As Michelle Obama prepares to exit the White House, she seems to be in a somber mood. In a wide-ranging interview with Oprah Winfrey, she said the weight her husband’s presidency placed on their family has lifted “knowing that we’ve made it this far, and we’ve survived and in many ways thrived.”
But she sounded concerned about the future, saying that when it comes to the nation, she said she prays that Americans still have “hope.”
Obama’s demeanor was relaxed throughout the conversation, which aired Monday night on CBS but was taped last week in the family’s private residence before the Obamas left for their annual Christmas vacation in Hawaii.
The women are friends, and Winfrey is a political supporter of President Obama. When Winfrey asked whether Michelle Obama thought her husband’s administration achieved the “hope” that it “was all about,” the first lady said she did — and then drew a contrast with his successor.
“Yes, I do. Because we feel the difference now,” she said, referring to the election results which will put Republican Donald Trump in the White House. “See, now we are feeling what not having hope feels like, you know. Hope is necessary. It is a necessary concept. What do you give your kids if you can't give them hope?"
The president-elect responded to an early excerpt of first lady’s assessment at a rally he held Saturday in Alabama. “Michelle Obama said yesterday that there’s no hope,” Trump told the crowd, which booed. “But I assume she was talking about the past, not the future.”
The first lady campaigned vigorously against Trump this fall and has said she stands by all that she said about him. Following the October release of a video showing Trump bragging about sexually assaulting women, which he later claimed was “locker room talk,” she gave a speech saying the campaign had “shaken me to my core.”
“This past election was challenging for me to watch as a citizen,” she told Winfrey, adding that the nation is “still feeling the reverberations of that kind of caustic language.”
Still, Obama said that she and her husband are doing what they can to help smooth a path for the next administration. She met with future first lady Melania Trump following the election.
“My offer to Melania was, you really don’t know what you don’t know until you’re here, so the door is open, as I’ve told her and as Laura Bush told me and other first ladies told me,” Obama said. “We will do whatever they need to help them succeed.”
Winfrey probed Obama gently and relatively little of the conversation focused on politics. She did ask Obama what it felt like to be called an “angry black woman” by her critics.
“That was one of those things where you just sort of think, ‘Dang, you don’t even know me,’ ” Obama said. “You just sort of feel like, ‘Wow, where’d that come from?’. . . But then you sort of think, ‘This isn’t about me.’ This is about the person or people who write it, you know? That’s just the truth.”
Obama continued: “We’re so afraid of each other. . . Color, wealth, these things that don’t really matter still play too much of a role in how we see one another. And it’s sad, because the thing that least defines us is the color of our skin. It’s the size of our bank account. None of that matters.”
The friendship that has developed between the two globally famous women was clear during many points of the interview. The former talk show host endorsed Barack Obama’s candidacy for president, campaigned for him and became a family insider. In 2014, Michelle Obama celebrated her birthday with a “girlfriends’ getaway” at Winfrey’s home in Maui. Winfrey’s “farewell” interview with Michelle Obama will re-air Wednesday night on OWN, Winfrey’s cable network.
At one point during the broadcast, Winfrey invited Obama to go “glamping” — glam camping as Winfrey famously did with her best friend, “CBS This Morning” co-anchor Gayle King — now that she will have some free time.
Winfrey also asked Obama about the challenges of parenting her daughters in the White House: “Were there moments where you thought they might be broken?”
“I was really just cautiously making sure that they felt normal” Obama said. “They felt good. . . . Imagine being 18 and you’ve got at least eight men with guns driving you around, walking in your parties. There were those kinds of issues.”
Winfrey interviewed Michelle Obama soon after her family moved to Washington in 2009 for her “O Magazine.” They also sat down together in January 2005, soon after Barack Obama was elected to the U.S. Senate and during the height of Winfrey’s eponymous talk show.
In that first interview, the first lady dished about how the future commander-in-chief was “absolutely the messiest person in the household. . . You had dirty clothes on top of the basket this morning. And I’m just like, ‘There’s a basket with a lid. Lift it up. Put it in.’ ”
The outgoing president made a cameo during the interview to praise his wife’s performance as first lady. “The way she blended purpose with policy and fun was masterful,” he said.
Few first ladies have had such high-profile interviews as their husband’s term ended, said Carl Sferrazza Anthony, a historian with the National First Ladies’ Library. The first was Betty Ford’s sit-down with Barbara Walters in 1977, which included an interview with the president and a tour of the White House residence with the first lady. Walters also took a soft focus to her subject. Years later, it was revealed that Ford, who later became a pioneering advocate for addiction treatment after her own trip to rehab, was intoxicated during the tour — but that Walters edited out portions of the interview where Ford’s speech was slurred.