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Michelle Obama On Trump's Birtherism And Her Own Story In 'Becoming'

Nov 9, 2018
Originally published on November 9, 2018 11:42 am
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RACHEL MARTIN, HOST:

First ladies are famously circumspect about how they weigh in on politics, if they do at all. And it's rare that we hear any of them give opinions about the current occupant of the White House. But President Trump has changed a lot of norms in our politics. And former first lady Michelle Obama does have thoughts about that. She lays them out in her new book. It is called "Becoming." And it goes on sale next week. NPR's Danielle Kurtzleben from our Washington Desk has read the book, and she joins us with a preview. Hey, Danielle.

DANIELLE KURTZLEBEN, BYLINE: Hey, Rachel.

MARTIN: So I understand Michelle Obama does talk about her own reflections of election night, when she found out along with the rest of us, along with the rest of America that Donald Trump had won that election.

KURTZLEBEN: Right.

MARTIN: What does she share?

KURTZLEBEN: Well, she shares that she was shocked, like a lot of Americans, that Trump won. She, of course, had been, you know, stumping for Hillary Clinton. But she also denounces, you know, Trump's birther campaign. She talks about things well beyond election night. She makes it pretty clear - very clear - that she has heavy contempt for the current occupant of the Oval Office. She talks about how not only was she offended by the birther campaign, where she - where President Trump suggested that, you know, her husband was not born in America but also that she saw it as a threat to her family, that it was enabling, as she says, wingnuts and kooks, that she was afraid that people could come after her children. She was genuinely scared.

Aside from that, she talks about her utter fury at the "Access Hollywood" tape - that infamous tape where President Trump was caught on tape talking about grabbing women by their genitals. I mean, I do want to be very, very clear here. This is a minuscule sliver of this book that she spends on Trump. It's a handful of pages. It's way at the end. So if you pick this book up and you're expecting a bunch of sick burns against President Trump, that's not what this book is.

MARTIN: That's not what this is.

KURTZLEBEN: No.

MARTIN: I mean, it's a memoir, right?

KURTZLEBEN: Absolutely.

MARTIN: Like, she hasn't done this before. This is about her life story.

KURTZLEBEN: Yes. It's really very much about telling her story, despite the fact that we all know her as the wife of the man who was the most powerful man in the country. If not the world. I mean this is a book about this very accomplished woman saying, you know, hey this is me. This is my story. So we hear about her childhood, her family, her college years. And through all that, we get this deeper sense of who she is then we all got while she was in the White House. We learn that she's driven. She's an obsessively hard worker. She's a planner. She's very Type A - to her husband's, you know, sort of more loosey-goosey way of doing things.

And some of the most interesting things about her formative years are her observations on race and class. This is what I found fascinating. She talks about, you know, growing up black and working class on the South Side of Chicago. And then she ends up at Princeton, this very white, very privileged place. So she talks about meeting black students who are more privileged than her to end up in this sort of bubble of very rich, very privileged people. It's all very fascinating. And it's her not just talking about policy. It's her talking about, here are broad American themes. Here's how they have affected me.

MARTIN: Right. Anything else stand out to you? I mean, this has been getting a whole lot of hype, this book.

KURTZLEBEN: You know, to me, there is a theme that runs throughout the book that I found that really gets very profound. She writes very eloquently about the difficulty of marriage. I mean, writes about going to couples counseling with Barack. She writes about their fertility struggles, about agreeing to let politics hijack their lives. And it's clear she's not trying to be juicy here or, like, to dish. She - you get the sense she's really wrestled with deep questions about what it's like to weave your life in with someone else's.

MARTIN: Right. Things that, I mean, so many of us grapple with...

KURTZLEBEN: Absolutely.

MARTIN: ...Like work of long-term relationships.

KURTZLEBEN: Right.

MARTIN: NPR's Danielle Kurtzleben, thank you so much for giving us a preview of that book.

KURTZLEBEN: Thank you.

MARTIN: It's Michelle Obama's new memoir. It is called "Becoming." Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.