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Obama, grappling with Trump’s win, takes the long view

The president says he’s not to blame for the election results — but suggests Trump will ultimately fail.

ATHENS — President Barack Obama acknowledged that Donald Trump tapped into a worldwide anxiety about globalization he’d failed to satisfy himself, but argued here Tuesday that he’s not to blame — and not so subtly predicted that the president-elect’s policy agenda will come up short.

Calling Trump’s election “an interesting test,” Obama said that since the Republican has won along with a Republican majority, “time will now tell whether the prescriptions that are being offered or with respect to the U.S. election end up actually satisfying those people who are fearful, who are angry or concerned.”

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Obama’s comments are the most pointed at Trump publicly since last week’s election results came in — with an outcome the president again acknowledged he had not expected.

In his statement in the Rose Garden last Wednesday, in brief remarks in the Oval Office following his first meeting with the president-elect on Thursday, and just Monday during a press conference at the White House, Obama went out of his way to stress that the election was over, and now he’s all about helping the winner prepare for the job.

But after a day of meetings here with the Greek president and prime minister that marked his first face-to-face encounters trying to explain Trump’s election, Obama took a notably harder line. Gone were the conciliatory, not-much-has-really-changed lines. In their place, an insistence that his very different way will win out in the end, tinged with a good-luck-with-that sense to Trump and the Republicans in Congress.

In January, Obama dismissed a question about whether he felt responsible for helping create the environment for Trump by saying, “Talk to me if he wins, then we’ll have a conversation about how responsible I feel about it.”

Here we are.

Obama: Trump is 'pragmatic'

Confronted with that comment here Tuesday, Obama swatted it back — sort of. The president didn’t address anything that he might have said or done himself over the years to enable Trump, though he argued that he’d tried to help his base of white working-class supporters. He just said he wasn’t going to take ownership of anything Trump does now.

“I still don’t feel responsible for what the president-elect says or does,” Obama said.

He immediately pivoted to explain what he does feel responsible for doing: “to facilitate a good transition” and contribute “my best thinking, my best ideas about how you move the country forward.”

After all, Obama said, take a look at the polls, which show that a majority of Americans agree with him and agree that he’s been doing a good job, despite some of those same people voting for Trump.

That creates a “mismatch,” the president said, which to him suggests “perhaps the view of the American people was, ‘You just need to shake things up.’”

Said the man who ran on change eight years ago: “At times of significant stress, people are going to be looking for something, and they don’t always know exactly what they’re going to be looking for, and they’re always going to be looking for change even when they don’t always know what that change will be.”

And Trump’s appeal to nationalism and division, which Obama railed against on the campaign trail, is still wrong, the president said. Eventually, he argued, people will see that.

“My vision’s right on that issue and it may not always win the day in the short term, and in [this] particular political circumstance, but I’m confident it’ll win the day over the long term,” he said.

Obama remains in a difficult position after a campaign in which he argued Trump in the White House would be an existential threat, now that he’s actually got to turn the White House over to that man.

He’s not the only one. In March, Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras said of Trump, “I hope we will not face this evil.”

Confronted with that comment here in the main hallways of the Maximos Mansion where his government is centered, Tsipras backtracked.

“I know very little of Donald Trump,” he said, joking that someone had told him perhaps he should have read Trump’s “Art of the Deal” before going to Brussels to negotiate with the European Union on his nation’s debt relief (Obama gave him a wan smile).

President Barack Obama gestures while speaking during a joint news conference with Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras at Maximos Mansion in Athens on November 15.

“It was one thing what we knew of Donald Trump when he was seeking to become the candidate of the Republican Party, another thing during the election, and now that he is president-elect,” Tsipras said, according to a simultaneous translation provided, “and it is quite another when he will be the president of a country that is a major player, a global player.”

But he wasn’t masking his feelings much earlier in the conversation, when he praised Obama for his work promoting democracy and inclusiveness, health care, tackling climate change and a response to the 2008 economic crisis he said was wiser than the austerity measures so many European governments had used.

Tsipras then pointedly quoted Franklin Roosevelt: “People who are hungry, people who are out of a job, are the stuff of which dictatorships are made.”

The Greeks, like many Europeans, are generally nervous about Trump. But they also have a direct, pressing need to try to get Germany and the European Union to act on some debt-relief measures that Obama favors, and which Trump has been ambiguous on.

Tsipras and Greek President Prokopis Pavlopoulos both on Tuesday echoed Obama’s professed confidence that America’s foreign policy positions would not change from administration to administration — even though changing how America does business around the world was a central tenet of Trump’s campaign.

“I am certain that your successor, the new president of the United States, Mr. Trump, will continue on the same path,” Pavlopoulos told Obama in their meeting earlier in the day.

Nationalism and fear, Obama said, aren’t the answer in Europe or at home. Dealing with inequality and economic dislocation is.

Obama: I'm not responsible for Trump

But there’s no questioning the suspicion of globalization and desire to rein in its excesses, suspicions of elites and feeling of detachment from government that Obama said have “always been there,” accentuated by modern technology and the economic situation.

“It’s the job of leaders to try to address people’s real legitimate concerns and channel them in the most constructive ways possible,” Obama said. “Did I recognize that there was anger or frustration in the American population? Of course I did.”

Republicans in Congress stopped him from moving to act on what he wanted to do to deal with this, Obama said. And Republicans in the media and politics went after him without facts to mobilize opposition against him. And Trump, he added, tapped into and broadened that rejectionist agenda. Together, that lost the 2016 American elections and is reverberating across this continent, Obama said.

But there’s another election coming, Obama said. Then Trump will be the one who’ll have to answer for the condition of the country and how people feel about it.

“Those folks who voted for the president-elect are better off than they were when I came into office, for the most part,” Obama said, “but we’ll see whether those facts affect people’s calculations in the next election.”

Source: POLITICO – TOP Stories

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