Whoever becomes the next president, they’d be wise to heed the advice given by former President Barack Obama at a San Francisco event today — particularly since we all know that the current president will most assuredly ignore it completely.
One can be fairly certain that Donald Trump will not only not follow Obama’s guidance on how to successfully navigate the presidential decision-making process, but that he will most likely post a tweet attacking his predecessor for making a suggestion that is so diametrically opposed to Trump’s own daily routine.
Yet, the last legitimately-elected president’s tips on how to deal with the avalanche of responsibility and difficult choices that the occupant of the Oval Office inevitably faces sound like just the sort of advice that could help Trump salvage his disastrous administration — if only he had the intelligence and discipline to follow them.
Trump has already failed to heed the first piece of advice that Obama offered today, which was to “make sure you have a team with a diversity of opinion sitting around you.” The current president can bearly be said to have a team — much less one with a broad range of viewpoints on the important issues the nation faces — given the constant turnover his administration has endured and the number of “acting” officials filling seats that should have permanent heads in place.
It is Obama’s second admonition, however, that Donald Trump would have the most trouble heeding.
“The other thing that’s helpful is not watching TV or reading social media,” the former president said. “Those are two things I would advise, if you’re our president, not to do. It creates a lot of noise and clouds your judgment.”
Whether President Obama learned that lesson from his own experience or through observing the man who followed him in the White House is not something that he shared with the audience at the event organized by the data-analysis company Splunk that he addressed.
Obama did share his metaphor for his experience taking over the presidency in the midst of the largest financial crisis to hit America since the Great Depression — at such a quickly-moving and unstable time, being in charge of the nation is like “drinking out of a fire hose,” he poetically described his own impression of being thrown in the deep end of the 2008 economic debacle.
“That’s doubly true when you’re in the middle of a crisis,” Obama added.
Explaining that it’s impossible for one person to digest all of the information necessary to make informed decisions in situations like that, Obama stresses the indispensability of a talented and thoughtful team at the ready to give data, context, and informed advice about the problem at hand.
“Then what you have to do is create a process where you have confidence that whatever data is out there has been sifted and sorted,” Obama advised.
The prevalence of “opinion wrapped up as fact,” clickbait, and the distorted landscape of social media make the importance of trusted advisors who can filter out the noise even more crucial, the former president stressed.
“What it does mean is that if you are susceptible to worrying about what are the polls saying or what might this person say about this topic, or you start mistaking the intensity of the passion of a very small subset of people with a broader sense about your country or people who know something about the topic, that will sway your decision-making in an unhealthy way,” Obama said.
By now, one may be thinking that Barack Obama’s tips for the next president could be distilled into a more succinct form by simply telling them to just not act like Donald Trump.
Given that the current president spends his “executive time” live-tweeting the Fox News feed that is seemingly never absent from his field of view, that he cares only about the opinions of his ever-shrinking base, and that he responds to every social media slight and faltering poll as if it were a major international crisis while responding to major global problems by attempting to figure out how it affects him and his family business personally, then that shortened version of President Obama’s remarks today is all the advice any aspiring candidate really needs — just don’t be like Donald Trump.
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Original reporting by Rosalie Chan at Business Insider.