Hello Everyone,

President Obama gave a major lecture in Johannesburg last week commemorating the 100th anniversary of Nelson Mandel’s birth, offering his customarily knowledgeable and wise perspective on world history over those 100 years, our current predicament, and reasons to be hopeful going forward.  A very welcome breath of fresh air.

In this space, I have frequently argued that it is powerful to read Obama’s speeches, not just listen to or read news accounts of them.  His Mandela talk is characteristically long, so I will seek to tempt you with the following excerpts.

(Longtime readers will notice that I have been silent for some time.  That is due to two reasons.  These are Obamagrams, and they won’t deteriorate into something else. And, as I first wrote about Trump’s narcissism in #100 Will the Narcissist Help to Restore Sanity (in October 2015, a year before the election), his words and deeds are not subject to political analysis, only psychoanalysis.  Everything can be understood in terms of his unbridled narcissism and utter lack of empathy leading to his endless bullying and cruelty.  His narcissism is like an addiction.  That’s why I won’t write much about him. Attention is his opioid and his Twitter account is his needle. Full stop.  Nothing more to say.)

Let’s return to the positive purpose of this Obamagram.  These excerpts will give you a sense of Obama’s historical perspective and cause for hope.  I encourage you to read his lecture in its entirety (see attachment).

… given the strange and uncertain times that we are in — and they are strange, and they are uncertain — I thought maybe it would be useful to step back for a moment and try to get some perspective…

One hundred years ago, Madiba [his Xhosa clan name] was born in the village of Mvezo…

There was no reason to believe that a young black boy at this time, in this place, could in any way alter history…

[The view of the world at that time was] that certain races, certain nations, certain groups were inherently superior, and that violence and coercion [was] the primary basis for governance…

And around the globe, the majority of people lived at subsistence levels, without a say in the politics or economic forces that determined their lives…The average person saw no possibility of advancing from the circumstances of their birth. Women were almost uniformly subordinate to men.

That was the world just 100 years ago…It is hard, then, to overstate the remarkable transformations that have taken place since that time…

Nelson Mandela…came to embody…the possibility of a moral transformation in the conduct of human affairs [emphasis added] …

as a law student, I witnessed Madiba emerge from prison, just a few months…after the fall of the Berlin Wall, I felt the same wave of hope that washed through hearts all around the world…

Yes, there were still tragedies…

[But,] from Europe to Africa, Latin America, Southeast Asia, dictatorships began to give way to democracies…

And with these geopolitical changes came sweeping economic changes. The introduction of market-based principles…the forces of global integration powered by new technologies…

scientific breakthroughs and…the reduction of armed conflicts. And suddenly a billion people were lifted out of poverty…

That’s what happened just over the course of a few decades… and it all happened in what — by the standards of human history — was nothing more than a blink of an eye…

It should make us hopeful…

[But] the previous structures of privilege and power and injustice and exploitation never completely went away…

And while globalization and technology have opened up new opportunities…[they] upended the agricultural and manufacturing sectors in many countries… made it easier for capital to avoid tax laws and the regulations of nation-states…

explosion in economic inequality…a few dozen individuals control the same amount of wealth as the poorest half of humanity [emphasis added]. That’s not an exaggeration, that’s a statistic…

while some Western commentators were declaring the end of history and the inevitable triumph of liberal democracy and the virtues of the global supply chain, so many missed signs of a brewing backlash…It announced itself most violently with 9/11 and the emergence of transnational terrorist networks…

Russia, already humiliated by its reduced influence since the collapse of the Soviet Union… suddenly started reasserting authoritarian control and in some cases meddling with its neighbors. China, emboldened by its economic success, started bristling against criticism of its human rights record…

challenges to globalization first came from the left but then came more forcefully from the right, as you started seeing populist movements…often cynically funded by right-wing billionaires…

the devastating impact of the 2008 financial crisis, in which the reckless behavior of financial elites resulted in years of hardship for ordinary people…

And a politics of fear and resentment and retrenchment began to appear…

Strongman politics are ascendant suddenly, whereby elections and some pretense of democracy are maintained…

The free press is under attack…

So on Madiba’s 100th birthday, we now stand at a crossroads — a moment in time at which two very different visions of humanity’s future compete for the hearts and the minds of citizens around the world…

Let me tell you what I believe. I believe in Nelson Mandela’s vision. I believe in a vision shared by Gandhi and King and Abraham Lincoln. I believe in a vision of equality and justice and freedom and multiracial democracy…And I believe we…have a better story to tell…I believe it based on hard evidence.

The fact that the world’s most prosperous and successful societies… happen to be those which have most closely approximated the liberal, progressive ideal…

The fact that authoritarian governments have been shown time and time again to breed corruption…to engage in bigger and bigger lies that ultimately result in economic and political and cultural and scientific stagnation [emphasis added]…

to say that our vision for the future is better is not to say that it will inevitably win. Because history also shows the power of fearWe’re going to have to learn from the mistakes of the recent past [emphasis added]…

So we’ve got to constantly be on the lookout…for people who seek to elevate themselves by putting somebody else down [emphasis added]…

We’re going to have to find ways to lessen the fears of those who feel threatened…

You have to believe in facts…

Unfortunately, too much of politics today seems to reject the very concept of objective truth. People just make stuff up…

We have to follow Madiba’s example of persistence and of hope. It is tempting to give in to cynicism: to believe…that the pendulum has swung permanently…We have to resist that cynicism.

Because, we’ve been through darker times, we’ve been in lower valleys and deeper valleys…

And, for those of us who care about the legacy that we honor here today — about equality and dignity and democracy and solidarity and kindness, those of us who remain young at heart, if not in body — we have an obligation to help our youth succeed…

Madiba reminds us that: “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…”

Please, as always, pass it on.  And, remember that previous Obamagrams are stored on www.obamagrams.com

Chuck

adobe pdf file

Attachment – Obama Mandela Speech July 2018

 

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