The former president was speaking during an event at Sydney’s Aware Super Theatre on Tuesday.
“Here’s the good news about the US, though. We’re not quite as polarised as we seem. 60 to 65 per cent of the country, let’s call it 70 per cent, does occupy a reality-based world,” he said.
“And that’s true within the Republicans.”
Mr Obama said there was “one other factor that’s led to this polarisation”.
“This is global, this is not unique to the United States, and that is the shifts in the media and the story that is told to people. And there’s a guy you may be familiar with, first name Rupert, who was responsible for a lot of this,” he said.
“But really he perfected what is a broader trend, which is the advent of cable [television], talk radio and then social media. The dissolution of the monopoly of a few arbiters of the news and journalistic standards that came out of the post-World War two era,” Mr Obama said.
“It’s now a wild west and a splintering of media. And if all you’re doing is, in America it’s Fox News, here I guess it’s Sky, whatever it is if all you’re doing is watching one source of news, and by the way, in America, you’re seeing that progressives say, well we’re going to have our own news and our own perspective,” he further said.
“You no longer have a joint conversation and a shared story. And the economics of the media, the clicks, are now based on how do I attract your attention. Well, the easiest way to attract attention without having to have a lot of imagination, thought, or interesting things to say, is just to make people angry and resentful and to make them feel as if somebody’s trying to mess with them and take what’s rightfully theirs.”
The former president also said that in the midst of making people feel “angry and resentful”, there was the realm of identity politics, which was “very difficult to compromise around”.
“And if you throw in some good old-fashioned racism and xenophobia and sexism and homophobia, all of that because now we’re in the realm of identity politics. And it’s very difficult to compromise around identity politics.”
The former president also explained Russia’s president Vladimir Putin’s actions as part of a “broader contest that is taking place in the world”.
He said there was an “ancient way of conceiving power” which was consolidated using violence, coercion, domination, subordination and “might-makes-right” in contrast to a “more modern notion” that involved countries “respecting each other regardless of size and rule of law”.
“For most of human history, you have the bigger club, you beat the other guy over the head and you take what you want,” he said.
“And that operated for a long time, everywhere, in Europe and in Asia and in Africa and the Middle East and Latin America.
“What Ukraine represents, I think, is in some ways the exhaustion, the futility of the old ways of doing business in this modern world.”
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