Obama warns against rise in ‘crude’ nationalism after Trump win

US president rejects view he caused shock result, said voters wanted to ‘shake things up’

US president Barack Obama has warned against a rise in a "crude sort of nationalism" – offering his strongest comments, since the US presidential election, on the forces that swept businessman Donald Trump to power.

Speaking in Greece on his final overseas trip, Mr Obama said that the US president-elect and fellow Republicans had tapped into a strain of rhetoric that was "pretty troubling and not necessarily connected to facts" – to fan the anger and fears of Americans about the threats from a more globally connected world.

Standing alongside Greece's prime minister Alexis Tsipras, the president drew parallels with the rise of populist movements across Europe over suspicions about government institutions and political elites, pointing to the lessons from the US election result and Britain's vote to leave the European Union in June.

Volatile mix

Globalisation combined with technology, social media and constant information has “disrupted people’s lives” and left people “less certain of their national identities or their place in the world”, he said.

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“That sometimes gets wrapped up in issues of ethnic identify or religious identity or cultural identity. And that can be a volatile mix,” he said.

Mr Obama has chosen his words carefully since the election of a man he called “dangerous” and “unfit for the presidency” in the campaign – to ensure a smooth transition of power to the property mogul and television celebrity.

Explaining Mr Trump’s victory to a European audience, the president went further, raising concerns around the strains of populism.

“I do believe, separate and apart from any particular election or movement, that we are going to have to guard against a rise in a crude sort of nationalism or ethnic identity or tribalism that is built around an ‘us’ and a ‘them’,” he said.

Responsible

Rejecting the suggestion that he was responsible for the first American never to have held public office or been a military leader to win the presidency, Mr Obama pointed to the “mismatch” between his high job approval ratings, at the end of his term, and the anger and frustration felt by the American people.

“Perhaps the view of the American people was just that need to shake things up,” he said.

While the US president embarked on a trip that includes visits to Germany and Peru, the next president met to consider appointments to his new cabinet amid fresh tensions within his camp.

Former US congressman Mike Rogers, tipped as a potential CIA director, left Mr Trump's team managing the transition to power in what was described as a purge of people close to New Jersey's Republican governor Chris Christie, once a strong Trump supporter who has been sidelined since the election.

Mr Trump is mulling the appointment of two of his most loyal campaigners to top roles: former New York mayor Rudy Giuliani as US secretary of state and Alabama senator Jeff Sessions as attorney general.

Long-time Trump supporter and activist investor Carl Icahn confirmed on Tuesday that the president-elect is looking at Wall Street veteran Steven Mnuchin as his choice for treasury secretary and billionaire Wilbur Ross for commerce secretary.

Wilbur Ross was one of Bank of Ireland’s biggest shareholders after the financial crash until he sold out in 2014.

Simon Carswell

Simon Carswell

Simon Carswell is The Irish Times’s Public Affairs Editor and former Washington correspondent