Pushing back against the forces of isolationism, President Barack Obama stood at the birthplace of democracy on Wednesday and declared it’s time for a “course correction” to ensure that the benefits of technology and globalization are more broadly shared.
Reducing inequality, he said, creates societies where people are “less likely to turn on each other, less likely to appeal to some of the darker forces” that tear people apart.
With the U.S. presidential election of Republican Donald Trump laying bare frustrations and dissatisfaction in America, Obama said the impulse to “pull back from a globalized world is understandable.” But he had this message to leaders and people around the globe: “We can’t look backward for answers, we have to look forward.”
“We cannot sever the connections that have enabled so much progress,” Obama said in a speech to the Greek people as he wrapped up the first leg of his final foreign tour as president. He then headed for Germany.
Obama cited both last week’s election of Trump and the June vote by Britain to leave the European Union as evidence of the inclination to pull back.
“The current path of globalization demands a course correction,” he said. “In the years and decades ahead, our countries have to make sure that the benefits of an integrated global economy are more broadly shared by more people and that the negative impacts are squarely addressed.”
“That’s how democracies can deliver the prosperity and hope that our people need,” Obama said.
Before Trump’s victory, Obama’s speech to the Greeks had been envisioned to be a capstone moment for his presidency, harking back to the origins of democracy as he expected to hand off to fellow Democrat Hillary Clinton. Instead, Obama’s legacy is in doubt as Trump prepares to take power and promises to undo much of the president’s agenda. Obama spoke out in defense of his agenda: the Iran-nuclear deal, a global climate change pact, establishing relations with Cuba and more.
“The next American president and I could not be more different,” Obama said. But, he said, “democracy is bigger than any one person.” He renewed his pledge to ensure a peaceful transition despite his differences with Trump.
Obama’s words are being watched closely by world leaders. They see parallels between Trump’s ascension and the rise of far-right and populist movements in their own countries amid continued economic anxiety.
Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras won elections last year on what critics say was a populist platform, though one on the left of the political spectrum. He pushed his formerly small radical left party onto the forefront by telling Greeks weary from six years of financial crisis and falling living standards that he would reject austerity measures imposed in return for the country’s bailouts.
But after the near collapse of negotiations with Greece’s creditors — other European countries using the euro currency, and the International Monetary Fund — Tsipras performed a political about-face: He signed up to a new bailout and more austerity to prevent his country being forced out of the euro.
Before Obama’s speech, he toured Greece’s most famous ancient monument, the Acropolis citadel. Obama passed through the Propylaea, the monumental gateway that serves as an entrance to the site, and walked along the Parthenon temple, which is dedicated to the goddess Athena, considered the patron of Athens.
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SOURCE: Chicago Tribune / AP