Former President Barack Obama gave his first major speech since leaving office on Tuesday, calling today’s times “strange and uncertain” and urging people to bring back the values of “equality, dignity and kindness.”
“Each day’s news cycle bringing more head-spinning and disturbing headlines,” Obama said in the opening of his speech at the 2018 Nelson Mandela Annual Lecture in Johannesburg, South Africa.
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These days “we see much of the world threatening to return to a more dangerous, more brutal way of business,” Obama said.
While Obama didn’t directly name his successor President Donald Trump, he countered many of his policies implicitly by talking about the values Mandela advocated including acceptance and diversity, the right to education for all and the sanctity of truth and democracy.
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“Those in power seek to undermine every institution or norm that gives democracy meaning,” Obama said of today’s politics of “fear, resentment and retrenchment.”
“I am not an alarmist. I am simply stating the facts. Look around,” he said, during the event marking the 100th anniversary of the anti-apartheid revolutionary’s birth.
“That kind of politics is now on the move at a pace that seemed unimaginable just a couple of years ago,” he said. “Strongmen politics are ascendant.”
The 44th president pointed to a greater economic insecurity brewing among the middle class as the reason for a backlash against diversity and immigration and the rise of far-right and populist movements.
“These movements tapped the unease tapped by many people who lived outside the urban cores, fears that economic status was slipping away… that their cultural identities were being threatened by outsiders,” he said.
But, “you can be proud of your heritage without denigrating another person’s heritage,” Obama said, as he encouraged folks to “engage with people not only who look different, but who hold different views” on both sides.
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He even invoked the French World Cup 2018 champions for their diversity: “Not all of these folks look like Gauls to me. But they’re French!” he said
Obama decried that the free press — as well as facts and basic truths — have come under attack.
“People just make stuff up,” he said. “We see it in the utter loss of shame in political leaders — where they utter a lie and then just double down and lie some more.”
“As with the denial of rights, the denial of facts runs counter to democracy,” he added.
The former U.S. leader called on the crowd of 14,000 to remember Mandela’s vision, “built on the premise that all people are created equal.”
“I believe a world governed by such principles is possible,” he said.
He reminded the audience not to be too cynical, saying “We’ve been through darker times. We’ve been through lower valleys.”
“If we are serious about universal freedom today we have a responsibility to do something about it. It’s not enough for us to protest we’re going to have to build.”
Obama pointed out that he was standing at this podium,more than a quarter century after Mandela walked out of prison, to say that “we are all human. That our differences… are superficial and that we should treat each other with care and respect.”
“I would have thought we would have figured that out by now,” he said.
This article appeared on NYPost.com.