Obviously, His Majesty did not share Boris Johnson’s suspicions of Obama’s “part Kenyan ancestry” making him hostile to Britain. Indeed, there is no mention of Johnson in the book, which is probably just as good, as Obama has a keen knack for observation and, though applied sparingly, contempt.
Unsurprisingly, his successor is the main focus. Donald Trump is therefore “a television personality who introduced himself and his brand as the pinnacle of capitalist success and garish consumption.” Trump’s exploitative embrace and the skillful spread of early conspiracy theories that Obama was not born in the United States have not been forgotten or forgiven: “For millions of Americans afraid of a Black at home Blanche, he promised an elixir for their racial anxiety. … I knew the passions he tapped into, the dark alternate vision he promoted and legitimized was something I would likely be grappling with for the rest of my presidency.
Despite being the coolest president America has ever had, Obama is still threatened by the media’s indulgence for Trump’s lies. He reminds us that Trump came to NBC to say he sent investigators to look at Obama’s birth certificate and “I have people studying it and they can’t believe what they find “.
In this case, the only thing Obama shares with Trump is resentment towards the press, with the former president stressing that reporters “do not at any time simply and frankly call Trump for lying or claim that the conspiracy theory he was promoting was racist ”.
Like the man himself, his memoirs are elegant, thoughtful and generally balanced. While Obama must be delighted with Trump’s defeat and now have won some sort of third proxy term, he admits that Joe Biden was cautious about the raid that assassinated Osama bin Laden, and that his former vice president has a part of vanity, a tendency to talk too much, and lack of “filter” to prevent blunders from slipping. Biden does, however, have a “heart.”
Readers will be entertained by the many other precise pen portraits. Gordon Brown was responsible, but “he lacked the sparkling political gifts of his predecessor” while David Cameron embarked on “studied informality”. Angela Merkel impressed much more, already dominating Europe and once looking at French President Sarkozy “like an unruly child”.
The only personality he obviously doesn’t want to overlook is of course Michelle; on the contrary, the mere mention of her triggers unexpected romantic reveries of genuinely undiluted affection in Mills and Boon’s pasty narrative. When he thought about running for president, given the other excellent candidates, she asked him, “So my question is why you, Barack? Why do you need to be president? ‘We looked at each other from across the table. For a while, it was as if we were alone in the room. My mind returned to the moment we first met seventeen years ago, me arriving late to her office, a little damp from the rain, Michelle rising from her desk, so beautiful and masterful self-evident in an avocado blouse and skirt, and the easy joke that followed. I had seen a vulnerability in her round, dark eyes that I knew she seldom let show. I even knew then that she was special, that I would need to know her, that she was a woman that I could love. How lucky I had been, I thought.
Phew. I can only imagine how Trump’s account of his meeting Melania will read when his ghost-written will finally appears.
Obama is a beautifully written memoir, in fact his third (after Dreams of my father and The audacity of hope) and covers his childhood until the assassination of Osama bin Laden in 2011, which is written like a thriller. It is not a true work of history as such, but it is full of ideas about the state of American society, and in particular its racial issues. In fact, while the competition isn’t strong, it’s probably the best volume of autobiography by a modern-day former president. To recall a face of America, it is invaluable.
‘A Promised Land’ is on sale now via Penguin Viking