President Barack Obama pointed Tuesday to fears of globalization, economic uncertainty, suspicion of elites — anything but his own performance — as he grasped for ways to explain the unexpected rise of Donald Trump.
Opening his final overseas trip as president, Obama acknowledged he was surprised by Trump’s victory — and said it stemmed from deep-seated anxieties among working-class Americans that government must do better to address. But, he added paradoxically: “That’s been my agenda for the last eight years.”
“People seem to think I did a pretty good job,” Obama told reporters, citing his strong approval numbers. “So there is this mismatch, I think, between frustration and anger.”
Obama’s diagnosis of what went wrong for Hillary Clinton and Democrats offered little in the way of a road map for Democrats to avoid a similar fate in future elections. Democrats reeling from their resounding defeat last week are divided about what went wrong and even more divided about how to fix it.
In a joint news conference with Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras, Obama said his proposals on jobs, education and infrastructure would have helped the same voters whose frustration drove Trump’s success at the polls — if only they’d been implemented.
“The problem was I couldn’t convince the Republican Congress to pass a lot of them,” Obama said.
It was also the clearest sign yet that the president did not accept Trump’s election as a repudiation of his policies, despite Trump’s ardent rejection of nearly every piece of Obama’s legacy.
Obama’s words are being watched closely by world leaders who see parallels between Trump’s election and the rise of far-right movements in their own countries amid continued economic anxiety. After Athens, Obama planned visits to Germany and Peru.
Obama’s visit sparked large protests in central Athens, prompting riot police to use tear gas and stun grenades to disperse about 3,000 left-wing marchers after they tried to enter an area declared off-limits to demonstrators. No injuries or arrests were reported.
Obama seemed skeptical that “the new prescriptions being offered” would satisfy voters’ restlessness.
At home, Obama’s party is split as it tries to come to terms with Trump’s win. Some Democrats are pushing for an immediate and concerted effort to block Trump at all costs, while others want an internal shakeup and new direction aimed at winning back support among working-class voters.
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