World

Obama Warns Against Nationalism, Populism in His Last Trip to Europe

US President Barack Obama addresses journalists during a joint news conference with Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras in Athens, Greece on November 15. Credit: Reuters/Yorgos Karahalis/Pool

US President Barack Obama addresses journalists during a joint news conference with Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras in Athens, Greece on November 15. Credit: Reuters/Yorgos Karahalis/Pool

Athens: US President Barack Obama, stung by the surprise victory of Donald Trump in last week’s US election, warned on Tuesday against a rise in nationalism and said a backlash against globalisation had stoked populist movements at home and abroad.

Obama said distrust of elites and governing institutions had fed success in the US election for Senator Bernie Sanders, who challenged Hillary Clinton in a drawn-out Democratic primary contest, and for Trump, a former reality TV star who bested the former secretary of state in the US presidential race.

“When you see a Donald Trump and a Bernie Sanders, very unconventional candidates, have considerable success, then obviously there is something there that’s being tapped into: a suspicion of globalisation, a desire to rein in its excesses,” Obama said in Greece at the start of a farewell tour of Europe.

Though he rejected a direct comparison between the US election and Britain’s “Brexit” referendum in June to leave the EU, Obama said the common theme of antipathy to globalisation was at play, spurring populist movements on the left and right in Europe.

Trump garnered support on the back of promises to build a wall on the US border with Mexico, ban Muslims temporarily from entering the US and rip up trade deals that he said had hurt American workers.

Obama, who campaigned vigorously for Clinton, opposed those positions and is fighting now to keep his legacy accomplishments on healthcare, climate change, and nuclear diplomacy alive in the face of Trump’s promises to dismantle them.

“Dangerous” divisions

Since the election, however, Obama has promised to ensure a smooth and peaceful transition of power, largely backing off his criticism that Trump is unfit to serve as US commander-in-chief. While reiterating that commitment about a transition on Tuesday, Obama seemed to renew his criticism of some of Trump’s electoral tactics with a warning about divisions worldwide.

“I do believe, separate and apart from any particular election or movement, that we are going to have to guard against a rise in a crude sort of nationalism or ethnic identity or tribalism that is built around an ‘us’ and a ‘them’,” he said.

“I will never apologise for saying that the future of humanity and the future of the world is going to be defined by what we have in common as opposed to those things that separate us,” he said.

Unity in Europe in the aftermath of World War Two has created five decades of unprecedented peace and prosperity, he said.

“In the United States, we know what happens when we start dividing ourselves along lines of race or religion or ethnicity. It’s dangerous,” he said.

(Reuters)