Obama Slams 'Anti-Intellectual' Trump Politics In Eloquent Speech
"Politics today seems to reject the very concept of objective truth. People just make stuff up".
The same day Donald Trump tried to blame his siding with Vladimir Putin on a misspoken line, former U.S. President Barack Obama has delivered an eloquent, uplifting speech outlining a vision for social unity.
Among his hopes for the world to remember the lessons of Nelson Mandela, in a Johannesburg stadium speech honouring the former South African leader, Obama also delivered constant stinging rebukes for Trump and his "dangerous" brand of "strongman politics".
It comes in the same week his successor has been thoroughly flamed worldwide for seeming to back Russian leader Vladimir Putin over his own American intelligence experts -- then trying to walk back the controversy back by blaming a flubbed line.
On Tuesday, Obama gave his highest-profile speech since leaving office in 2016. Standing in the Wanderers stadium in South Africa's largest city, America's 44th president spoke in honour of Mandela, who would have turned 100 this week.
He paid tribute to Mandela's vision and message of peace, unity, social cohesion and harmony, speaking of how the imprisoned leader's ethos continued to resonate around the world today.
But he also shared a string of not-so-veiled digs at Trump and his brand of divisive politics, calling out trends around "anti-intellectualism and the rejection of science", and "denial of facts".
"Unfortunately, too much of politics today seems to reject the very concept of objective truth. People just make stuff up. They just make stuff up," he said.
"We see the utter loss of shame among political leaders where they’re caught in a lie and they just double down and they lie some more. Politicians have always lied, but it used to be if you caught them lying they’d be like, “Ah, man.” Now they just keep on lying."
(Read the full speech transcript here.)
Obama warned of the world "threatening to return to an older, a more dangerous, a more brutal way of doing business", in the forms of racism, division, and marginalising the poor and vulnerable.
He warned of populist movements "cynically funded by right-wing billionaires intent on reducing government constraints on their business interests". He warned of politicians taking advantage of "the unease that was felt by many people who lived outside of the urban cores".
"Fears that economic security was slipping away, that their social status and privileges were eroding, that their cultural identities were being threatened by outsiders, somebody that didn’t look like them or sound like them or pray as they did," Obama said, with it being hard to ignore echoes of Trump's slogans around denigrating Mexicans and other immigrants, targeting Muslims, and tightening social safety nets.
"A politics of fear and resentment and retrenchment began to appear, and that kind of politics is now on the move. It’s on the move at a pace that would have seemed unimaginable just a few years ago. I am not being alarmist, I am simply stating the facts."
Obama spoke of far-right parties based on "protectionism and closed borders, but also on barely hidden racial nationalism." Trump's border wall, trade tariffs, and the wrecking ball he has taken to long-standing economic alliances, all under the baseball cap slogan of 'Make America Great Again', come to mind.
"Who needs free speech as long as the economy is going good?" Obama posed in a rhetorical question, just hours after Trump had tweeted the below catchphrase following a series of tweets defending his controversial comments on Russia.
Obama went on to attack censorship of media, and those who use the media to spread "hatred and paranoia and propaganda and conspiracy theories".
"Authoritarian governments have been shown time and time again to breed corruption, because they’re not accountable; to repress their people; to lose touch eventually with reality; to engage in bigger and bigger lies that ultimately result in economic and political and cultural and scientific stagnation," he said.
"The fact that countries which rely on rabid nationalism and xenophobia and doctrines of tribal, racial or religious superiority as their main organizing principle, the thing that holds people together — eventually those countries find themselves consumed by civil war or external war. Check the history books."