President Barack Obama wants PEOPLE readers to know that he remains "hugely optimistic" about America's future

By Sandra Sobieraj Westfall and Jess Cagle
Updated December 09, 2016 02:40 PM
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After an election season marred by displays of misogyny, racism and bigotry among a divided American public, many people are left feeling the country has taken a huge step backwards.

In a joint interview with First Lady Michelle Obama for this week’s PEOPLE cover story, the president reflects on how far the nation has come since his own 2008 election — and insists our progress overshadows our current struggles.

“I’m somebody who never believes the hype when things are going good and doesn’t despair when things don’t work out your way,” the president tells PEOPLE. “The truth of the matter is that when I got elected, there was still racism and misogyny and, you know, anti-gay sentiment in America.”

“In the wake of this election, those elements are still there, but it doesn’t negate all the progress that’s been made,” he continues. “It just means that elements of our culture get amplified sometimes.”

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Although Donald Trump‘s presidency threatens to unravel some of the progressive accomplishments Obama made during his eight years in office — including actions on climate change and universal health care — the president remains hopeful that his legacy will endure.

“This is a big, complicated country. And history doesn’t move in a straight line,” he says. “It zigs and zags, and it goes backwards and forwards. So you can never just say, ‘All right, we’re finished with that.’ The battle to be vigilant, on behalf of kindness and tolerance and fairness and equality, that’s a day-to-day thing that each of us is responsible for. That doesn’t change because of one election. It’s something that has to be tended to all the time.”

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RELATED VIDEO: Watch People at the White House: The Final Interview with The Obamas in full here

The president adds that he remains “hugely optimistic” about the future — in part because of the next generation of Americans, including his own daughters, Malia, 18, and Sasha, 15.

“You talk to Malia and Sasha. The idea that you’d discriminate against somebody because they had a different sexual orientation? It’s crazy to them,” Obama says.

“That generation right behind us, and I believe each successive generation, as long as we’re doing our job of being good models for it, they’re going to move this country forward in a better direction,” the president adds.