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Barbershop: Obama's News Conference, Trump And Kanye, And 'Star Wars'


Now it's time for a trip to the Barbershop. That's where we gather a group of interesting folks to talk about what's in the news and what's on their minds. Sitting in the chairs for a shape-up this week are Ron Christie. He's a former adviser to President George W. Bush and Vice President Dick Cheney. Now he's a political strategist and an adjunct professor at Georgetown University. He's in our studios in New York City. Welcome, Ron. Welcome back.

RON CHRISTIE: Hello, Michel.

MARTIN: Also in New York is Danielle Belton. She's an associate editor for The Root and runs her pop culture and politics blog The Black Snob. She's also up there with Ron. Hi, Danielle. Welcome back.

DANIELLE BELTON: Hey, Michel. How's it going?

MARTIN: Good. Better now that you're here.


MARTIN: And also with us is Tammy Garnes. She's the co-producer of the film "August 28" which is directed by Ava DuVernay who, incidentally, we are going to hear from later in this program. "August 28" is showing at the National Museum of African-American History and Culture, and Tammy Garnes joins us from member station WABE in Atlanta. Tammy Garnes, welcome back to you as well.


MARTIN: So let's start with President Obama's final press conference of the year. It was yesterday. It went on for about an hour and a half. He talked about his accomplishments during his eight years in office in the economy, health insurance and foreign policy. And one statement that's making headlines is what he said about Russia. And this, of course, comes after news that Russia was behind the targeted leaks of emails and intended to interfere with U.S. elections. Just listen to a little bit of what the president had to say.


PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA: The Russians can't change us or significantly weaken us. They are a smaller country. They are a weaker country. Their economy doesn't produce anything that anybody wants to buy except oil and gas and arms. They don't innovate, but they can impact us if we lose track of who we are.

MARTIN: Well, Danielle Belton, I mean - a little bit more intense hearing it the second time. I'm going to start with you just - I'm asking just really a broader question of what stood out for you from the press conference?

BELTON: You know, what stood out for me is, you know, President Obama is just a calm, collected person in a time that does not feel very calm or collected. And in some respects, it's - for some people, it's just not comforting. Like, it made me think of, you know - Michelle Goldberg wrote this piece in Slate about this and say how it's increasingly clear that Donald Trump won the election with a deliberate aid of Vladimir Putin. And the president-elect seems intent on rewarding his benefactor with a friendly state department. Like, it's - there's something genuinely, like, horrifying seems to be going on, and President Obama essentially is the meme of the character sitting in a room that's on fire saying this is fine.

MARTIN: Interesting. Ron Christie, what about you? What was your takeaway?

CHRISTIE: Well, I largely agree with Danielle. I think it's interesting that the incoming president-elect and the current president - they seem to be an antithesis of one another. And I looked at President Obama's press conference yesterday, and he was very nostalgic. He was wistful. It's clear that he'd spent a lot of time thinking about his last eight years in office and what he thought it meant to the country. And, obviously, as one who doesn't always agree with the president's policies or his politics, I thought he did a very good job of at least ending his term on a positive note while at the same time showing remarkable emotion from a man who doesn't show much emotion about the situation in Syria and in general in Aleppo in particular.

MARTIN: Tammy, what about you?

GARNES: You actually played my absolute favorite moment from the presser yesterday because, to me, when I heard that, I saw strength. I - that's what I saw. It was like the equivalent of an eye roll and a hand up and a - you know, it really to me was a moment where I said, you know what? He's right. They aren't stronger than us. We are bigger than them. They don't produce. You know what I mean? We are innovators.

And I think in this time right now when we're all feeling the way many of us are feeling, every now and then you need someone to remind you of who you really are as you do in your everyday life. And as a country, I think, you know, the president right now is our reminder of who we are. When I look at him, I remember who we are, why we're here and what we said we were going to do as a people. And at the end of the press conference, he was clear that it's time to take a breath and reflect on how we can all get to a place where people are focused on working together. And we have a newly elected president. However you feel about that, you feel about that. But we do have a newly elected president, and I think more of us need to be in the place or the space where Obama is.

MARTIN: Really, just really briefly here, Ron, I want to go back to you on this because I've heard a number of Republicans say particularly, you know, mainstream Washington Republicans that they actually find it annoying when he says this is not who we are, this is who we are, that they find that irritating. And I just wondered why that is and do you feel the same way?

CHRISTIE: Well, it's a little bit irritating. I believe that we're all Americans, and it shouldn't be a reflection of this is who we are and this is who we aren't. This is, frankly, the country that we are. And it doesn't matter your race, your religion, your ethnicity, but I think a president's job for having worked for one is to find a way to unite the country and to bring people together, and I think all of us would agree that the incoming president-elect has a remarkable responsibility to bring us together as a country. And thus far, I have to say, I'm a little bit less than pleased with some of his antics.

MARTIN: Speaking of which, Ron, another big news item this week was President-elect Donald Trump's reaching out to certain African-American celebrities. He met with Kanye West. He met with also the football luminaries Jim Brown and Ray Lewis. And - it - I don't - Ron...


MARTIN: I'm just trying to put that all together, and it seems to be reaching out to African-Americans through these celebs. What do you think? Is it, Ron?

CHRISTIE: You know, I wrote an op-ed in The New York Times on Labor Day where I - it was entitled "Donald Trump Talks Down To Black America." And you have time to meet with Kanye before you come out with the secretary of state choice? You decide to sit down with celebrities? As if all celebrity folks speak for the African-American people. As if Kanye West - I mean, no offense - really speaks to a lot of the problems that go on in the African-American community.

It just seems like it's a missed opportunity and a tone-deaf response to there are so many people who are out of work, so many people who are looking for opportunity and they don't want it from Kanye. They want it from a responsible leader. And I just think it's kind of bizarre.

MARTIN: Hold on. Danielle, let's play some of Kanye just to tie a bow on it...


MARTIN: ...Just to see what he would say about - let's do it.


KANYE WEST: (Rapping) I miss the old Kanye, straight from the go Kanye. Chop up the soul Kanye, set on his goals Kanye. I hate the new Kanye, the bad mood Kanye. The always rude Kanye, spaz in the news Kanye. I miss the sweet Kanye, chop up the beats Kanye. I got to say at that time I'd like to...

MARTIN: Not sure what the difference is. Danielle, go for it. What do you think?

BELTON: All that was missing from this particular three-ring circus were like dancing bears.


BELTON: But it most certainly had a ring leader and three clowns.


BELTON: You know, I mean, I just feel like Donald Trump is just happy to get any black person to co-sign. He's not really picky about what type of black person it is. And then, you know, with Kanye - like, he should really be focused on his personal well-being, you know, not chasing headlines in the limelight like he...

MARTIN: He does have millions of people who watch his every move. I mean, the fact is we are talking about him. It's almost like you can't take your eyes off him. I just have to say. I'm not trying to...

BELTON: And he's addicted to that. And I think that's not a good thing. And I think like it hasn't been a good thing for him. Now, as for like, you know, Jim Brown and Ray Lewis - I mean, no comment.



MARTIN: All right. Before we leave, Tammy, I'm going to just read this because I just want to get to our last topic, and I want to hear what you have to say about this. So for a lot of people, it has to be said the biggest news of the week has nothing to do with politics, but everything to do with intergalactic affairs. (Unintelligible). Here it is.


FOREST WHITAKER: (As Saw Gerrera) The world is coming undone.

DIEGO LUNA: (As Cassian Andor) Is he really doing this? I want to help.

FELICITY JONES: (As Jyn Erso) Good.

DONNIE YEN: (As Chirrut Imwe) I fear nothing. All is as the force wills it.

MARTIN: Of course that was from "Star Wars: Rogue One," and, Tammy, I'm going to you on this because I know that you are number-one fan, so...


GARNES: Actually, yes, you know, film is part of our life here. And I was reading a great article today by Kate Aronoff that was published, and she talks about how "Star Wars" goes. She equates the decisions being made right now actually - bringing us back to politics - by, like, mid-level employees and the EPA and the Department of Energy who have to decide if they're going to stay in this new administration and help build the Death Star. OK? Like they have to make these choices about whether they stay on the inside and actually help to impact, like, the future or if they jump ship literally. So I was really intrigued by that one. You know, "Star Wars" is "Star Wars." It's - this particular one is a little different. It's - you know, it's standalone...

MARTIN: You've seen it already?

GARNES: I have not seen it. It's the first in the series. I'm taking my kids tonight to see it. But it is, you know - there's a reason that people go to art in times of trouble, and it is because it is a release. And it's a place where we can all come together and actually, you know, forget the ills of what's happening out in the real world.

MARTIN: Oh. Wow. An interesting take on this. OK, well, I was going to say no spoilers...


MARTIN: ...No spoilers. Once you all see it, then you can come back and tell me all about it, so Tammy Garnes, Danielle Belton, Ron Christie, thank you all so much.

BELTON: Thank you.

CHRISTIE: Thanks, Michel.

GARNES: Thank you, Michel. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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