Reflecting on his election as the first black president, Barack Obama has said if the US continues to be inclusive and diverse, it could someday send a woman, a Hindu, a Jew or a Latino to the White House.
The outgoing president also made clear he was not going away entirely as he planned to speak out if and when he saw “our core values” in danger, serving up a thinly veiled warning to President-elect Donald Trump and his team.
Taking questions at his last news conference on Wednesday Obama, 55, said if the US remained inclusive, giving equal opportunity to everyone, “we’re going to have a woman president, we’re going to have a Latino president, and we’ll have a Jewish president, a Hindu president”.
“Who knows who we’re going to have?” he wrapped up the argument with the usual Obama flourish tailored to get a laugh. “I suspect we’ll have a whole bunch of mixed-up presidents at some point that nobody really knows what to call them.”
Obama said he plans to spend time with his family, do some writing and hear less of himself speak. But he will not fade away, as former presidents are supposed to, and will continue to speak on issues of importance to him.
“I want to do some writing,” Obama said (a $45 million book deals awaits him, according to some news reports), adding: “I want to be quiet a little bit and not hear myself talk so darn much. I want to spend precious time with my girls.”
As reporters cracked up, the context couldn’t have been lost on anyone. The United States had just a few weeks ago passed up, once again, a chance to elect a woman president, someone Obama had campaigned for.
It took the US more than 220 years, since its first presidential election, to elect an African-American president, and as a Protestant-majority country, it waited more than 170 years to pick its first Catholic president, John F Kennedy.
And, as Obama said, it has had no Jewish or Hindu as president nor a Latino, the largest minority community in the US now, overtaking African-Americans. There are about 4 million Jews and an estimated 2.29 million Hindus in the US.
They have a long way to go.
Tulsi Gabbard, a Democrat from Hawaii who became the first Hindu to be elected to US congress (the House of Representatives) in 2012, is often spoken as a leading prospect from this tiny religious minority.
Gabbard was joined in 2017 by three more Hindus, all Indian-Americans — Rohit “Ro” Khanna, Pramila Jayapal and Raja Krishnamoorthi.
Gabbard is not of Indian descent, which she is often mistaken for being a Hindu.
Any one of them could someday, if, as Obama said, America continued to give every citizen equal opportunity, could occupy the White House. Inequality was among a few things he was worried about as he leaves office, the 44th American president said.