Obama Warns In Mandela Speech That 'Strongman Politics Are Ascendant'

The former U.S. president spoke in South Africa the day after Trump's summit with Russian President Vladimir Putin.

Former President Barack Obama offered a sobering and alarming view of the state of the world in what appeared to be a rebuke of President Donald Trump, warning that nationalist and populist sentiments are making their way into the mainstream.

“Look around. Strongman politics are ascendant suddenly, whereby elections and some pretense of democracy are maintained but those in power seek to undermine every institution or norm that gives democracy meaning,” Obama said Tuesday during a speech in South Africa honoring Nelson Mandela.

He lamented the rise of populist movements that are being funded “by right-wing billionaires intent on reducing governmental constraints on their business interests.”

These movements, Obama said, have struck a chord among “people living outside the urban core who feel like security is slipping away, their social status and privileges eroding, their cultural identities threatened by outsiders.”

Many Western countries are experiencing the rise of far-right parties, he said, adding that these parties “oftentimes are based not just on platforms of protectionism and of closed borders but also barely hidden racial nationalism.” Some key indicators of this are the attacks on the free press and the use of social media to promote “hatred, paranoia and propaganda.”

“Politicians have always lied, but it used to be that if you caught them lying, they’d be like, ‘Oh, man.’ Now they just keep on lying!”

- Former President Barack Obama

Obama concluded with some biting words about the state of American politics.

“You have to believe in facts. Without facts, there’s no basis for cooperation. If I say this is a podium and you say this is an elephant, it’s going to be hard for us to cooperate,” he said.

He applied the analogy to the U.S. withdrawal of the Paris Climate Accord, noting that if American leaders deny the existence of climate change, even though most scientists around the world have reached consensus on the issue, it will be hard to cooperate with other countries on the issue.

He implored the audience to work toward democracy, a pillar of which should be truth-telling. The denial of facts could be the “undoing” of democracy, he cautioned.

“People just make stuff up,” he said. “They just double down and lie some more. Politicians have always lied, but it used to be that if you caught them lying, they’d be like, ‘Oh, man.’ Now they just keep on lying!”

He has refrained from calling out Trump by name, but Obama hasn’t shied away from expressing his opposition. He has often taken to social media to make himself heard, penning a long Facebook post last September to speak out against Trump’s decision to rescind the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program.


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