Wide praise for Obama criticizing cancel culture
His advice to see world as ‘messy’ a bipartisan hit
WASHINGTON — Former President Barack Obama recently offered some advice to young people hoping to change society: Participating in cancel culture isn’t the way to do it.
“This idea of purity and you’re never compromised and you’re always politically woke and all that stuff, you should get over that quickly,” the 58-year-old said Tuesday while speaking at the Obama Foundation Summit in Chicago. “The world is messy. There are ambiguities. People who do really good stuff have flaws.”
Obama’s pointed warning that social media enables “woke” people to be “as judgmental as possible” soon went viral, with clips of Obama shared on Twitter being viewed millions of times.
“He is right on all counts,” 2020 Democratic presidential candidate Andrew Yang tweeted, while his opponent Rep. Tulsi Gabbard, D-Hawaii, wrote, “We all need a little more aloha spirit: being respectful & caring for one another.”
“Good for Obama,” wrote conservative pundit Ann Coulter, adding in parentheses that her comment was “Not sarcastic!”
On Tuesday, Obama was 50 minutes into a discussion with young leaders about their activism when he mentioned that he had started to notice a worrisome trend “among young people, particularly on college campuses.”
“There is this sense sometimes of, ‘The way of me making change is to be as judgmental as possible about other people,’ and that’s enough,” he said, noting that the mindset was only “accelerated by social media.”
Obama went on to describe an example of the behavior he was cautioning against.
“If I tweet or hashtag about how you didn’t do something right or used the wrong verb, then I can sit back and feel pretty good about myself, because man you see how woke I was?” he said, drawing laughter from the audience. “I called you out.”
But the act of public shaming on social media, Obama said, is “not activism.”
“That’s not bringing about change,” he said. “If all you’re doing is casting stones, you’re probably not going to get that far. That’s easy to do.”
With that, Obama effectively inserted himself into the ongoing debate that surrounds cancel culture, a term that refers to a mass effort, usually carried out on social media, to call out prominent people for any alleged wrongdoing and demand that they lose access to their public platforms. The strategy has proved vital to holding powerful figures accountable, sparking international movements such as #MeToo.
But “canceling” has also been criticized for encouraging mob behavior that often results in major consequences to people’s lives and careers over missteps such as old inappropriate tweets.
Boycotts have long been considered an efficient method of motivating change, but the intense censoring of people or groups on social media is a newer tactic that has gained popularity among the left, according to CNN’s Chris Cillizza, who described it as “one of the defining hallmarks of our culture in the post-Obama presidency.”
It is not especially surprising then that Obama, known for promoting compromise, would take issue with an approach that hinges on the premise that everything is black and white, and Tuesday wasn’t the first time that he’s publicly raised concerns.
In his first interview after leaving office, Obama criticized unnamed leaders for using social media to sow division, The Post’s William Booth reported.
“One of the dangers of the internet is that people can have entirely different realities. They can be cocooned in information that reinforces their current biases,” Obama said in December 2017. “The truth is, on the internet everything is simplified and when you meet people face to face, it turns out they’re complicated.”
Still, Obama’s most recent comments on the issue sparked a fresh wave of reaction.
“I love this,” CBS latenight host James Corden tweeted.
Corden’s praise was echoed by other celebrities, such as comedians Billy Eichner and Sarah Silverman, and actor John Cleese.
“An actual adult with experience and perspective has entered the building,” Eichner wrote on Twitter.
Even conservative commentator Tomi Lahren had positive comments about Obama, remarking on “Fox & Friends” that the former president is “looking like the voice of reason.”
But Obama’s words did not sit well with everyone.
“Oligarch Irritated by Agonized Youth,” one Twitter user captioned a video of Obama speaking at the Chicago event.
Former President Barack Obama said, “If all you’re doing is casting stones, you’re probably not going to get that far. That’s easy to do.”