After dropping by Jimmy Kimmel’s show earlier this month, former First Lady Michelle Obama made her way east Friday night to promote her best-selling new memoir Becoming on The Late Show with Stephen Colbert.
During their extended sit-down interview, Stephen Colbert used a quote from Franklin D. Roosevelt to frame the presidency as a “moral center for the country,” saying that Americans “look to the first family to set that example.”
“When you’re the first of anything, the bar feels higher,” Michelle Obama told the host. “You don’t have room to make mistakes.” That’s why, she said, she spent about 30 minutes sobbing during her family’s last flight on Air Force One following President Trump’s inauguration. “It was just the release of eight years of feeling like we had to do everything perfectly, that there wasn’t a margin of error, that we couldn’t make mistakes, that we couldn’t slip, that our tone had to be perfect.”
She knew that as the first African-American family to occupy the White House, “people would measure everyone of our race, of our gender, by what we do. And there is pressure that comes with that, and that’s how we carried ourselves.” She added, “We had to watch our language and we also knew that everything we said, we thought about how it would be viewed by children—not just our children, but all of our children.”
“We knew that we were the moral compass,” Obama continued. “So we had to speak carefully and clearly and intelligently and we couldn’t just say things off the cuff.”
“Now, hold on,” Colbert said, leading to his obvious follow-up question. “As people who took that moral position seriously, and it is a serious position, how does it feel to see the next occupant, at least of the Oval Office—I can’t speak to anyone else in his family—who seems indifferent to that responsibility?”
Obama began by saying she has been “very clear” when it comes to how she feels about the current president, and seemed unwilling to go any further with Colbert. During the 2016 campaign she repeatedly criticized Trump’s rhetoric and behavior. In her book, she calls him a “misogynist” and says she will “never forgive” him for his “birther” attacks on her husband.
“The question that we have to ask ourselves is how does the country feel about it?” she asked Friday night. “I don’t think it matters how I felt about it. I’ve felt torn about it from the day I watched it happen. But now the country has to ask itself, what do we want? What is the bar that we’re setting for ourselves?”
“It doesn’t matter what you or I think at this point,” Obama said, gesturing towards Colbert. “It’s up to the voters now to figure out what kind of moral leadership do we demand in the White House, regardless of party, regardless of race, regardless of gender, regardless of wherever you are. What do we want our president to look like? How do we want them to act? And if we vote for one set of behavior, that’s obviously what we want until we vote differently.”