President Barack Obama supported the rights of protestors speaking out against President-elect Donald Trump but warned them that American democracy was threatened by a more fundamental “complacency.”
Asked at a press conference Wednesday in Berlin if he would advise protestors to stop showing their discontent with a looming Trump presidency, Obama said “that there’s not a president in our history that hasn’t been subject to these protests.”
Still, he said, there were more fundamental problems than Trump himself.
“Elections matter, voting matters, organizing matters, being informed on the issues matter,” Obama said. “Do not take for granted our systems of government and our way of life. I think there is a tendency because we have lived in an era that has been largely stable and peaceful, at least in advanced countries, where living standards have generally gone up, there is a tendency, I think, to assume that that’s always the case. And it’s not.”
“Democracy is hard work. In the United States if 43 percent of eligible voters do not vote, then democracy is weakened,” he said.
Obama also seemed to reference reports that patently false news articles reached millions of voters over the months-long election season.
“If we are not serious about facts, and what’s true and what’s not, particularly in the age of social media where so many people are getting their information in sound bites and snippets off their phones—if we can’t discriminate between serious arguments and propaganda, then we have problems,” he said.
“If people, whether they are conservative or liberal, left or right, are unwilling to compromise and engage in the democratic process and are taking absolutist views and demonizing opponents, then democracy will break down,” he added.
A healthy democracy, Obama said, relied upon more than engaging “when something upsets us, or when an issue pops up for a few weeks.”
Obama said the same dangers are facing European democracies, citing the “easy equivalence” often made in rhetoric between Russia and the United States.
“In an age where there’s so much misinformation, and it’s packaged well, it looks the same when you see it on a Facebook page or you turn on your television, where some overzealousness on the part of, you know, a U.S. official is equated with constant severe repression elsewhere,” he observed. “If everything seems to be the same and no distinctions are made, then we won’t know what to protect. We won’t know what to fight for. And we can lose so much of what we’ve gained in terms of the kind of democratic freedoms and market-based economies we’ve come to take for granted.”