Obama tears into Trump era, warns of threat to democracy

Friday, August 21st, 2020 00:00 |
Former president Barack Obama slammed Donald Trump, saying he has used his power to help only himself and his friends. Photo/AFP

New York, Thursday

Barack Obama has delivered his most scathing attack on Donald Trump, accusing the US president and his enablers of trying to suppress the vote in November’s election and making the heartfelt plea: “Don’t let them take away your democracy.”

In the most withering critique by a former president on his successor in modern times, Obama made the case that Trump, a billionaire businessman and celebrity, has not grown into the job of president because he cannot, and instead treats it as a reality TV show.

His grave address mentioned the word “democracy” 18 times and offered a stark warning: “This administration has shown it will tear our democracy down if that’s what it takes to win. So we have to get busy building it up.”

Obama, the country’s first Black president, spoke on the third night of the virtual Democratic national convention just before Senator Kamala Harris of California became the first Black person to be formally nominated for vice-president by a major party and promised to fight with conviction and hope.

Symbolic location 

Obama spoke from the symbolic location of the Museum of the American Revolution in Philadelphia.

The words “Writing the constitution” were displayed on an exhibit wall behind him.

The absence of cheering crowds that greeted him at past conventions, including two successful presidential nominations, fitted the sombre occasion.

This time, Obama argued, the election is not merely a battle of blue versus red but for the survival of democracy itself.

“What we do these next 76 days will echo through generations to come,” he said.

Obama noted that he had sat in the Oval Office with both men who are running for president and said sardonically he had hoped that Trump might “show some interest in taking the job seriously … But he never did.

“For close to four years now, he’s shown no interest in putting in the work; no interest in finding common ground; no interest in using the awesome power of his office to help anyone but himself and his friends; no interest in treating the presidency as anything but one more reality show that he can use to get the attention he craves. Donald Trump hasn’t grown into the job because he can’t.”

Jobs lost 

The consequences, he continued, were 170,000 Americans killed by the coronavirus pandemic, millions of jobs lost while the rich get richer, “our worst impulses unleashed, our proud reputation around the world badly diminished, and our democratic institutions threatened like never before”.

Obama also lavished praise on Trump’s challenger Joe Biden, his vice-president, “friend” and “brother”, as well as Biden’s running mate, Harris.

“Joe and Kamala have concrete policies that will turn their vision of a better, fairer, stronger country into reality,” he said.

“But more than anything, what I know about Joe and Kamala is that they actually care about every American. And they care deeply about this democracy.”

Even as Obama spoke, Trump tweeted angry retorts in all caps.

Obama said he understood why many people were feeling down on government and were wondering what the point was.

“Well, here’s the point,” he said. “This president and those in power – those who benefit from keeping things the way they are – they are counting on your cynicism.

They know they can’t win you over with their policies. So they’re hoping to make it as hard as possible for you to vote, and to convince you that your vote doesn’t matter.

“That’s how they win. That’s how they get to keep making decisions that affect your life, and the lives of the people you love.

That’s how the economy will keep getting skewed to the wealthy and well-connected, how our health systems will let more people fall through the cracks. That’s how a democracy withers, until it’s no democracy at all.”  - Agencies

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