Barack Obama has been called in some corners, including by my colleague, Charles P. Pierce, to re-enter the political fray as a post-president. In past eras, it was the norm for retired head honchos to avoid public criticism of their successors. But this is a new era, where the norms of our democracy are crumbling and taking our institutions with them. The pleas are growing for Obama to publicly rebuke the renegade regime of Donald Trump, American president. So far, he has refused.
That continued through a speech Obama gave in Johannesburg, South Africa, on Tuesday to mark the 100th anniversary of Nelson Mandela’s birth. He steadfastly avoided mentioning Trump by name while criticizing the “tribalism” and “strongman” politics that are in ascendance in the current moment. This may register to some as disappointing. But one passage in particular struck at today’s critical information problem which, along with global and domestic wealth inequality—which Obama also touched on—lies at the heart of the massive political instability now ravaging the democratized world.
Here’s the key passage:
And I should add, for this to work, we have to actually believe in an objective reality. This is another one of these things that I didn’t think I had to lecture about. You have to believe in facts. Without facts, there’s no basis for cooperation. If I say this is a podium and you say this is an elephant, it’s going to be hard for us to cooperate.
I can find common ground with those who oppose the Paris accords. Because, for example, they might say, “Well, it’s not going to work. You can’t get everybody to cooperate.” Or they might say, “It’s more important for us to provide cheap energy for the poor, even if it means, in the short term, that there’s more pollution.” At least I can have a debate with them about that, and I can show them why I think clean energy is the better path—especially for poor countries, because you…