I was standing to the side of the stage. Nearby, a stout older man appeared in the aisle, dressed in a worn, beribboned military uniform and holding a Trump sign. People spotted him quickly and the jeering began. Then came the chant “Hil-la-ry! Hil-la-ry!”
Obama picked up the curdled vibe and located its source. “Hold up!” he said. “Hold up!”
The crowd would not quiet down. He repeated the phrase—“Hold up!”—sixteen more times, and still nothing. It took a long, disturbing while before he could recapture the crowd’s attention and get people to lay off the old man. What followed was a lecture in political civility.
“I’m serious, listen up,” he said. “You’ve got an older gentleman who is supporting his candidate. . . . You don’t have to worry about him. This is what I mean about folks not being focussed. First of all, we live in a country that respects free speech. Second of all, it looks like maybe he might have served in our military, and we’ve got to respect that. Third of all, he was elderly, and we’ve got to respect our elders. . . . Now, I want you to pay attention. Because if we don’t, if we lose focus, we could have problems.”
That night in Hershey, Pennsylvania, Trump informed his supporters that in Fayetteville Obama had been abusive to the protester: “He spent so much time screaming at this protester and, frankly, it was a disgrace.” Either Trump was retailing an account he’d found online in the alt-right media or he was knowingly lying. In other words, Trump was Trump.
Now, on the eve of the election, nothing was in the bag. “What’s powerful is that ideas can change on a dime,” Obama said as we pulled up to Air Force One. “Public attitudes can be shaped and shift so radically. Two years ago, Hillary Clinton’s popularity was at sixty-five per cent, and people were contrasting her popularity with mine. There was all this talk about how she was going to need to find ways to distance herself from me. Now, suddenly, she has problems with public opinion. Part of it is, I’m less the focus. But it all happens so fast. This is a puzzle I’m going to be thinking about a lot. I have complete confidence in the American people—that if I can have a conversation with them they’ll choose what’s right. At an emotional level, they want to do the right thing if they have the information.” And yet in an age of filter bubbles and social-media silos, he knew, the “information” that reached people was increasingly shaped by what they wanted to be true. And that was no longer in his hands or anyone else’s.
This was a very long piece but worth sitting down and reading. From what I’ve seen so far, our outgoing President has been very classy and respectful. As the unofficial leader of the Democratic party, he could act like a child and stomp his feet but he’s chosen to reinforce the beautiful nature of our democracy.
I fully agree that social media algorithms are damaging the need for an informed society. If we don’t hear the opinions from all sides and live in our bubbles crafted by algorithms, more people are going to be surprised when someone that isn’t their candidate of choice wins. It will happen again and again.