President Obama decried “increasing intolerance in our politics” in an address to the European people from Hannover, Germany, today that touched on immigration and continental unity.
Obama argued that without solving economic problems like inequality and wage stagnation, a vacuum is created that brings to the forefront “those who would try to exploit these fears and frustrations and channel them in a destructive way.”
“A creeping emergence of the kind of politics that the European project was founded to reject — an us-versus-them mentality that tries to blame our problems on the other, somebody who doesn’t look like us or doesn’t pray like us — whether it’s immigrants, or Muslims, or somebody who is deemed different than us,” he said.
“And you see increasing intolerance in our politics. And loud voices get the most attention. This reminds me of the poem by the great Irish poet W.B. Yeats, where the best lack all conviction, and the worst are full of passionate intensity.”
Insisting that “the United States, and the entire world, needs a strong and prosperous and democratic and united Europe,” Obama said Europeans face a “defining moment.”
“If a unified, peaceful, liberal, pluralistic, free-market Europe begins to doubt itself, begins to question the progress that’s been made over the last several decades, then we can’t expect the progress that is just now taking hold in many places around the world will continue,” he said. “Instead, we will be empowering those who argue that democracy can’t work, that intolerance and tribalism and organizing ourselves along ethnic lines, and authoritarianism and restrictions on the press — that those are the things that the challenges of today demand.”
The president suggested that “perhaps you need an outsider, somebody who is not European, to remind you of the magnitude of what you have achieved.”
“In the last century — twice in just 30 years — the forces of empire and intolerance and extreme nationalism consumed this continent. And cities like this one were largely reduced to rubble. Tens of millions of men and women and children were killed,” Obama continued. “But from the ruins of the Second World War, our nations set out to remake the world — to build a new international order and the institutions to uphold it. A United Nations to prevent another world war and advance a more just and lasting peace. International financial institutions like the World Bank and International Monetary Fund to promote prosperity for all peoples.”
He added that “a strong, united Europe is a necessity for the world because an integrated Europe remains vital to our international order.”
“Europe helps to uphold the norms and rules that can maintain peace and promote prosperity around the world.”
Obama cautioned Europeans to “be suspicious of those who claim to have the interests of Europe at heart and yet don’t practice the very values that are essential to Europe, that have made freedom in Europe so real.”
“So, yes, these are unsettling times. And when the future is uncertain, there seems to be an instinct in our human nature to withdraw to the perceived comfort and security of our own tribe, our own sect, our own nationality, people who look like us, sound like us. But in today’s world, more than any time in human history, that is a false comfort. It pits people against one another because of what they look or how they pray or who they love. And yet, we know where that kind of twisted thinking can lead. It can lead to oppression. It can lead to segregation and internment camps. And to the Shoah and Srebrenica,” he said.
“…Look, the sudden arrival of so many people from beyond our borders, especially when their cultures are very different, that can be daunting. We have immigration issues in the United States as well, along our southern border of the United States and from people arriving from all around the world who get a visa and decide they want to stay. And I know the politics of immigration and refugees is hard. It’s hard everywhere, in every country. And just as a handful of neighborhoods shouldn’t bear all the burden of refugee resettlement, neither should any one nation. All of us have to step up, all of us have to share this responsibility. That includes the United States.”
Obama lauded German Chancellor Angela Merkel “and others have eloquently reminded us that we cannot turn our backs on our fellow human beings who are here now, and need our help now.”
“We have to uphold our values, not just when it’s easy, but when it’s hard,” he said.