ATHENS — President Obama will deliver a speech to the Greek people Wednesday in which he's expected to address the economic and social forces that are upending American and European politics, warning against what he's called a "crude nationalism" that threatens to divide people along ethnic, religious and class lines.
The speech comes as Obama prepares to hand over power to President-elect Donald Trump, whose upset victory was fueled in part by anxieties about immigration, globalization and trade. But in delivering the speech in the birthplace of democracy — and after touring the Acropolis, the iconic hilltop ruins that have become an enduring symbol of Western civilization itself — Obama will also make clear that Trump is not a uniquely American phenomenon.
Obama has argued that Western governments need to address the underlying issues driving economic anxiety before being consumed by populist backlash.
"The lesson I draw — and I think people can draw a lot of lessons, but maybe one that cuts across countries is we have to deal with issues like inequality," Obama said at a Tuesday news conference with Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras. "We have to deal with issues of economic dislocation. We have to deal with people's fears that their children won't do as well as they have. The more aggressively and effectively we deal with those issues, the less those fears may channel themselves into counterproductive approaches that pit people against each other."
Deputy National Security Adviser Ben Rhodes, who writes Obama's foreign policy speeches, said the remarks in Greece will echo some themes of Obama's eight-year presidency: That globalization, technology and trade will ultimately lead to greater prosperity — but that it needs to be carefully regulated to mitigate the dislocation of workers and families that also can result.
Those effects are "clearly something that can be seen in multiple election results, including our own," Rhodes said. "So even with all the progress we've made, we recognize no matter what had happened in November, that more work needed to be done."
At a state dinner at his honor at Greece's presidential mansion Tuesday night, Obama said his speech also will acknowledge "the ties of history and heritage that bind our peoples together" — ties that include a love of the Olympic games.
"Greeks rightly take pride as the founder of the Games -- and in Leonidas of Rhodes who, for 2,000 years, held the record for winning 12 individual gold medals, the most of any athlete," Obama said. "And we Americans take pride in Michael Phelps, who set the new record this summer."