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Michelle Obama on the awkward Trump gift exchange
01:02 - Source: CNN
Washington CNN  — 

Former first lady Michelle Obama offered a passionate appeal for empathy during her first televised interview since leaving the White House a year ago.

Speaking to Ellen DeGeneres, who told the wife of President Barack Obama that she felt frightened after a year of political turmoil, Michelle Obama encouraged anxious Americans to tune out the noise.

And she offered a glimpse into her post-White House life, one she said is more normal than some people might expect.

“We have to be an open-hearted nation and that’s who we are. And that’s the truth of who we are. We can’t lose sight of that. So, let’s just keep living our lives like that every single day and forget what they’re saying in Washington,” the former first lady said in the interview, which airs this week.

“We know who we are and I know who this country is,” she said.

It was a familiar entreaty from one of the most popular national figures in the country. But it came after a period of relative quiet from both her and the former president. Both have been at work on memoirs and have spent the past year traveling and speaking to groups.

During the 2016 presidential campaign, Michelle Obama spoke passionately against the crude and toxic political attacks being launched by then-candidate Donald Trump. After Trump won, she withheld her criticism and welcomed Trump and his wife, Melania Trump, to the White House.

Both she and the former president have avoided any direct criticism of their successors. In interviews with David Letterman and Britain’s Prince Harry, former President Barack Obama made the case for responsible, stable leadership but didn’t make any direct references to Trump.

But neither has any type of relationship with the Trumps, unlike past presidents and first ladies who have consulted and conversed with their predecessors.

In her conversation with DeGeneres, Michelle Obama offered an optimistic view, despite the rancor.

“People are afraid but then there are people who feel good about the direction of the country, so I mean, that’s what makes this country complicated because it’s made up of so many different people from different backgrounds,” she said. “I mean, we are this mosh pit of society and sometimes there’s a rub.”

“We show empathy, we care for each other, you know, we do have a lot in common. That’s what it means to lead with hope and not fear,” she said. “And that’s all we have, is hope.”

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Never-before-seen photos of Michelle Obama
03:25 - Source: CNN

Michelle Obama was appearing on DeGeneres’ show as part of the talk show host’s 60th birthday celebration. Both Obamas appeared on the daytime show during their tenures as president and first lady.

Dressed in a white slouchy off-the-shoulder sweater and black trousers, she told the host she’d gotten “all gussied up to come here.”

In a nod to a past appearance – during which the first lady enthusiastically tore through a CVS – Obama brought Ellen a gift basket that included boxed wine, Metamucil, pushup handles, and a Barack Obama Chia Pet.

During a lighthearted moment, the former first lady detailed moving into a private home in Washington’s Kalorama neighborhood after leaving the White House a year ago.

“It is odd because now I have a door and a doorbell and people actually trip out when I come to my door and I open it and the dogs, Bo and Sunny, don’t know what a doorbell is,” she said. “So, the doorbell rings and they’re like, ‘I’ve never heard that before.’”

President Obama was busy winding down his administration when they moved in, his wife recalled, and was left with the least desirable room for himself.

“He got so shortchanged on this whole deal. He doesn’t have enough closet space,” she said.

Her youngest daughter Sasha, meanwhile, scored a multi-room suite. The Obamas chose to remain in Washington while Sasha finishes high school.