Former President Barack Obama says, United States faces a big challenge to reject the culture of “crazy conspiracies theories” that have stoked divisions in the country. In an interview given to BBC, he said US is more starkly polarized than it was four years before, when the Republican clinched the presidency as his successor. Obama suggests Biden’s victory in 2020 United States elections is just the beginning of a new dawn but thinks it will take time to repair those divisions.
“It’ll take more than one election to reverse those trends,” he says.
Healing a polarized country, Obama suggested, cannot be left to the politicians but also demands structural reforms and people listening to each other. He further added that people most agree on a common set of facts before moving forward.
The former President said he is greatly hopeful about the sophisticated attitudes of the new generations and urged young people to “cultivate that cautious optimism that the world can change” and “to be a part of that change”.
US divided than ever before
The resentment and increasing divide between rural and urban America, social injustices like inequality, immigration and “the kinds of crazy conspiracy theories – what some have called truth decay” have been promoted by some American media outlets and “turbocharged by social media”, Obama said while promoting his new memoir, A Promised Land, in a talk with BBC’s David Olusoga.
“We are very divided right now, certainly more than we were when I first ran for office in 2007 and won the presidency in 2008,” the former president said. He said that this is partly attributed to Trump’s decision to “fan division because it was good for his politics”.
Another factor Obama says is the spread of misinformation online where “facts don’t matter”.
“There are millions of people who subscribed to the notion that Joe Biden is a socialist, who subscribed to the notion that Hillary Clinton was part of an evil cabal that was involved in pedophile rings,” he says.
The example he quotes here with Clinton refers to a conspiracy theory alleging that Democratic leaders were operating a pedophile ring based in a Washington Pizza restaurant.
“I think at some point it’s going to require a combination of regulation and standards within industries to get us back to the point where we at least recognize a common set of facts before we start arguing about what we should do about those facts.”
Obama says that while many conventional mainstream media outlets have introduced fact-checking in recent years to curb the spread of misinformation online, it may not be enough because “falsehoods had already circled the globe by the time truth got out of the gates”.
Furthermore, he can also be ascribed to socioeconomic factors such as increasing inequality and disparities between the urban and rural America.
Such issues, he adds, are “paralleled in the UK and around the world” with “people feeling as if they’re losing a grip on the ladder of economic advancement and so react and can be persuaded that it’s this group’s fault or that group’s fault”.
About BLM and Race
Obama who took White House as America’s first president of color, says the issue of race been “one of the central fault lines in American history – our original sin”. This summer, the death of African American George Floyd in police custody and the backlash that followed in the US and across the globe reflected both anguish and optimism, he says.
“Despair that the chronic lingering role of race and bias in our criminal justice system continues in such a blatant form… enormous optimism that you saw an outpouring of protest activism and interest that far exceeded anything we had seen previously – and was peaceful.”
It was important that the uprisings against racial injustices were multi-racial he says, adding that the reaction was different than that of Trayvon Martin’s killing n 2012. Martin, an unarmed Florida teenager was shot dead by neighborhood watch volunteer George Zimmerman. Zimmerman involved in the high-profile murder was later cleared of the charges levelled against him.
Obama also mentioned that fatal shooting in 2014 that claimed a life if an 18-year-ld unarmed black man Michael Brown who was shot six times by a white police officer in Ferguson, Missouri.
He says that while those incidents invoked a public outrage, they were also responsible for the start of a debate over racial justice, there still appeared to be “resistance among large portions of the white community to push back against the notion that this was more than just one incident or a case of bad apples”.
“What you saw this summer was some communities that had a very negligible black population, folks going out there and saying Black Lives Matter and embracing the notion that real change has to come.”
Obama was speaking ahead of the release of his new memoir which records his rise to the United States Senate and first Presidential term. Releasing on Nov 17, 2020, it is the first of two books giving a glimpse into his time in the WH.