“The biggest challenge we’re going to have over the next 10, 15, 20 years is to return to a civic conversation in which if I say this is a chair we agree this is a chair,” Mr. Obama said. “Now we can disagree on whether it’s a nice chair, whether to replace the chair, whether you want to move it over there. But you can’t say it’s an elephant.”
“I thought we were supposed to be against Obama-chair,” Mr. Meacham quipped, drawing peals of laughter.
Mr. Baker recalled that Mr. Reagan and Speaker Thomas P. “Tip” O’Neill, a Democrat from Massachusetts, disagreed on nearly everything but still managed to collaborate. “They’d fight like hell during the day and at night they would retire somewhere at 5 o’clock, start telling Irish jokes and drinking bourbon,” he said. “And they found ways to cooperate and ways to get the nation’s business done.”
He noted that Mr. Reagan worked with Democrats to overhaul the tax code while paying for it — unlike Mr. Trump’s $1.5 trillion tax cut financed by deficits. “It was a true tax reform,” he said. “It didn’t jack up the budget deficit.”
And he defended the value of NATO, the World Bank, the International Monetary Fund and other organizations that Mr. Trump has denigrated. “These institutions make America better and we ought not to be running them down,” Mr. Baker said.
Mr. Obama used the opportunity to defend his presidency, noting that energy production and stock markets increased on his watch.
“That whole suddenly America’s the biggest oil producer — that was me, people,” he said. As for Wall Street tycoons who complain that he was anti-business, Mr. Obama said, “Have you checked where your stocks were when I came to office” and where they were when he left? “What are you complaining about? Just say thank you, please.”