Nel's New Day

July 17, 2018

President Obama: The ‘Politics of Fear and Resentment’

Filed under: Progressives — trp2011 @ 9:52 PM
Tags: , ,

Former President Barack Obama spoke in Johannesburg, South Africa, yesterday to honor the late Nelson Mandela on his 100th birthday. President Obama began with the youth of Madiba (Nelson Mandela) and the changes during his lifetime from colonial rule and the rampant racism among groups with little chance of advancing because gender and ethnic background determined a person’s future. Following are excerpts from his speech. You can read the transcript or watch it.

“More and more peoples, having witnessed the horrors of totalitarianism, the repeated mass slaughters of the 20th century, began to embrace a new vision for humanity, a new idea, one based not only on the principle of national self-determination, but also on the principles of democracy and rule of law and civil rights and the inherent dignity of every single individual. In those nations with market-based economies, suddenly union movements developed; and health and safety and commercial regulations were instituted; and access to public education was expanded; and social welfare systems emerged, all with the aim of constraining the excesses of capitalism and enhancing its ability to provide opportunity not just to some but to all people. And the result was unmatched economic growth and a growth of the middle class.

“And in my own country, the moral force of the civil rights movement not only overthrew Jim Crow laws but it opened up the floodgates for women and historically marginalized groups to reimagine themselves, to find their own voices, to make their own claims to full citizenship…. And during the last decades of the 20th century, the progressive, democratic vision that Nelson Mandela represented in many ways set the terms of international political debate. And from Europe to Africa, Latin America, Southeast Asia, dictatorships began to give way to democracies…. And with these geopolitical changes came sweeping economic changes. The introduction of market-based principles, in which previously closed economies along with the forces of global integration powered by new technologies, suddenly unleashed entrepreneurial talents to those that once had been relegated to the periphery of the world economy, who hadn’t counted….

“The international order has fallen short of its promise. In fact, it is in part because of the failures of governments and powerful elites to squarely address the shortcomings and contradictions of this international order that we now see much of the world threatening to return to an older, a more dangerous, a more brutal way of doing business. …The previous structures of privilege and power and injustice and exploitation never completely went away…. Racial discrimination still exists in both the United States and South Africa…. The accumulated disadvantages of years of institutionalized oppression have created yawning disparities in income, and in wealth, and in education, and in health, in personal safety, in access to credit….

“And while globalization and technology have opened up new opportunities, have driven remarkable economic growth in previously struggling parts of the world, globalization has also upended the agricultural and manufacturing sectors in many countries. It’s also greatly reduced the demand for certain workers, has helped weaken unions and labor’s bargaining power. It’s made it easier for capital to avoid tax laws and the regulations of nation-states — can just move billions, trillions of dollars with a tap of a computer key.

“And the result of all these trends has been an explosion in economic inequality. It’s meant that a few dozen individuals control the same amount of wealth as the poorest half of humanity. …the only difference is it created even greater opportunities for corruption on an epic scale. And for once solidly middle-class families in advanced economies like the United States, these trends have meant greater economic insecurity, especially for those who don’t have specialized skills, people who were in manufacturing, people working in factories, people working on farms.

“In every country just about, the disproportionate economic clout of those at the top has provided these individuals with wildly disproportionate influence on their countries’ political life and on its media; on what policies are pursued and whose interests end up being ignored. …Many titans of industry and finance are increasingly detached from any single locale or nation-state, and they live lives more and more insulated from the struggles of ordinary people in their countries of origin…. From their board rooms or retreats, global decision-makers don’t get a chance to see sometimes the pain in the faces of laid-off workers. Their kids don’t suffer when cuts in public education and health care result as a consequence of a reduced tax base because of tax avoidance.

“Within the United States, within the European Union, challenges to globalization first came from the left but then came more forcefully from the right, as you started seeing populist movements — which, by the way, are often cynically funded by right-wing billionaires intent on reducing government constraints on their business interests — these movements tapped the unease that was felt by many people who lived outside of the urban cores; fears that economic security was slipping away, that their social status and privileges were eroding, that their cultural identities were being threatened by outsiders, somebody that didn’t look like them or sound like them or pray as they did….

“Perhaps more than anything else, the devastating impact of the 2008 financial crisis, in which the reckless behavior of financial elites resulted in years of hardship for ordinary people all around the world, made all the previous assurances of experts ring hollow — all those assurances that somehow financial regulators knew what they were doing, that somebody was minding the store, that global economic integration was an unadulterated good….

“A politics of fear and resentment and retrenchment began to appear, and that kind of politics is now on the move…. Strongman politics are ascendant suddenly, whereby elections and some pretense of democracy are maintained — the form of it — but those in power seek to undermine every institution or norm that gives democracy meaning. 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…. Who needs free speech as long as the economy is going good? The free press is under attack. Censorship and state control of media is on the rise. Social media — once seen as a mechanism to promote knowledge and understanding and solidarity — has proved to be just as effective promoting hatred and paranoia and propaganda and conspiracy theories….

“Authoritarian governments have been shown time and time again to breed corruption, because they’re not accountable…. 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.

“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…. History shows how easily people can be convinced to turn on those who look different, or worship God in a different way…. And history shows that societies which tolerate vast differences in wealth feed resentments and reduce solidarity and actually grow more slowly….

“Democracy depends on strong institutions and it’s about minority rights and checks and balances, and freedom of speech and freedom of expression and a free press, and the right to protest and petition the government, and an independent judiciary, and everybody having to follow the law…. The efficiency that’s offered by an autocrat … leads invariably to more consolidation of wealth at the top and power at the top, and it makes it easier to conceal corruption and abuse. For all its imperfections, real democracy best upholds the idea that government exists to serve the individual and not the other way around.

“[For democracy] to work, we have to actually believe in an objective reality…. You have to believe in facts.… I can’t find common ground if somebody says climate change is just not happening, when almost all of the world’s scientists tell us it is…. Unfortunately, too much of politics today seems to reject the very concept of objective truth. People just make stuff up…. We see it in state-sponsored propaganda; …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…. We see it in the promotion of anti-intellectualism and the rejection of science from leaders who find critical thinking and data somehow politically inconvenient. And, as with the denial of rights, the denial of facts runs counter to democracy, it could be its undoing….

“It is tempting to give in to cynicism: to believe that recent shifts in global politics are too powerful to push back; that the pendulum has swung permanently…. Things may go backwards for a while, but ultimately, right makes might, not the other way around…. So, young people, who are in the audience, who are listening, my message to you is simple, keep believing, keep marching, keep building, keep raising your voice.”

[Note: President Obama did not mention the man inaugurated as president of the United States in 2017.]

1 Comment »

  1. Thank you.

    Like

    Comment by Lee Lynch — July 18, 2018 @ 10:14 PM | Reply


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