Former U.S. President Barack Obama was interviewed by Britain’s Prince Harry in a discussion aired this morning by BBC Radio 4’s Today program. Ahead of a quickfire round of questions that included Harry asking whether Obama preferred Suits or The Good Wife, the pair talked about Obama’s state of mind during last January’s inauguration of Donald Trump, and what the former president thinks of social media as a platform for change.
Obama said that on January 20, he had some mixed feelings given “all the work that was still undone” and “concerns about how the country moves forward.” But there was also “a serenity there more than I would have expected.”
Without mentioning the current Tweeter-in-Chief by name, Obama said in response to a question about social media, “One of the dangers of the internet is that people can have entirely different realities. They can be just cocooned in information that reinforces their current biases.”
A firm supporter of the First Amendment, Obama said, “The question I think really has to do with how do we harness this technology in a way that allows a multiplicity of voices, allows a diversity of views, but doesn’t lead to a balkanization of our society, but rather continues to promote ways of finding common ground… All of us in leadership have to find ways in which we can recreate a common space on the internet. It used to be, in the United states for example, we had three television stations and everybody watched Walter Cronkite or David Brinkley or whoever the chief anchor was. Everybody had a common set of facts, and so there might be conservatives and liberals, but people could generally agree on a baseline of reality.”
Speaking about his own reputation while in office, Obama said he was seen by the U.S. media generally as “somebody who was very dispassionate and professorial and analytical — and some of that’s true.” But, “I don’t think I can do my job well, or that any leader can do their job well if they don’t have the capacity to feel deeply for the people they’re serving. The great danger that often befalls leaders is that the people they’re supposed to be serving become abstractions. If you don’t understand that what you do every day has a profound impact on somebody else, then you shouldn’t be there.”
Obama said that today he is, “obsessed” with “training the next generation of leaders to be able to make their mark on the world. When you’re in politics directly, then you’re a player on the field… Now I’m making that transition, to some degree, as a coach.”
Turning to the lightning round of questions from Prince Harry, Obama was asked whether he misses the White House bowling alley or cinema more. Answer: “Cinema. We call it a movie theater, but that’s fine.” Does he prefer Rachel or Monica? (we’re going to presume this was about the Friends characters). Answer: “I like Rachel.” Michael Jordan or LeBron James? “Jordan, although I love LeBron, but I’m a Chicago guy.” He deferred on offering his preference for Kim or Khloe Kardashian, and said he’d take Titanic over The Bodyguard.
Among other quick exchanges came the £64,000 question: Suits or The Good Wife? “Suits, obviously,” Obama said, to which Harry responded, “Great, great answer.” The Prince is engaged to marry former Suits star Meghan Markle this May.
Harry is one of several prominent figures guest-editing Radio 4’s Today program over the holiday period. The pre-recorded interview (listen here) with Obama was conducted during the Invictus Games in Toronto in September.