Without mentioning President Trump by name, former President Barack Obama delivered a pointed rebuke of “strongman politics” on Tuesday, warning about growing nationalism, xenophobia and bigotry in the United States and around the world, while offering a full-throated defense of democracy, diversity and the liberal international order.
A day after Mr. Trump met with President Vladimir V. Putin of Russia, Mr. Obama delivered his highest-profile speech since leaving office, at an event in South Africa marking the 100th anniversary of Nelson Mandela’s birth.
“Look around,” he said. “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.”
Mr. Obama opened his nearly 90-minute speech with a nod to current events, saying that times were “strange and uncertain” and that “each day’s news cycle is bringing more head-spinning and disturbing headlines.” He said that leaders embracing the “politics of fear, resentment and retrenchment” were undermining the international system established after World War II.
“That kind of politics is now on the move,” Mr. Obama told a crowd of thousands at a stadium in Johannesburg. “It’s on a move at a pace that would have seemed unimaginable just a few years ago. I’m not being alarmist; I’m simply stating the facts.”
Just the day before, Mr. Trump had stood next to Mr. Putin in Helsinki, Finland, and disputed his own intelligence agencies’ conclusion that Moscow, at the behest of Mr. Putin, interfered in the 2016 presidential election. Mr. Trump said he believed Mr. Putin’s denial, drawing widespread condemnation, even from some members of his own party.
Mr. Obama seemed to take direct aim at Mr. Trump over his administration’s policies and his propensity for exaggerations and falsehoods. He said he was stunned how the notion of objective truth was now up for debate and how politicians make up facts and stand by baseless claims even after they are proved wrong.
“We see the utter loss of shame among political leaders, where they’re caught in a lie and they just double down and lie some more,” he said. “Look, let me say: Politicians have always lied, but it used to…