With just two days remaining in his presidency, Barack Obama hosted a White House press conference in which he said he expected the new administration and Congress to make their own determinations about the nation’s direction, and by and large, he intended to stay out of it.
But as regular readers know, Obama also acknowledged at the time that there might be exceptions to the rule. “There’s a difference,” the outgoing president explained, “between that normal functioning of politics and certain issues or certain moments where I think our core values may be at stake.”
What the Democratic president couldn’t have known was just how frequently he’d find these core values in jeopardy. At last count, Obama has responded to major policy development with critical statements five times: the separation of immigrant children from their families, Trump’s Muslim ban, the Republican campaign to repeal the Affordable Care Act, Trump rescinding DACA protections for Dreamers, and Trump’s abandonment of the international nuclear agreement with Iran.
By some measures, it looks like today was the sixth.
“No other nation on Earth comes close to experiencing the frequency of mass shootings that we see in the United States. No other developed nation tolerates the levels of gun violence that we do. Every time this happens, we’re told that tougher gun laws won’t stop all murders; that they won’t stop every deranged individual from getting a weapon and shooting innocent people in public places.
“But the evidence shows that they can stop some killings. They can save some families from heartbreak. We are not helpless here. And until all of us stand up and insist on holding public officials accountable for changing our gun laws, these tragedies will keep happening.”
Obama went on to note that the gunman in El Paso appears to be part of a trend of “troubled individuals who embrace racist ideologies and see themselves obligated to act violently to preserve white supremacy.” The former president urged law enforcement agencies and internet platforms to “come up with better strategies to reduce the influence of these hate groups.”
But Obama then directed some of his most spirited concerns at unnamed “leaders” who use their platforms to promote bigotry and division.
“[J]ust as important, all of us have to send a clarion call and behave with the values of tolerance and diversity that should be the hallmark of our democracy. We should soundly reject language coming out of the mouths of any of our leaders that feeds a climate of fear and hatred or normalizes racist sentiments; leaders who demonize those who don’t look like us, or suggest that other people, including immigrants, threaten our way of life, or refer to other people as sub-human, or imply that America belongs to just one certain type of people.
“Such language isn’t new – it’s been at the root of most human tragedy throughout history, here in America and around the world. It is at the root of slavery and Jim Crow, the Holocaust, the genocide in Rwanda and ethnic cleansing in the Balkans. It has no place in our politics and our public life. And it’s time for the overwhelming majority of Americans of goodwill, of every race and faith and political party, to say as much – clearly and unequivocally.”
At no point did Obama reference Donald J. Trump. Then again, I’m not sure he had to.