What will America be in the fading of democracy? As President Obama manages his affairs of his last days in office and as he prepares to transition the international stage to the president-elect Trump, he made a final trip overseas visiting Europe. On his last leg, in Berlin, Germany, Thursday Nov 17th, at a press conference with German Chancellor Angela Merkel, the President gave out a frantic warning to Americans and the advanced western nations saying, “do not take for granted our systems of government and our way of life”. The president said that there is a tendency, because advanced countries have lived in an era that has been largely stable and peaceful where living standards have generally gone up, there is a tendency to assume that is always the case, Obama said, that is not always the case. “Democracy is hard work,” he added.
The president said that if 43% of eligible voters do not vote then democracy is weakened. This notion comes to light in the wake of Trump election win where nearly half of eligible Americans did not vote according to data compiled by the United States Election Project. Given the protests that is being demonstrated around the States, the President in his address said that Trump’s election win has been the biggest political upset since modern political American history- “he ran the most unconventional campaign transition to governance” Obama said. The President indicated he will not tell protesters to be silent because that is one of the great things of Democracy, being that it expresses itself in all sort of ways and sometimes democracy means that people will protest. “I have been a subject of protest and I would not advise people who feel strongly or concerned about some of the issues raised in the campaign to be silent”, the president said. Still on the protest issue, he added that he would advise just as he did before the elections and as he is doing even post-elections, that people should know that elections matter, that voting matter, organizing matters and being informed on the issues matter.
“If we are not serious about facts, what is true and what is not, particularly in age of social media where so many people are getting their information in sound bites and snippets off their phones , if we cannot discriminate between serious argument and propaganda then we have problems.” Obama said. He also went on saying, “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.” The president advised that the key to keeping democracy alive is understanding what the foundations of a healthy democracy is and it is when the population engages in citizenship continuously not just when something is upsetting, or when there is an election or when an issue pops up for a few weeks but always. Praising the young people especially those that were involved in his campaign, Obama said, that is the good thing about this present times, because young people continue to be involved in work not just within politics but non-profits and other organizations that can carry this hard work of democracy forward.
According to Obama, the principles of free speech, civil liberties, independence, fighting corruption must not be taken for granted because these principles have been applied not just in the States but foreign policy and that should be remembered. One factor that might seem to also dwindle democracy could be the way we absorb and interpret information. Given that social media is influencing how we make our decisions based on the information we consume which shapes our perception, the President indicated that if we mix information up and everything seems to be the same where no distinctions are made- “we won’t know what to protect or fight for. We can lose so much of what we have gained , the kind of democratic freedom and market based economies we have come to take for granted.”
With these warnings from Obama, could this be a sort of call to be more aware of freedoms in this new Trump era?