It’s not that democracy is “fragile,” exactly, but it is “reversible,” according to former President Barack Obama.
During an interview earlier this week at the Economic Club of Chicago, Obama reminded his audience to remain vigilant in protecting the values and institutions that make up American democracy or risk following in the path of Nazi Germany.
“You have to tend to this garden of democracy, otherwise things can fall apart fairly quickly. And we’ve seen societies where that happens,” he told interviewer Mellody Hobson, president of Ariel Investments, after defending institutions such as freedom of religion and freedom of the press. (Obama admitted, however, that the latter sometimes drove him “nuts” during his time in the White House.)
“Now, presumably, there was a ballroom in Vienna in the late 1920s or ’30s that looked and seemed as if it ― filled with the music and art and literature and the science that was emerging ― would continue into perpetuity. And then 60 million people died. And the entire world was plunged into chaos.”
“So you’ve got to pay attention ― and vote,” Obama said in video of the event.
The former president’s comments, in which he did not directly name President Donald Trump, came after a meditation on the way technology has disrupted culture and politics around the world.
“Right now we’re seeing a collision of cultures we’re not accustomed to,” he said. “It used to be that if you were very conservative, Muslim or Christian or Jew or Hindu, you could live in your community and people didn’t question your assumptions.”
Obama continued: “The combination of economic disruption, cultural disruption ― nothing feels solid to people ― that’s a recipe for people wanting to find security somewhere. And sadly, there’s something in all of us that looks for simple answers when we’re agitated and insecure.”
He ended with some “good news.”
“The narrative that America at its best has stood for, the narrative of pluralism and tolerance and democracy and rule of law, human rights and freedom of the press and freedom of religion, that narrative, I think, is actually the more powerful narrative. The majority of people around the world aspire to that narrative, which is the reason people still want to come here,” he said.
“But we have to fight for it. It doesn’t happen automatically. So when people think about our own institutions and our own culture and our own politics, the one thing that I always want to emphasize for people is not to take for granted the institutions and norms and values that we know. It’s not so much that they’re fragile, but they are reversible.”