In High-Profile Speech, Obama Offers Warnings

In South Africa, former president worries about the rise of 'strongman politics' around the world
By Newser Editors,  Newser Staff
Posted Jul 17, 2018 11:17 AM CDT
In High-Profile Speech, Obama Offers Warnings
Former President Obama delivers his speech at the 16th Annual Nelson Mandela Lecture at the Wanderers Stadium in Johannesburg, South Africa, Tuesday, July 17, 2018.   (AP Photo/Themba Hadebe)

To be clear, Barack Obama never once mentioned President Trump on Tuesday during a major speech in South Africa. But coverage of his address in Johannesburg, to commemorate the 100th anniversary of Nelson Mandela's birth, nonetheless has a clear theme. The headline at the AP, for example, calls the speech a "sharp rebuke" of Trump, while Politico describes Obama as "delivering a rebuke of the nationalist, right-wing brand of politics for which President Donald Trump has become the standard-bearer." Others, including the Hill, hedge that, saying Obama "appeared to offer a wide-ranging rebuke" of Trump, while the Guardian calls it a "coded attack" on the president. Highlights from the speech, and more reaction:

  • 'Strange' times: Obama called today's times "strange and uncertain," adding that "each day's news cycle is bringing more head-spinning and disturbing headlines." He worried that "much of the world (is) threatening to return to a more dangerous, more brutal, way of doing business."
  • Strongmen: "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." He singled out China and said developing nations were turning toward its model of "authoritarian control combined with mercantilist capitalism.”
  • Hatred and paranoia: He complained of populist movements funded "by right-wing billionaires intent on reducing governmental constraints on their business interests," reports HuffPost. And he warned of attacks on the free press and the use of social media to push "hatred, paranoia, and propaganda."

  • Truth: "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!" And that, he said, could "be democracy's undoing," per the Hill.
  • A hopeful note: He ended with optimism, saying "we've been through darker times. We've been through lower valleys." He continued, "I say if people can learn to hate, they can be taught to love." And as for what young people should do, "Keep believing, keep marching, keep building, keep raising your voice."
  • From the right: Conservatives were calling Obama a hypocrite for the above item about lying, and Twitchy rounds up tweets to that effect. One repeated example is Obama's line regarding health care: "If you like your plan, you can keep your plan."
  • Prof's take: "Just by standing on the stage honoring Nelson Mandela, Obama is delivering an eloquent rebuke to Trump," John Stremlau, a professor at Johannesburg's Witwatersrand University, tells the AP. "Yesterday we had Trump and Putin standing together, now we are seeing the opposing team: Obama and Mandela."
(More Barack Obama stories.)

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