Obama

A virtual museum of his presidency

Through a collection of deeply reported stories, videos, photographs, documents and graphics, experience Barack Obama’s historic time in office: as the first black president, as commander in chief, as a domestic and foreign policymaker, and as a husband and father.

Continue to the gallery of stories or keep reading: Obama has spent almost seven months of his presidency on foreign travel.

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Obama’s Legacy Obama and the World

Obama has spent almost seven months of his presidency on foreign travel

He put his frequent-flier miles where his mouth was: Asia.

President Obama’s final foreign trip was a swing through Greece, Germany and Peru just after the 2016 presidential election. It was his 52nd international trip and boosted the number of countries he visited to 58 and the number of days he has spent abroad to 217.

Those numbers are comparable to those of his two most recent predecessors; George W. Bush made 48 trips to 72 countries, and Bill Clinton took 55 trips to 70 countries. But Obama’s travel map reveals a noticeable shift in focus, reflecting his stated desire to re-orient more U.S. attention toward Asia.

He put his frequent-flier miles where his mouth was.

Presidential trips abroad

In his eight years in office, President Obama has spent about 14% of his time — almost seven months — on foreign travel.

Visits

Days

abroad

Trips

94

36

37

33

27

16

16

11

8

Dwight

Eisenhower

Lyndon B.

Johnson

John F.

Kennedy

82

233

68

42

38

30

15

19

12

7

Richard

Nixon

Gerald

Ford

Jimmy

Carter

134

188

102

60

55

47

25

25

Bill

Clinton

Ronald

Reagan

George

H.W. Bush

217

215

140

108

52

48

Barack

Obama

George

W. Bush

Presidential trips abroad

In his eight years in office, President Obama has spent about 14% of his time — almost seven months — on foreign travel.

Visits

Days abroad

Trips

188

94

82

68

47

42

36

37

33

38

30

25

27

16

15

19

12

16

11

8

7

Dwight

Eisenhower

Lyndon B.

Johnson

Richard

Nixon

Gerald

Ford

Jimmy

Carter

Ronald

Reagan

John F.

Kennedy

233

217

215

140

134

108

102

60

55

52

48

25

Barack

Obama

George

H.W. Bush

Bill

Clinton

George

W. Bush

233

Presidential trips abroad

217

In his eight years in office, President Obama has spent about 14% of his time — almost seven months — on foreign travel.

215

Visits

Days abroad

Trips

140

134

188

108

102

94

82

68

60

55

52

48

47

42

36

37

33

38

30

25

25

27

16

15

19

12

16

11

8

7

Barack

Obama

Dwight

Eisenhower

Lyndon B.

Johnson

Richard

Nixon

Gerald

Ford

Jimmy

Carter

Ronald

Reagan

George

H.W. Bush

Bill

Clinton

George

W. Bush

John F.

Kennedy

Obama made an unprecedented 13 stops in Southeast Asia, a region that the administration believed had been neglected by the United States. At the same time, the president visited fewer countries in Europe and the Middle East than did Bush and Clinton, as he sought to pursue new partnerships and reduce the nation’s war footing in Iraq and Afghanistan.

The White House deployed Air Force One strategically to live up to Obama’s inaugural address promise in 2009 that under his watch the United States would “extend a hand” to autocratic regimes that were “willing to unclench your fist.”

The most notable examples were Burma, also known as Myanmar, and Cuba, where Obama made historic visits to end decades of diplomatic isolation.

Obama also was the first sitting U.S. president to visit Laos and Cambodia in Southeast Asia, as well as Kenya, his father’s homeland, and Ethi­o­pia. And he was the first to stop in Malaysia since Lyndon B. Johnson.

Republicans and activist groups criticized the administration for moving too quickly and minimizing human rights abuses, but White House aides defended the approach.

“We have tried to use presidential travel to advance this uniquely Obama effort to address history and hopefully move beyond it,” said Ben Rhodes, a White House deputy national security adviser. “Some call it an apology tour, but we call it an effort to open up more space for better relations with different countries. Those are among our most effective trips. People tend to be enormously gratified and surprised that the president of the United States comes to these places.”

The travel habits of the most recent first ladies

Presidential travel alone is not enough to reprogram the levers of the federal government’s massive national security apparatus. But the Obama White House believed that the president’s foreign itinerary would help prod the bureaucracy to shift away from its traditional emphasis on Europe and the Middle East. It wasn’t just Obama who traveled more frequently to Asia, but also State Department and Pentagon officials.

For years, U.S. presidents had attended annual trans-Atlantic security and economic summits in Europe. Not long after taking office, the Obama White House proposed something radical: to elevate Southeast Asia to a similar level of importance in the Pacific.

Devoting more of the president’s time to that region was not an obvious proposition. The great distances involved required a larger time commitment, and the collection of diverse nations — which featured relatively small economies and divergent political systems — offered no obvious strategic imperative.

But Obama and his aides believed the populous and fast-growing region was increasingly falling under the sway of a rising China.

“There was a conversation among Asian countries that we were not a part of,” Rhodes said. “The price of admission was saying the president of the United States would come.”

In 2011, after intensive debate inside the White House, Obama announced plans to attend the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) summit and the East Asia Summit each year.

“The downside was: Can we justify committing the president’s time to this?” Rhodes said. “And also other regions could object.”

Despite competing pressures, the president lived up to his commitment.

Of the 10 countries in ASEAN, Obama visited all but Brunei. All told, he made 13 stops in those nine countries, compared to eight stops in five nations for Bush and five stops in four nations for Clinton.

“When historians look at the ‘pivot,’ Obama will get the most credit for reengaging Southeast Asia, which has had episodic American attention since the Vietnam War,” said Michael Green, who served as senior Asia director at the National Security Council under Bush.

Foreign affairs analysts cautioned that the White House’s Asia strategy remains a work in progress, and recent anti-U.S. rhetoric from President Rodrigo Duterte of the Philippines reflects the limits of Obama’s personal outreach. Obama visited the Philippines twice — before Duterte was elected — to announce deeper U.S. military and economic partnerships, which Duterte is threatening to reverse.

Still, analysts said the president’s visits to countries not accustomed to such attention were generally well received.

“Obama’s willingness to go beyond the usual suspects . . . sends a different message to the world of a more open United States that is not locked into old patterns,” said Rosa Brooks, a former Pentagon official and contributing editor to Foreign Policy magazine.

Obama was the first president to visit Burma (twice), Laos, Kenya and Ethiopia.

George W. Bush made more trips to Europe, many to the Balkans to shore up relations with countries that were home to “black site” prisons.

Obama’s foreign policy pivot to Asia has expanded relationships in the region.

52

OBAMA

Total trips

48

BUSH

33

18

Allies and neighbors

Europe

31

30

9

8

Southeast Asia

Cen. and N. Amer.

6

5

7

5

Africa

S. America

11

6

5

2

Russia

Middle East

7

9

2

4

Italy

Afghanistan

6

2

4

3

China

Saudi Arabia

2

4

2

1

Vatican

Iraq

5

4

1

Egypt

3

George W. Bush made more trips to Europe, many to the Balkans to shore up relations with countries that were home to “black site” prisons

Obama was the first president to visit Burma (twice), Laos, Kenya and Ethiopia.

Obama’s foreign policy pivot to Asia has expanded relationships in the region.

52

OBAMA

Total trips

48

BUSH

33

18

9

8

Allies and neighbors

Europe

Southeast Asia

Central and N. America

31

30

6

5

7

5

5

2

Russia

Africa

S. America

Middle East

7

11

6

9

2

4

4

3

Italy

Afghanistan

China

Saudi Arabia

6

2

2

4

2

1

1

Vatican

Iraq

Egypt

5

4

3

George W. Bush made more trips to Europe, many to the Balkans to shore up relations with countries that were home to “black site” prisons

Obama’s foreign policy pivot to Asia has expanded relationships in the region.

52

Obama was the first president to visit Burma (twice), Laos, Kenya and Ethiopia.

OBAMA

Total trips

48

BUSH

33

18

9

8

7

5

5

Allies and neighbors

Europe

Southeast Asia

Central and N. America

Africa

S. America

Middle East

31

30

6

5

11

6

9

2

2

4

4

3

2

1

1

Russia

Italy

Afghanistan

China

Vatican

Iraq

Egypt

Saudi Arabia

7

6

2

2

4

5

4

3

Obama did not ignore the major U.S. allies and neighbors. He made 33 stops in seven key countries — France, Germany, the United Kingdom, Canada, Mexico, Japan and South Korea — compared to Bush’s 31.

In other cases, however, the White House was willing to curtail Obama’s travel to send a different message.

Obama canceled a summit with Russian President Vladi­mir Putin in Moscow in August 2013 over a series of disputes, including Russia’s harboring of former National Security Agency contractor Edward Snowden.

In all, Obama made just two trips to Russia and visited Moscow just once — when Dmitry Medvedev was president in 2009. By comparison, Bush made seven trips to Russia, the most of any country of his presidency, and Clinton made five.

As Obama’s tenure winds down, Russia has reemerged as a major geopolitical headache in Ukraine and Syria and on cybersecurity matters. Obama and Putin have met only informally, on the sidelines of global summits.

Obama and Bush have a “different approach to diplomacy,” said Thomas Graham, who served as senior Russia director on the National Security Council from 2004 to 2007. Obama “tends to go looking for results. Bush was more about managing the relationship and showing up. This president hasn’t had that type of personal relationship with foreign leaders.”

Graham said he thinks Obama erred in canceling the summit. But Bush also ultimately failed in his courtship of Putin, and their relationship had deteriorated by the time Bush left office.

Rhodes said that if Medvedev had remained in charge, Obama probably would have made two more trips to Moscow.

“We did not have a real, affirmative agenda to drive with them,” he said. “It was symptomatic of a shift under Putin.”

Fiona Hill, a Europe expert at the Brookings Institution, said that Obama delegated some diplomatic duties to Vice President Biden in Ukraine and Secretary of State John F. Kerry in Russia. Kerry visited Moscow four times between May 2015 and July 2016.

Aside from Russia, Bush visited 13 other Eastern European nations, including many in the Balkans, where his administration had set up CIA “black site” prisons to house terrorist suspects. Obama has visited just three other countries in that region.

At a recent security conference in Germany, Hill said, European allies made “so much noise about missing President Bush. They missed the backrub: ‘Where is the U.S. when you want them?’ ”

In the Middle East, where his tenure was largely defined by the U.S. invasion of Iraq, Bush visited nine countries and stopped in Iraq four times.

Obama, who opposed the Iraq War and has pulled most U.S. troops out of that nation, has visited five countries in the Middle East, including Iraq only once. (However, Obama made four visits to another war zone — Afghanistan in Central Asia — compared to Bush’s two.)

Rhodes said the White House aimed to make up for fewer stops in the Middle East by organizing U.S.-led regional summits that brought Obama together with Persian Gulf leaders in Saudi Arabia and at Camp David.

The administration employed a similar group strategy in Africa, where Obama, the first African American president, visited seven countries to Bush’s 11 and Clinton’s 10. In August 2014, Obama welcomed more than 50 heads of state to a first-of-its-kind Africa Leaders Summit at the White House.

Asked about the biggest holes on Obama’s travel résumé, Rhodes pointed to Nigeria, the richest African nation, and to Sri Lanka, which has made recent democratic reforms.

Foreign policy experts said the next president likely will feel compelled to spend more personal attention on Europe, given Britain's exit from the European Union and Russia’s aggression.

But White House aides said they hoped Obama’s successor will find a way to maintain his commitment to overlooked parts of the globe.

“Presidential travel sends a huge message,” Rhodes said. “A trip can be somewhat transformative.”

This story is part of a virtual museum of President Barack Obama’s presidency. In five parts — The First Black President, Commander in Chief, Obama’s America, Obama and the World and The First Family — we explore the triumphs and travails of his historic tenure.

Room One
The First Black President
Illustrations by James Steinberg
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A hopeful moment on race
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Obama’s effort to heal racial divisions and uplift black America
Barack Obama's presidency signaled a "post-racial" America at first, but the racial conflict followed disproved that.

Barack Obama’s watershed 2008 election and the presidency that followed profoundly altered the aesthetics of American democracy, transforming the Founding Fathers’ narrow vision of politics and citizenship into something more expansive and more elegant. The American presidency suddenly looked very different, and for a moment America felt different, too.

The Obama victory helped fulfill one of the great ambitions of the civil rights struggle by showcasing the ability of extraordinarily talented black Americans to lead and excel in all facets of American life. First lady Michelle Obama, and daughters Sasha and Malia, extended this reimagining of black American life by providing a conspicuous vision of a healthy, loving and thriving African American family that defies still-prevalent racist stereotypes.

But some interpreted Obama’s triumph as much more.

SLUG: NA/OBAMA DATE: 10/31/08 CREDIT: Linda Davidson / staff/ The Washington Post LOCATION: Wicker Memorial Park, Gary, IN SUMMARY: Democratic Presidential candidate Barack Obama holds a rally in Gary, IN. PICTURED: Members of the crowd respond to Obama as he makes his way down the ropeline. Some seek to shake his hand, others want to touch his head, some just want a hug. StaffPhoto imported to Merlin on Fri Oct 31 23:06:03 2008
Members of the crowd in Gary, Ind., seek to shake the candidate's hand or touch his head as he thanks them for their support in October 2008. (Linda Davidson/The Washington Post)

The victory was heralded as the arrival of a “post-racial” America, one in which the nation’s original sin of racial slavery and post-Reconstruction Jim Crow discrimination had finally been absolved by the election of a black man as commander in chief. For a while, the nation basked in a racially harmonious afterglow.

A black president would influence generations of young children to embrace a new vision of American citizenship. The “Obama Coalition” of African American, white, Latino, Asian American and Native American voters had helped usher in an era in which institutional racism and pervasive inequality would fade as Americans embraced the nation’s multicultural promise.

Seven years later, such profound optimism seems misplaced. Almost immediately, the Obama presidency unleashed racial furies that have only multiplied over time. From the tea party’s racially tinged attacks on the president’s policy agenda to the “birther” movement’s more overtly racist fantasies asserting that Obama was not even an American citizen, the national racial climate grew more, and not less, fraught.

CHICAGO, ILLINOIS: NOVEMBER 6 -- President Barack Obama is re-elected to office in Chicago, Illinois, on Tuesday, November 6, 2012. (Photo by Nikki Kahn/The Washington Post)
President Obama is feted in Chicago on Nov. 6, 2012, the night he is elected to his second term as commander in chief. (Nikki Kahn/The Washington Post)

If racial conflict, in the form of birthers, tea partyers and gnawing resentments, implicitly shadowed Obama’s first term, it erupted into open warfare during much of his second. The Supreme Court’s 2013 decision in the Shelby v. Holder case gutted Voting Rights Act enforcement, throwing into question the signal achievement of the civil rights movement’s heroic period.

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Beginning with the 2012 shooting death of black teenager Trayvon Martin in Florida, the nation reopened an intense debate on the continued horror of institutional racism evidenced by a string of high-profile deaths of black men, women, boys and girls at the hands of law enforcement.

The organized demonstrations, protests and outrage of a new generation of civil rights activists turned the hashtag #BlackLivesMatter into the clarion call for a new social justice movement. Black Lives Matter activists have forcefully argued that the U.S. criminal justice system represents a gateway to racial oppression, one marked by a drug war that disproportionately targets, punishes and warehouses young men and women of color. In her bestselling book “The New Jim Crow,” legal scholar Michelle Alexander argued that mass incarceration represents a racial caste system that echoes the pervasive, structural inequality of a system of racial apartheid that persists.

DENVER, COLORADO: OCTOBER 24 -- A fan hugs President Barack Obama as he works the rope line following a rally at City Park in Denver, Colorado, on Wednesday, October 24, 2012. (Photo by Nikki Kahn/The Washington Post)
A supporter hugs President Obama as he works the rope line following a rally in Denver in October 2012. (Nikki Kahn/The Washington Post)

Obama’s first-term caution on race matters was punctured by his controversial remarks that police “acted stupidly” in the mistaken identity arrest of Henry Louis Gates Jr., Harvard University’s prominent African American studies professor, in 2009. Four years later he entered the breach once more by proclaiming that if he had a son, “he’d look like Trayvon.”

In the aftermath of racial unrest in Ferguson, Mo., and Baltimore, and a racially motivated massacre in Charleston, S.C., Obama went further. In 2015, Obama found his voice in a series of stirring speeches in Selma, Ala., and Charleston, where he acknowledged America’s long and continuous history of racial injustice.

Policy-wise Obama has launched a private philanthropic effort, My Brother’s Keeper, designed to assist low-income black boys, and became the first president to visit a federal prison in a call for prison reform that foreshadowed the administration’s efforts to release federal inmates facing long sentences on relatively minor drug charges.

Despite these efforts, many of Obama’s African American supporters have expressed profound disappointment over the president’s refusal to forcefully pursue racial and economic justice policies for his most loyal political constituency.

From this perspective, the Obama presidency has played out as a cruel joke on members of the African American community who, despite providing indispensable votes, critical support and unstinting loyalty, find themselves largely shut out from the nation’s post-Great Recession economic recovery. Blacks have, critics suggested, traded away substantive policy demands for the largely symbolic psychological and emotional victory of having a black president and first family in the White House for eight years.

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Others find that assessment harsh, noting that Obama’s most impressive policy achievements have received scant promotion from the White House or acknowledgment in the mainstream media.

History will decide the full measure of the importance, success, failures and shortcomings of the Obama presidency. With regard to race, Obama’s historical significance is ensured; only his impact and legacy are up for debate. In retrospect, the burden of transforming America’s tortured racial history in two four-year presidential terms proved impossible, even as its promise helped to catapult Obama to the nation’s highest office.

DES MOINES, IOWA: NOVEMBER 5 -- President Barack Obama wraps up his campaign with a final stop in downtown Des Moines, Iowa, on Monday, November 5, 2012. (Photo by Nikki Kahn/The Washington Post)
President Obama wraps up his campaign with a final stop in downtown Des Moines on Nov. 5, 2012. (Nikki Kahn/The Washington Post)

Obama’s presidency elides important aspects of the civil rights struggle, especially the teachings of the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. King, for a time, served as the racial justice consciousness for two presidents — John F. Kennedy and Lyndon B. Johnson. Many who hoped Obama might be able to serve both roles — as president and racial justice advocate — have been disappointed. Yet there is a revelatory clarity in that disappointment, proving that Obama is not King or Frederick Douglass, but Abraham Lincoln, Kennedy and Johnson. Even a black president, perhaps especially a black president, could not untangle racism’s Gordian knot on the body politic. Yet in acknowledging the limitations of Obama’s presidency on healing racial divisions and the shortcomings of his policies in uplifting black America, we may reach a newfound political maturity that recognizes that no one person — no matter how powerful — can single-handedly rectify structures of inequality constructed over centuries.

Peniel Joseph is professor of history and director of the Center for the Study of Race and Democracy and the LBJ School of Public Affairs at the University of Texas.

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The speech on race that saved Obama’s candidacy
Barack Obama’s 2008 campaign was almost derailed after racially charged sermons by his former minister, Jeremiah Wright of Chicago's Trinity United Church of Christ were released. After initiall downplaying the controversy, Obama faced it head on during his "A more perfect union" speech given in Philadelphia at the National Consitution Center.
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A soliloquy in Philadelphia
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The beer summit
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Being number one means nothing until there’s a number two.

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On a bridge in Selma
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A new aesthetic
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Some young Americans have known only one president in their lifetime.

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Kids on Obama
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Crime, justice and race
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Obama in Africa
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A record 69
of African Americans turned out to vote in 2008, surpassing white turnout rates for the first time.
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The Obama electorate
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Your Obama presidency
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Room Two
Commander in Chief
Illustrations by Brian Stauffer
Perspectives on the president of a nation at war:

Has he failed to understand the nature of war or shown the virtues of patience to win the long game?

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On war and leadership
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The parade of generals
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We won some good fights and we lost the war.

Thomas Gibbons-Neff
Former Marine infantryman
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A tour of duty
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One enemy after another
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No matter how justified, war promises human tragedy.

Barack Obama
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Words of war and peace
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The last convoy
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The rise of ISIS
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Weighing intervention
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An army of drones
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Struggle after service
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After the killing of Osama bin Laden,
69
of Americans approved of Obama’s efforts to stem terrorism.
Source: Washington Post-ABC News polls, 2011
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Fear at home
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Your fight, your stories
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Room Three
Obama’s America
Illustrations by Thandiwe Tshabalala
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Eight turbulent years
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Anyone claiming that America’s economy is in decline is peddling fiction.

President Obama
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Economic brinksmanship
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The price of Obamacare
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A new state of unions
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Shots fired
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A cultural shift
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‘Healing the planet’
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What is it like to be the last black president?

Zach Galifianakis
Host of “Between Two Ferns”
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Making presidential comedy
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A mark in the wilderness
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While the nation’s economy recovered steadily, over
6 in 10
Americans said the country was on the wrong track.
Source: Washington Post-ABC News polls
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American reactions
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Your America
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Room Four
Obama and the World
Illustrations by Jasu Hu
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Determined restraint
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For Muslims, unanswered prayers
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Open hand, clenched fist
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Talking to Tehran
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Closer now – and cigars!
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In 2015 and 2016, an average
60
of people throughout the world had a favorable opinion of the United States.
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Standing in the world
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Friends, adversaries
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A pivot to Asia
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52 trips.
58 countries.
217 days
outside
the country.
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Air Force One miles
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Your worldview
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Room Five
The First Family
Illustrations by Erin K. Robinson
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The first lady’s last stand
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He does not walk. He strolls with a black man’s head-up posture.

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In the cultural mix
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White House parents
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In fall 2009,
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The most popular of them all?
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The O’Bidens
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The first dogs
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Obama’s Legacy
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Credits
Credits
Editing
  • Terence Samuel, project editor
  • Allison Michaels, project manager, digital editor
  • Shannon Croom, multiplatform editor
  • Courtney Rukan, multiplatform editor
  • Emily Chow, graphics assignment editor
Design and development
  • Seth Blanchard
  • Emily Yount
Illustrations
  • Suzette Moyer, art director
  • James Steinberg, illustrator (The First Black President)
  • Brian Stauffer, illustrator (Commander in Chief)
  • Thandiwe Tshabalala, illustrator (Obama’s America)
  • Jasu Hu, illustrator (Obama and the World)
  • Erin K. Robinson, illustrator (The First Family)
Video
  • Dalton Bennett
  • Gillian Brockell
  • Bastein Inzaurralde
  • Claritza Jimenez
  • Ashleigh Joplin
  • Whitney Leaming
  • Osman Malik
  • Zoeann Murphy
  • Erin O’Conner
  • Sarah Parnass
  • Mahnaz Rezaie
  • Jorge Ribas
  • Whitney Shefte
  • Peter Stevenson
Photo editing
  • Stephen Cook
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Writing and reporting
  • Derek Chollet
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  • Christian Davenport
  • Ivo H. Daalder
  • Mike DeBonis
  • Karen DeYoung
  • Juliet Eilperin
  • Michael Fletcher
  • Thomas Gibbons-Neff
  • Robin Givhan
  • Will Haygood
  • Sari Horwitz
  • Greg Jaffe
  • Peniel Joseph
  • Paul Kane
  • Wesley Lowery
  • David Maraniss
  • Greg Miller
  • Steven Mufson
  • David Nakamura
  • John Pomfret
  • Missy Ryan
  • Peter Slevin
  • Kevin Sullivan
  • Krissah Thompson
  • Neely Tucker
  • William Wan
  • Vanessa Williams
Research and graphics
  • Darla Cameron
  • Scott Clement
  • Emily Guskin
  • Tim Meko
  • Stephanie Stamm
  • Aaron Steckelberg
  • Elise Viebeck