veritably quaking with anxiety over the enormous challenge ahead of him. He’s nervous but it’s not just a good kind of nervous, but an essential kind of nervous. For Maron not to be nervous about something like this would be an insult to the office of the Presidency. Of course he’s nervous. Wouldn’t you be? It also speaks to the respect Obama engenders that a fundamentally angry, counter-cultural, anti-establishment guy like Maron jumped at the opportunity to respectfully converse with the ultimate figure of the establishment.
The stakes are incredibly high and Maron establishes upfront that he wants to make a real emotional connection with the President of the United States, that he’ll be disappointed if Obama is on script, predictable, reserved. To talk to the President of the United States is an incredible honor (unless it’s that flaming garbage fire of a human being Donald Trump) and Maron is intent on getting the most out of it.
Thankfully, the President of the United States and Maron seem to hit it off immediately. Like Maron, Obama is concerned with life’s big issues. Who am I? What place do I fill in society? How can I better understand myself and the world around me? Meaning, purpose, identity, race, money, ego, ambition: these are things that matter to both men and they spend a dense hour focussing on the country’s big issues in ways that make it difficult, if not impossible, to delineate between the personal and the political.
Listening to Obama talk has always been a pleasure. There’s a musicality to his voice and his cadence as he talks to Maron with a folksiness that feels authentic rather than rehearsed. Obama seems equally at home discussing what he refers to as “my Kansas roots” as he is discussing his secular humanist mother’s incredible respect for the cultures and religions of the world.
Obama has been the subject and target of so much ugliness, hatred, and racism. Even more unconscionably, so has his family. So when Obama says, “The American people are overwhelmingly good, decent, generous people” you desperately want to believe him even if recent political events have made it very difficult to maintain that delusion.
Obama is equal parts statesman and humanitarian here. He’s deeply moving talking about the awful responsibility of having to speak to families and survivors and first responders, not to mention whole communities and countries, in the aftermath of yet another mass shooting that seems, from the outside, so horrifically, horrendously predictable and preventable. With palpable ache in his voice, Obama talks about how we’ve somehow gotten to a place emotionally where we’re able to tell ourselves that it is acceptable to expect a string of spree shootings every year, or even every month, when we should fight against that level of tragedy with all of our will.
Yet Obama is also pragmatic and practical enough to also make sure to talk compassionately about what hunting means to our culture, and how important it is to maintain traditions that mean something to a sizable percentage of the population, like hunting, while at the same time doing everything in our power to keep mass shootings from happening on a never-ending basis.
Obama exudes a sense of decency here that we should not only expect but demand from our leaders but that remains as rare as it is reassuring. Obama’s faith in the fundamental decency of the American people is heartening; he’s more skeptical and critical of institutions like the political establishment and the press but on the whole he’s tremendously optimistic and idealistic despite everything that he’s seen and experienced.
Obama comes off at times like a pragmatic politician but never at the expense of his own humanity. And in this time of fear and pessimism his genuinely optimistic, positive attitude towards the country, its inhabitants, and its political system is nothing short of inspirational. If President Obama can have hope for our nation and its future, then we all can.
In the aftermath of the recent electoral tragedy, it’s good to remember that sometimes wildly improbable, preposterous-seeming good things can happen, like the President of the United States doing WTF as well as inconceivably terrible things, like the election of Donald Trump. While Donald Trump may have been elected President, so was a man like Barack Hussein Obama — twice. As more than just the guest for the 613th episode of WTF, Obama will be a tough act to follow.
Nathan Rabin is the author of five books, including Weird Al: The Book (with Al Yankovic) and the recently released Ebook “Short Read”, 7 Days In Ohio: Trump, The Gathering of The Juggalos And The Summer Everything Went Insane.