Come baaaaack
Come baaaaack Alex Wong/Getty

God love Barack Obama. At a 100th birthday celebration of Nelson Mandela (known as Madiba in his homeland) in South African this week, our once (and future???) president managed to, once again, remind us that his successor is a flaming pile of bright orange bullshit. While he had plenty of subtle and not-so-subtle shade to throw at Trump (“Too much of politics today seems to reject the very concept of objective truth”), Obama didn't just discuss the scourge of lying liars and the lies that elect them, he also threw in a dig at identity politics.


From the transcript:


Embracing our common humanity does not mean that we have to abandon our unique ethnic and national and religious identities. Madiba never stopped being proud of his tribal heritage. He didn’t stop being proud of being a black man and being a South African. But he believed, as I believe, that you can be proud of your heritage without denigrating those of a different heritage. In fact, you dishonor your heritage. It would make me think that you’re a little insecure about your heritage if you’ve got to put somebody else’s heritage down. Yeah, that’s right. Don’t you get a sense sometimes – again, I’m ad-libbing here – that these people who are so intent on putting people down and puffing themselves up that they’re small-hearted, that there’s something they’re just afraid of. Madiba knew that we cannot claim justice for ourselves when it’s only reserved for some. Madiba understood that we can’t say we’ve got a just society simply because we replaced the color of the person on top of an unjust system, so the person looks like us even though they’re doing the same stuff, and somehow now we’ve got justice. That doesn’t work. It’s not justice if now you’re on top, so I’m going to do the same thing that those folks were doing to me and now I’m going to do it to you. That’s not justice. “I detest racialism,” he said, “whether it comes from a black man or a white man.” ...

And to make democracy work, Madiba shows us that we also have to keep teaching our children, and ourselves – and this is really hard – to engage with people not only who look different but who hold different views. This is hard.

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Most of us prefer to surround ourselves with opinions that validate what we already believe. You notice the people who you think are smart are the people who agree with you. Funny how that works. But democracy demands that we’re able also to get inside the reality of people who are different than us so we can understand their point of view. Maybe we can change their minds, but maybe they’ll change ours. And you can’t do this if you just out of hand disregard what your opponents have to say from the start. And you can’t do it if you insist that those who aren’t like you—because they’re white, or because they’re male—that somehow there’s no way they can understand what I’m feeling, that somehow they lack standing to speak on certain matters.

Obama's claim that we should listen to people, even those we disagree with and despite their race/color/creed, isn't all that suprising. In 2016, he gave the commencement address at Howard University and he said: "Don’t try to shut folks out, don’t try to shut them down, no matter how much you might disagree with them. There's been a trend around the country of trying to get colleges to disinvite speakers with a different point of view, or disrupt a politician’s rally. Don’t do that—no matter how ridiculous or offensive you might find the things that come out of their mouths. Because as my grandmother used to tell me, every time a fool speaks, they are just advertising their own ignorance. Let them talk. Let them talk. If you don’t, you just make them a victim, and then they can avoid accountability."

Trump, on the other hand, is a master at harnessing identity politics. He (somehow) successfully convinced white people that there's a race war a-coming and a vote for Clinton is a vote for the decline of white America. It's bullshit, of course, but, unfortunately, I'm pretty sure Obama can't run again, unless, say, Trump convinces Congress to overturn term limit laws because he wants to rule for life, Obama runs (and wins) again, and someday we'll all look back on this period as a really terrible fever dream that once struck America. Crazier things have happened. I mean, just look at who is president.