A Tale of Two Presidents (UPDATE)
Read the entire Nelson Mandela Annual Lecture delivered by President Obama in Johannesburg, South Africa, on July 17th here.
This year celebrates the 100th anniversary of Nelson Mandela’s birth, South Africa’s anti-apartheid hero often lovingly and respectfully referred to by his traditional Xhosa clan name, “Madiba.”
Today, as part of this celebration, former President Barack Obama delivered a speech at the 16th Annual Nelson Mandela Lecture in Johannesburg, South Africa, in his traditional eloquent, inspiring and soaring style.
It was President Obama’s highest-profile speech since leaving office and came only 24 hours after president Trump’s disgraceful performance at the Helsinki summit.
While Obama has shied away from publicly commenting on his successor’s performance and studiously avoided using Trump’s name during the Johannesburg speech, some see that speech – urging faith, justice, tolerance and “turning away from cynicism ‘in these strange and uncertain times.’” — as “a repudiation of many tenets of President Donald Trump’s regime, pillorying a politics of fear and hate in favor of one built on inclusion and acceptance.”
Others have zero doubt that President Obama was at times referring to Trump, especially when talking about a free press, civility and honesty.
We will let the reader decide after watching President Obama’s speech, below.
Here are some of the most memorable passages of the President’s speech:
“I believe in a vision of equality and justice and freedom and multiracial democracy built on the premise that all people are created equal. They are endowed by our creator with certain inalienable rights. I believe that a world governed by such principle is possible and it can achieve more peace and more cooperation in pursuit of a common good. That’s what I believe. I believe we have no choice but to move forward. Madiba shows that those of us who believe in freedom in democracy, we’re going to have to fight harder to reduce inequality and promote lasting economic opportunity for all people.”
“We have to follow Madiba’s example of persistence and hope. It’s tempting right now to give in to cynicism. To believe that recent shifts in global politics are too powerful to push back. That the pendulum has swung permanently. Just as people spoke about the triumph of democracy in the ’90s, now you’re hearing people talk about the end of democracy and the triumph of tribalism and the strong man. We have to resist that cynicism, because we’ve been through darker times.”
“With the debate around immigration, it’s not wrong to insist that national borders matter…laws need to be followed…in our realm newcomers should make an effort to adapt to their new home, and we need to be able to engage with those people who feel that things are not orderly…But that cannot be an excuse for immigration policy based on race…We can enforce the law while respecting the essential humanity of those expecting a better life.”
“Strongman politics are ascendant suddenly. Whereby elections and some pretense of democracy are maintained — the form of it — but those in power seek to undermine every institution or norm that gives democracy meaning. In the West, you’ve got far-right parties that oftentimes are based not just on platforms of protectionism and closed borders, but on barely hidden racial nationalism.”
“The free press is under attack. Censorship and state control of media is on the rise. Social media, once seen as a mechanism to promote knowledge and understanding… has proved just as effective promoting hatred and paranoia and propaganda and conspiracy theories.”
“Politicians have always lied—but it used to be if you caught them lying, they’d be like ‘aw man’…Now they just keep on lying!”
“Don’t you get a sense sometimes that people are so intent on putting people down and propping themselves up, they are small hearted? There must be something they’re just afraid of.”
“You can be proud of your heritage without denigrating others of a different heritage. In fact, it makes me think you’re a little insecure about your own heritage if you’re constantly putting other people down…Just ask the French team that just won the World Cup. Not all of those folks look like Gauls to me. But they’re French.”
Obama concluded his speech, attended by more than 14,000 people, with a quote from Mandela: “No one is born hating another person because of the color of his skin, or his background, or his religion. People must learn to hate, and if they can learn to hate, they can be taught to love, for love comes more naturally to the human heart than its opposite.”
Lead photo credit Nelson Mandela Foundation