Obama: 'Politics of Fear and Resentment' Is 'Now on the Move' Across the World

'Utter loss of shame among some political leaders'

July 17, 2018

Former President Barack Obama warned about the rise of authoritarianism, attacks on free speech, and the corruption of social media during remarks Tuesday in South Africa, saying the "politics of fear and resentment" is "now on the move."

Speaking at the Nelson Mandela Annual Lecture in Johannesburg, Obama painted a dire picture of the world. He warned about the attacks on globalization from the right in the United States, the faded credibility of the "international system," and a "politics of fear and resentment and retrenchment" that is "now on the move."

"It's on a 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," he said.

As is his custom, he did not mention President Donald Trump by name, but he remarked earlier in his speech about the world going through "strange" times.

"Strongmen politics are ascendant, suddenly," he said, pointing to elections with a "pretense of democracy."

"In the West, you've got far-right parties that oftentimes are based not just on platforms of protectionism and closed borders, but also on barely hidden racial nationalism," Obama said. "Many developing countries now are looking at China's model of authoritarian control combined with mercantilist capitalism as preferable to the messiness of democracy. Who needs free speech, as long as the economy's going good?"

Obama said the free press was "under attack," censorship of state media was on the rise, and social media has been effectively used to spread hatred, propaganda and conspiracy theories.

Speaking one day before what would have been Mandela's 100th birthday, Obama said the world stood at a crossroads.

"Two different stories. Two different narratives about who we are and who we should be," he said. "How should we respond?"

Obama asked whether the world should see the "hope" it felt over Mandela's release from prison and decades of global integration as naive, adding he chose to embrace Mandela's vision of equality, multi-racial democracy, and justice.

"I believe we have no choice but to move forward," he said. "That those of us who believe in democracy and civil rights and a common humanity have a better story to tell."

Obama said there shouldn't be a temptation that such a vision would "inevitably win."

"History also shows the power of fear. History shows the lasting hold of greed and the desire to dominate others in the minds of men. Especially men," he said.

Obama also fretted about too much of politics today rejecting "objective truth," saying people "just make stuff up."

"We see it in the blurring of lines between news and entertainment," 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, he said, but in the past if they were caught, they would admit it.

Watch Obama's full remarks: