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Obama: ‘Strongman Politics’ on the Rise

Former President Barack Obama delivers the 16th annual Nelson Mandela lecture in Johannesburg, South Africa, July 17, 2018. (Siphiwe Sibeko/Reuters)

Former president Barack Obama on Tuesday delivered a stinging, thinly veiled rebuke of President Trump in pre-planned remarks, fresh on the heel’s of Trump’s widely condemned joint press conference with Russian president Vladimir Putin.

“Strongman politics are ascending suddenly, whereby elections, some pretense of democracy, are maintained…but those in power seek to undermine every institution or norm that gives democracy meaning,” Obama warned as he gave the 2018 Nelson Mandela Annual Lecture in Johannesburg, South Africa.

Much of the former president’s first major speech since leaving office was focused on criticizing backward countries across the globe that make a mockery of democracy by restricting freedoms and cheating in elections. Elections where “the winner somehow gets 90 percent of the vote because all of the opposition is locked up or can’t get on TV” should not be accepted, he said.

But he also singled out his own country for reproach.

“It is a plain fact that racial discrimination still exists in both the United States and South Africa,” he said, referencing “far-right parties” with “barely hidden racial nationalism” in the West. He was particularly harsh in his criticism of the Trump administration’s withdrawal from the Paris climate deal, saying he can’t “find common ground” with people who deny climate change is real “when almost all the world’s scientists say it is.”

He also warned against the dishonesty of those in power.

“We see the utter loss of shame in political leaders when they’re caught in a lie and they just double down and lie some more,” he said, mentioning leaders who “completely make stuff up.”

He added that “the free press is under attack,” saying that misleading information could “be democracy’s undoing.”

“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,” he said. “Check the history books.”

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