Barack Obama goes on 'rant' against Trump-style 'populism'

At the Three Amigos press conference Wednesday, U.S. President Barack Obama launched into an passionate rant inspired by the anti-immigrant, build-that-wall, anti-trade-language being sprayed on the American electorate by one Donald Trump.

Mexican President Enrique Pena Nieto compares Trump to Hitler and Mussolini

Obama on Populism and Donald Trump

6 years ago
Duration 2:13
Obama on Populism and Donald Trump

U.S. President Barack Obama ended the Three Amigos news conference by addressing the Trump in the room. 

Just after he wound up his answer to the last question of the day, Obama launched into a "rant" against the kind of controversial rhetoric associated with Donald Trump's Republican primary campaign. 

"If you'll allow me, I want to say one last thing because it has been a running thread in a bunch questions … this whole issue of populism," Obama said. 

The president then suggested someone take a minute to look up the meaning of the term populism — to represent the interests of the common people — that is often used to describe Trump's campaign style.

Obama said he got into politics to help people, to make sure the poor had the same chances to succeed as the wealthy, that working moms had trustworthy child care, that the tax system was fair and that children were getting a "decent education." 

"Now, I suppose that makes me a populist," Obama said.

"Somebody else who has never shown any regard for workers, has never fought on behalf of social justice issues or making sure that poor kids are getting a decent shot in life, or have health care — in fact, have worked against economic opportunity for workers and ordinary people — they don't suddenly become a populist because they say something controversial in order to win votes. That's not the measure of populism, that's nativism, or xenophobia, or worse. Or, it's just cynicism."

Obama said throughout the news conference that while the global economic system had left some people behind, and though some of the anti-trade talk in the U.K. and in the U.S. was based on legitimate concerns, finding solutions takes time and hard work. 

"Let's be clear, somebody who labels, us versus them, or engages in rhetoric about how we're going to look after ourselves and take it to the other guy, that's not the definition of populism," Obama said. 

After making his point, Obama cut the silence by saying, "Sorry, this is one of the prerogatives of when you're at the end of your term … you go on these occasional rants."

A controversial comparison to Hitler

Earlier in the press conference, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and Mexican President Enrique Pena Nieto were asked to comment directly on Trump's anti-Mexican, anti-trade talk throughout his campaign. 

Pena Nieto was asked if he stood by comments he made in the past comparing Trump to Hitler and Mussolini. Presented with an opportunity to back away from those remarks, the Mexican president did not take advantage of it. 

He said that co-operation between nations on trade and other issues has enriched countries, and those relationships need to be strengthened, not destroyed in favour of calls for a return to isolationism and fear of the other.

"In the past, some leaders addressed their societies in those terms. Hitler and Mussolini did that and the outcome, it's clear to everyone, resulted in devastation and turned out to be a tragedy for mankind," Pena Nieto said. 

Trudeau took a more measured approach to answering why he was not more forcefully countering Trump's anti-NAFTA campaign, saying he was looking forward to working with whoever landed in the White House. 

"It's essential that we understand that regardless of electoral rhetoric, Canada, the United States and Mexico will continue to have tremendously close relationships, economically, culturally, socially, familially, historically and toward the future."