Former President Barack Obama has said the coronavirus pandemic has revealed some leaders to be empty suits and that a lot of the people in positions of power aren’t even pretending to be in charge anymore.
“More than anything, this pandemic has fully, finally torn back the curtain on the idea that so many of the folks in charge know what they’re doing. A lot of them aren’t even pretending to be in charge,” Mr. Obama said Saturday in remarks for an online event honoring students graduating from Historically Black Colleges and Universities.
“If the world’s going to get better, it’s going to be up to you,” he said.
White House trade advisor Peter Navarro hit back on Sunday, criticizing the former president’s lack of comments on China or manufacturing in Mr. Obama’s “kumbaya of incompetence” speech.
“I’m glad Mr. Obama has a new job as Joe Biden’s press secretary,” Mr. Navarro said on the ABC News program “This Week.”
Mr. Obama also lamented the disproportionate effect the coronavirus has been having on people of color.
“We see it when a black man goes for a jog and some folks feel like they can stop and question and shoot him if he doesn’t submit to their questioning,” he said, referring to the recent case of Ahmaud Arbery in Georgia.
“Injustice like this isn’t new,” he said. “What is new is that so much of your generation has woken up to the fact that the status quo needs fixing.”
He tried to spur on the graduating students by saying they are “inheritors of one of America’s proudest traditions.”
“So many of us believe in you. I am so proud of you,” he said. “And as you set out to change the world, we’ll be the wind at your back. So congratulations, class of 2020 — God bless all of you.”
Later in the day, the former president also made references to adults who don’t have all the answers or who might take the easy way out in a nationally televised appearance on behalf of graduating high school seniors.
“All those adults that you used to think were in charge and knew what they were doing — turns out they don’t have all the answers. A lot of them aren’t even asking the right questions,” he said.
“Do what you think is right,” he said. “Doing what feels good — what’s convenient, what’s easy — that’s how little kids think. Unfortunately, a lot of so-called grown-ups — including some with fancy titles and important jobs — still think that way, which is why things are so screwed up.”
While Mr. Obama’s Saturday words named no names, they closely mirrored a private call with former members of his administration last week. In that leaked call, Mr. Obama sharply criticized the Trump administration’s response to the coronavirus pandemic.
“It would have been bad even with the best of governments. It has been an absolute chaotic disaster when that mindset — of ‘what’s in it for me’ and ‘to heck with everybody else’ — when that mindset is operationalized in our government,” the former president said last week.
President Trump, in turn, has called on Mr. Obama to testify to Congress about any spying the former president’s administration might have conducted on Mr. Trump’s 2016 campaign.
“Look, he was an incompetent president, that’s all I can say. Grossly incompetent,” Mr. Trump said of Mr. Obama on Sunday.
⦁ Gabriella Muñoz contributed to this report.
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