Former President Barack Obama expressed concern in a CNN interview Thursday that the United States has become less tolerant since he left office, stressing that this is a problem shared by both Republicans and Democrats.
Obama told CNN’s Christiane Amanpour that “democratic institutions are creaky.” He made clear he wasn’t necessarily referring to the indictment of the Democratic incumbent’s top rival ahead of the 2024 presidential election, which he suggested serves as evidence that no one is above the law.
Rather, the former president indicated he is more concerned “with the fact that not just one particular individual is being accused of undermining existing laws, but that more broadly we’ve seen — whether it’s through the gerrymandering of districts, whether it’s trying to silence critics through changes in legislative process, whether it’s attempts to intimidate the press — a strand of anti-democratic sentiment that we’ve seen in the United States.”
“It’s something that is right now most prominent in the Republican Party, but I don’t think it’s something that is unique to one party,” said the former president. “I think there is less tolerance for ideas that don’t suit us.”
Obama stressed that the “habits of a free and open exchange of ideas and the idea that we all agree to the rules of the same game … even if the outcomes aren’t always the ones we like” have “weakened since I left office, and we’re gonna need to strengthen them again.”
The former president attributed the breakdown of bipartisanship and tolerance, in part, to the isolation of information.
“If you’re watching Fox News or following some right-wing radio host or getting Facebook feeds within that bubble, your reality is different than if you read the New York Times or watch [CNN],” he said. “When people are getting such fundamentally different facts, or what they think to be facts, and their worldviews are so skewed in one direction or another, and it’s very hard for democracy to work.”
Although Obama intimated in his CNN interview that intolerance, anti-democratic sentiment, and the silencing of critics are on the rise, these trends appear to have preceded his departure from office.
The Pew Research Center found that partisan polarization surged in the Obama years, which he led into with the suggestion that elements of the working class, frustrated with economic conditions, “cling to guns or religion or antipathy to people who aren’t like them or anti-immigrant sentiment or anti-trade sentiment as a way to explain their frustrations.”
The Internal Revenue Service, under the Obama administration, discriminated against hundreds of conservative groups in their applications for tax-exempt status. On the basis of their names and politics, these groups’ applications were singled out, delayed, and denied.
Only after Obama left office did the IRS get around to expressing its “sincere apology.”
While Obama indicated critics are now being silenced by elements of the state, at least more than they had been when he was in charge, Pulitzer-prize winning New York Times journalist Matt Apuzzo underscored at a Duke University event in 2017 that nothing in the years following Obama’s tenure came close to the “chilling effect” the former president’s crackdown on journalists and leaks had on the profession, reported the Duke Chronicle.
The New York Post indicated that Apuzzo, who like the Times’ Adam Goldman had his phone records seized, called Obama “the most oppressive” for journalists since Richard Nixon.
Obama suggested to the New York Times in 2009 that Fox News, which had been critical of his policies and leadership, was not a legitimate news organization.
The Washington Post reported that the Obama Department of Justice obtained telephone records for then-Fox News journalist James Rosen, who was suspected of obtaining leaked information about North Korea. The Obama administration “used security badge access records to track the reporter’s comings and goings,” perused his personal emails, and traced the timing of his calls with the supposed leaker.
The Times editorial board wrote, “With the decision to label a Fox News television reporter a possible ‘co-conspirator’ in a criminal investigation of a news leak, the Obama administration has moved beyond protecting government secrets to threatening fundamental freedoms of the press to gather news.”
The Obama DOJ also secretly subpoenaed phone records from Associated Press offices in Washington, Hartford, Connecticut, and New York, again trying to determine the nature of reporters’ sources.
“The Obama administration has pursued more such cases than all previous administrations combined,” reported the Washington Post.
Depreciated tolerance on racial matters was also a feature under Obama’s presidency.
A 2016 Rasmussen Poll found that 60% of likely U.S. voters believed race relations had worsened since Obama’s inauguration.
Just sat down for an exclusive w/ President @BarackObama in Athens to discuss the future of democracy, at home & abroad. I asked how the US should engage with autocracies. Watch his response.
— Christiane Amanpour (@amanpour) June 22, 2023
Good Morning !
Durham: Obama & Biden sat in that August 3, 2016 Situation Room briefing almost 7 years ago now and said, yeah, let's let the highest officials in our administration fabricate evidence to frame the opposing party political candidate Donald Trump as a traitor. https://t.co/ZGpeBvXZCN pic.twitter.com/FMaQ1nsO8c
— Rasmussen Reports (@Rasmussen_Poll) June 23, 2023
Obama didn't even have to work hard to transform America. 90 percent of people who end up in D.C. buy into every assumption of the ruling regime. All he had to do was appoint as many people as possible, and the administrative state will take care of the policies itself.
— Charlie Kirk (@charliekirk11) June 24, 2023