These are extraordinary and “dangerous times,” former President Barack Obama warned today, launching a full frontal attack on President Donald Trump and Republicans in Congress who protect him, on point after point.
“There has always been a darker aspect of the American story,” he told a crowd at the University of Illinois.
“Progress does not move in a straight line…Every two steps forward seems to produce one step back… Sometimes the backlash comes from people who are genuinely, if wrongfully, fearful of change. More often its manufactured by the powerful and privileged who want to keep us divided and angry and cynical, because it helps maintain the status quo and them to keep their power.
“You happen to be coming of age during one of those moments,” he told the college body.
“It did not start with Donald Trump. He is a symptom, not the cause,” said Obama. It was a stunning sentence, given the care with which Obama has continued the tradition of not attacking the POTUS who followed.
Change is happening faster than at any time in human history, which has left some feeling uneasy, a condition “ripe for exploitation by politicians who have no compunction and no shame about tapping into America’s dark history of racial and ethnic and religious division,” Obama cautioned.
“Appealing to tribe, appealing to fear, pitting one group against another, telling people you order and security will be restored if it weren’t for those who don’t look like us, or don’t sound like us or don’t pray like we do – that’s an old playbook,” Obama said of Trump’s playbook.
In a healthy democracy it doesn’t work, Obama schooled. “People of good will from across the political spectrum call out the bigots and the fear mongers and work to compromise and get things done.”
But a politics of fear and resentment and retrenchment has taken hold, in which demagogues promise simple fixes to complex problems, and vow to fight for the little guy even as they cater to the wealthiest and most powerful, the former president described.
“They’ll promise to clean up corruption and then plunder away; they start to undermine norms that insure accountability and try to chance the rules to enhance their power, and appeal to racial nationalism that is barely veiled.”
“Sound familiar?” Obama added, pointedly.
He mocked the recent NYT op-ed penned by an anonymous Trump administration senior official seeking to assure Americans there is resistance within the Trump administration that’s keeping POTUS in check.
“The claim that everything will turn out okay because there are people inside the White House who aren’t following the president’s orders – that is NOT a check!” Obama scoffed.
“These people are not elected! They’re not accountable! They’re not doing us a service by actively promoting 90% of the crazy stuff coming out of this White House, and then saying, ‘Don’t worry we’re preventing the other 10%’.”
Obama ticked off a list of Donald Trump’s recent headline grabbers:
“It is not a partisan issue to say we do not pressure the attorney general, or the FBI, to use the criminal justice system as a cudgel to punish our political opponents.
“Or to explicitly call on the attorney general to protect members of his own party from prosecution because an election happens to be coming up.
“It should not be Democratic or Republican to say we do not threaten freedom of the press because they say things or publish stories we don’t like. I complained plenty about Fox News, but you never heard me threaten to shut them down or call them ‘enemies of the people’.
“It shouldn’t be Democrat or Republican to say we don’t target certain groups of people based on what they look like or how they pray. We’re supposed to stand up to bullies, not follow them.
“And we’re sure as heck supposed to stand up, clearly and unequivocally to Nazi sympathizers. How hard can that be, saying ‘Nazis are bad’?”