During a press conference with Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras in Athens, Obama cited both Trump and Bernie Sanders as “unconventional candidates” in an unusual political moment. He said both figures understood the context of economic and cultural disenfranchisement that have been a part of American life for decades.
“Globalization, combined with technology, combined with social media and constant information, have disrupted people's lives sometimes in very concrete ways,” Obama said. “A manufacturing plant closes and suddenly an entire town no longer has what was the primary source of employment.”
“But also psychologically, people are less certain of their national identities, or their place in the world. It starts looking different and disorienting," he continued. "And there is no doubt that that has produced populist movements both from the left and the right in many countries in Europe."
Candidates like Sanders and Trump, Obama said, tapped into “a suspicion of globalization, and a desire to rein in its excesses; a suspicion of elites and governing institutions that people feel may not be responsive to their immediate needs.”
But he singled out Trump in particular for “tapping into that particular strain” of “troubling rhetoric” that was also present among Republican elected officials, activists and media.
Obama said the message he drew from the election, and from similar phenomena worldwide, was the need to deal “aggressively” with inequality and its downstream effects.
“We have to deal with issues like inequality,” he said. “We have to deal with issues of economic dislocation. We have to deal with people's fears that their children won't do as well as they have."
“Frankly,” he said, “that's been my agenda for the last eight years.”
Later, Obama said that, separate from this particular election, “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.”
“And I will never apologize for saying that the future of humanity and the future of the world is going to be defined by what we have in common as opposed to those things that separate us and ultimately lead us in the conflict,” he continued. “We don't realize our potential as a country when we're preventing blacks or Latinos or Asians or gays or women from fully participating in the project of building American life.”