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Obama Warns: Countries That Follow Trump's Vision 'Find Themselves Consumed by Civil War'

Obama Italian news conference

In South Africa on Monday, former president Barack Obama warned that countries that follow a vision he would ascribe to current President Donald Trump find themselves in civil war. Amid growing unrest in the United States, Obama accused Trump of fostering identity politics, division, and outright deceit, ignoring his own contributions to the situation.

"We now stand at a crossroads, a moment in time at which two very different visions of humanity's future compete," Obama declared in his Nelson Mandela Lecture. He contrasted his own version of global cooperation with a caricature of Trump's policies he described as "strongman politics."

"Should we understand the last 25 years of global integration as nothing more than a detour from the previous inevitable cycle of history where might makes right and politics is a hostile competition between tribes and races, where nations compete in a zero-sum game constantly teetering on the edge of conflict until full-blown war breaks out?" Obama asked.

The former president suggested that his "liberal progressive" vision represented the era of history between the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989 and the 2016 election, and hinted that only a return to his progressivism would avert another civil war in the United States.

"The world's most prosperous and successful societies, the ones with the highest living standards, the highest levels of satisfaction among their people, happen to be those which have most closely approximated the liberal progressive ideal that we talk about," Obama argued.

In the phrase "liberal progressive ideal," he joined classical liberalism — the free markets and free trade that enabled unprecedented wealth and human progress — with Progressivism, a 20th century American political movement focused on government expansion that saw the rise of segregation in the White House and armed forces, the period of Japanese internment, and an ever-growing administrative state ballooning U.S. debt.

Against this vision, he pitted "authoritarian governments" that "breed corruption, because they're not accountable, to repress their people, to lose touch eventually with reality." Obama argued that these governments "engage in bigger and bigger lies that ultimately result in economic and political and cultural and scientific stagnation."

Obama insisted that "countries which rely on rabid nationalism and xenophobia and doctrines of tribal, racial, or religious superiority as their main organizing principle — the thing that holds people together — eventually those countries find themselves consumed by civil war or external war. Check the history books."

Broadly, this is true. Authoritarian governments do descend into corruption, lies, and stagnation. Tribalism does lead to civil war. However, throughout his speech, the former president attributed all these evils to Trump and denied his own involvement in splitting American politics.