Obama Calls Trump 'Richie Rich' and Pines for Masculine Role Models

Barack Obama has largely been civil in his comments about the controversial figure who followed him into the White House. Though Donald Trump has willingly insulted his predecessor during rally speeches and on Twitter, Obama has for the most part shied away from personal attacks and focused on policy differences. That just changed with a new interview in The Atlantic, where he refers to Trump as a spoiled "Richie Rich" type of character.

Former U.S. President Barack Obama
Barack Obama, seen here in 2019, has some not-so-kind opinions of his successor. Sean Gallup/Getty

Speaking to journalist Jeffrey Goldberg, Obama mused it was strange that Trump is held up as an example of a male role model. He said, "I think about the classic male hero in American culture when you and I were growing up: the John Waynes, the Gary Coopers, the Jimmy Stewarts, the Clint Eastwoods, for that matter. There was a code...the code of masculinity that I grew up with that harkens back to the '30s and '40s and before that. There's a notion that a man is true to his word, that he takes responsibility, that he doesn't complain, that he isn't a bully—in fact he defends the vulnerable against bullies."

The former president continued, "And so even if you are someone who is annoyed by wokeness and political correctness and wants men to be men again and is tired about everyone complaining about the patriarchy, I thought that the model wouldn't be Richie Rich—the complaining, lying, doesn't-take-responsibility-for-anything type of figure."

For those not up on their vintage comics, Richie Rich was a famous character in a comic book series of the same name and a syndicated comic strip. It was also an animated TV series in the 1980s and a live action feature film in 1994, starring Macaulay Culkin in the titular role. The charger, known as "the poor little rich boy," is the world's richest kid, thanks to his wealthy parent. He lives in an impossibly huge mansion, owns at least two of everything, and his middle name is a dollar sign.

Obama was speaking to Goldberg to promote his memoir A Promised Land, the first of a planned two volumes chronicling his time in the White House. On sale tomorrow, the book concludes with the events of the killing of Osama bin Laden in 2011.

During the interview, Obama said he believes the recent rise of populism inside the Republican Party came from him winning the 2008 election. But the movement came not from his opponent, John McCain, but rather his running mate Sarah Palin. He noted: "The power of Palin's rallies compared with McCain's rallies—just contrast the excitement you would see in the Republican base. I think this hinted at the degree to which appeals around identity politics, around nativism, conspiracies, were gaining traction."

"What I think is indisputable is that I signified a shift in power. Just my mere presence worried folks, in some cases explicitly, in some cases subconsciously," he continued. He said this backlash toward him, which stemmed at least in part from racism, began the "birther" conspiracy that he was foreign-born--a conspiracy that became a prominent message of Trump's march to the White House in 2016.

"I'm not surprised that somebody like Trump could get traction in our political life," Obama said, before adding one last jab. "He's a symptom as much as an accelerant. But if we were going to have a right-wing populist in this country, I would have expected somebody a little more appealing."