Less than 24 hours after an astonishing joint news conference between Donald Trump and Vladimir Putin, in which Trump sided with Putin over his own intelligence agencies, former President Barack Obama finally did what his supporters have waited for him to do since he left the Oval Office.
He spoke up, forcefully, with a dire warning about the direction of global politics. “I am not being alarmist, I’m simply stating the facts,” Obama said in a closely watched speech in South Africa.
“Look around,” he said. “Strongman politics are ascendant, suddenly, whereby elections and some pretense of democracy are maintained, the form of it, where those in power seek to undermine every institution or norm that gives democracy meaning.”
“The free press is under attack,” he added. “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.”
The occasion for Obama’s remarks was the 16th annual Nelson Mandela Lecture, and though he did not mention his successor by name, President Trump loomed large in the speech. Trump, in contrast to Obama, has rebuked America’s Western allies while offering kind words to the world’s strongmen—from Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan to Filipino President Rodrigo Duterte, Chinese President Xi Jinping, and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un, who is perhaps a category unto himself. But Trump’s warmest words have been reserved for Vladimir Putin, the Russian leader.