President Barack Obama on Tuesday warned of a need to “guard” against a rise in nationalism both at home and abroad during a press conference in Greece one week after the election of Donald Trump.
Alongside Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras, Obama said that “separate and apart from any particular election or movement,” that “guard” is a necessity.
“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. “And, I will never apologise for saying that the future of humanity, the future of the world, is going to be defined by what we have in common, [not] those things that separate us and ultimately lead us into conflict,” he said.
The self-described “alt-right,” a movement that believes strongly in ethnocentricity and nationalism, helped usher in Trump to the presidency. Trump in turn elevated Steve Bannon, a top executive of the alt-right outlet Breitbart, to his campaign CEO and more recently, to his chief strategist in the White House.
In Europe, far-right movements have gained traction in a litany of nations, such as France and Germany, while a nationalist movement in the United Kingdom helped lead to its vote to exit the European Union.
Obama highlighted Europe’s bloody past, namely during World Wars I and II, as reason to avoid a path toward heightened nationalism.
“We know what happens when Europeans start dividing themselves up and emphasising their differences and seeing a competition between various countries in a zero-sum way,” he said. “The 20th century was a bloodbath. And for all the frustrations and failures of the project to unify Europe, the last five decades have been periods of unprecedented peace, prosperity, and growth in Europe.”
Turning his focus onto the US, Obama said “we know what happens when we divide ourselves along the lines of race, religion, and ethnicity.”
“It’s dangerous,” he continued, saying discrimination against various minority groups prevents the country from reaching its potential.
Asked if he took responsibility for Trump’s election, Obama reiterated that he was “surprised” by the election, but he doesn’t “feel responsible for what the president-elect says or does.”
“But I do feel a responsibility as president of the United States to make sure that I facilitate a good transition,” he said, adding that he will present to Trump and the US his ideas for how to improve the country and speak out on policies with which he disagrees.
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