Sunday, November 28

Obama and Springsteen: Together Against the “Resentment In Us”


Status: 10/24/2021 4:00 p.m.

How can the US overcome its internal division? This question moves both ex-President Obama and rock star Springsteen – and both are committed to this cause. In the daily topics tell what drives you.

daily topics: Mr President, you are known to enjoy singing, and in the book and podcast you admit that you enjoy doing that in the shower too. Which Bruce Springsteen song is your favorite?

Barack Obama: There are quite a few. “The Rising” is a great title, as is “A Promised Land”. I often sing “I’m on Fire” to Michelle. That’s a sexy song. (Obama and Springsteen laugh)

How the interview came about

The Democrat Barack Obama was the 44th President of the United States from 2009 to 2017 – the first black in the country’s history. Bruce Spingsteen is one of the most successful rock musicians in the country. In his songs he mostly describes everyday life in the USA – often that of the “working class”.

Obama and Springsteen have had a joint podcast since spring. A book by the two of them will be published on October 26th, entitled “Renegades – Born in the USA”. the daily topics got one of the very few opportunities for an interview beforehand. Ingo Zamperoni conducted it via a video conference: All three were connected from different locations.

daily topics: Seriously now, two of America’s best-known voices are talking about personal issues, but also about pressing problems: What made you choose the project?

Obama: Bruce and I have been friends since he generously agreed to campaign in my 2008 election. I wasn’t president then. Now – at a time when we were in the middle of a pandemic and great political turmoil – I thought it might be helpful if the two of us, with our very different backgrounds, but similar mindsets, and a questioning, yet enduring love for this country would be helpful have a conversation with each other.

The people who listen to us get a sense of the distance that the two of us have come, but also of where the country is headed.

daily topics: And Bruce, what made you do that?

Bruce Springsteen: The idea for the podcast originally came from Barack. At first I thought he made a mistake when he called me. I went to high school in New Jersey and made my living playing guitar. I thought the president got the wrong number. (laughs)

“Incredibly bizarre lies delivered”

daily topics: Bruce, your music may be the only thing my American wife – a Democrat – and my Trump-voting Republican father-in-law can agree on. But your whole life has revolved around giving America’s working people a voice. Your titles “Youngstown” or “The River” are exactly that. In the election of Donald Trump, however, we saw how a broad mass of this electorate turned their backs on the Democratic Party. They also turned away from you because of your political stance. There’s a country hit that says, “Am I the only one who’ll stop singing when they put a Springsteen song on the radio?” How do you feel about it, what does it do to you?

Springsteen: I grew up in a democratic but not political household. The only political question I once asked my parents as a kid was when I got home from school and wanted to know if we were Democrats or Republicans. My mother replied that we were democrats because they are for the workers. And that was it with the political debate in my family. But that has been with me all my life.

Unfortunately, it has come to the point in the USA that we are exposed to incredibly bizarre conspiracy theories and lies. This social division in the country is terrifying.

Barack Obama and Bruce Springsteen in conversation with Ingo Zamperoni

daily 10:45 p.m., 24.10.2021 2:02 p.m.

“The feeling of losing ground”

Obama: But what I wanted to say is that there are a lot of people who are working class and still hear Bruce Springsteen. What I believe – and Bruce just said it – does not only exist in the USA, but in all of Europe. It was evident in Brexit and in the recent elections in Germany: The white population, and here especially the white working class, have the feeling that they are losing ground. Some of their worries and needs are justified. It has to do with globalization, with the shrinking manufacturing industry, and with the dwindling strength of unions in the United States.

But what I always try to convey in my politics, and Bruce in his music as well, is to understand that we all have this anger and resentment within us, that we look at other people suspiciously because they may not look like us or pray differently. But we also have good intentions within us. And the same people who may be excited about conspiracy theories or fed up with a bunch of nonsense are also people who love their families, who work hard, who are responsible, and who care for future generations. So the question is: how do we get back together?

“It’s not always just black and white”

daily topics: Yet pressing problems such as racism remain in your country. Bruce, you’ve been singing about it for a long time, like in “My Hometown” for example. You, Mr President, saw it as a child. Did the George Floyd assassination and the Black Lives Matter movement turn things around?

Springsteen: I have a young son, 30 years old. He also took to the streets during the Black Lives Matter demonstrations following the assassination of Geoge Floyd. If we look at our racial relations today, we are much better off today than in 1950 or 1960. (Things have changed. But things are changing slowly, far too slowly. And we always take a step forward and a few steps back. But when it comes to discrimination, we have become a much fairer country than we were 20, 30 or 40 years ago.

Obama: I want to answer your question quickly. I don’t think George Floyd was a turning point in the sense that suddenly all racial differences and discrimination in this country were eliminated. Neither was my choice a turning point.

daily topics: One last question. Mr President, you once said: the arc of history curves in the direction of justice. Progress does not come about in a linear fashion, but in a zigzag. Is it more of a zig or zag?

Obama: It was a long time towards Zack, but I think we are ready for Zig. (laughs)

Springsteen: In any case! I just wanted to note that there is one too Country-Song called “Springsteen”. It’s not always just black and white.

The interview was conducted by Ingo Zamperoni. It has been translated and edited for the written version. The video version with translation can be found on this page, the long version with translation and the original in the ARD media library later in the afternoon.

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