- The Washington Times - Wednesday, June 29, 2016

In an international summit dominated by the prospect of a Donald Trump presidency, President Obama criticized the presumptive Republican nominee as a phony populist and told Mexicans and Canadians that Mr. Trump’s anti-immigrant rhetoric doesn’t represent the views of most Americans.

At a news conference with the leaders of Mexico and Canada where nearly all the questions pertained to Mr. Trump’s proposed policies, Mr. Obama finally had enough of reporters’ suggestions that the Republican is waging a populist campaign.

Without mentioning Mr. Trump by name, the president referred to him as “somebody else who has never shown any regard for workers, has never fought on behalf of social justice issues” and “worked against economic opportunity for workers or ordinary people.”

“They don’t suddenly become a populist because they say something controversial in order to win votes,” Mr. Obama told reporters in Ottawa. “That’s not the measure of populism. That’s nativism or xenophobia. Or worse. Or it’s just cynicism. Be careful about suddenly attributing to whoever pops up at a time of economic anxiety the label that they’re populist.”

He went on, “Where have they been? Have they been on the front lines working on behalf of working people?”

The president even gave a plug to vanquished presidential candidate Sen. Bernard Sanders of Vermont as a true populist, along with himself.

“Now, there are people like Bernie Sanders who I think genuinely deserve the title,” Mr. Obama said. “Because he has been in the vineyards fighting on behalf of these issues.”

He never mentioned Hillary Clinton, the presumptive Democratic nominee.

Later, in an address to the Canadian Parliament, Mr. Obama also indirectly rebuked Mr. Trump by making a pitch for welcoming refugees, including those from the Middle East. Mr. Trump has proposed a temporary ban on Muslim immigrants, due to concerns of terrorism; Canada has easily surpassed the U.S. this year in the number of refugees it has accepted from Syria.

“We certainly can’t label as possible terrorists vulnerable people who are fleeing terrorism,” Mr. Obama said. “We can’t forsake them. As Americans and Canadians, we will continue to welcome refugees. We can insist that the process is orderly. We can insist that our security is preserved.”

After nearly eight years of promoting costly health-care and education initiatives, Mr. Obama is clearly annoyed with the notion that the billionaire businessman could be considered a populist.

“When I ran in 2008, and the reason I ran again … is because I care about people,” Mr. Obama said, listing some of his agenda items. “I care about poor people who are working really hard and don’t have a chance to advance, And I care about workers being able to have a collective voice in the workplace and get their fair share of the pie. I suppose that makes me a populist.”

The North American Leaders summit was intended to showcase unity among the U.S., Canada and Mexico while Europe is being roiled by Britain’s decision to leave the European Union.

Mr. Obama, Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and Mexican President Enrique Pena Nieto did agree on clean energy and free trade policies, and they also shared a thinly veiled contempt for Mr. Trump, who has vowed to renegotiate the North American Free Trade Agreement with Mexico and Canada, or rip it up.

Mr. Pena Nieto doubled down on his previous comparison of Mr. Trump with fascist dictators Adolf Hitler and Benito Mussolini, saying he is wary of a leader who is “choosing a road towards isolationism and destruction.”

“In the past some leaders addressed their societies in those terms,” Mr. Pena Nieto said. “Hitler and Mussolini did that. And the outcome is clear to everyone. It resulted in devastation. It turned out to be a tragedy for mankind.”

Mr. Trudeau was more cautious, dismissing “inflated rhetoric” without specifying a candidate.

“Regardless of election rhetoric, Canada, the United States and Mexico will continue to have tremendously close relationships,” Mr. Trudeau said.

Mr. Trump’s proposal to make Mexico pay for a security wall on the U.S. border, and his comments about Mexico sending criminals to the U.S., also were a prominent topic at the summit. Mr. Obama tried to persuade his counterparts and their delegations that Mr. Trump is an outlier.

“We should take some of this rhetoric seriously and answer it boldly and clearly,” Mr. Obama said. “But you shouldn’t think that is representative of how the American people think.”

During a separate meeting with Mr. Pena Nieto, Mr. Obama dismissed “rhetoric that ignores the enormous contributions that have been made by Mexican Americans and the enormous strengths we draw from the relationship.”

Mr. Obama said the U.S. “is not just a friend and neighbor of Mexico, but the very character of the United States is shaped by Mexican Americans who have shared our culture, our politics, our business.”

In an apparent reference to Mr. Trump’s pledge to force Mexico to pay for building a wall, Mr. Pena Nieto said, “Isolationism cannot bring prosperity to a society.”

“We have to be very clear about the benefits of being an integrated region,” the Mexican leader said. “Isolationism is not a road towards progress. We are neighbors, we are friends.”

Mr. Trump launched his campaign for the presidency last year by vowing to get tougher with immigration on the Mexican border. He said Mexico is sending to the U.S. “people that have lots of problems, and they’re bringing those problems with us. They’re bringing drugs. They’re bringing crime. They’re rapists. And some, I assume, are good people.”

Mexican Foreign Secretary Claudia Ruiz-Massieu said Mr. Trump’s rhetoric “is not only offensive or disparaging to Mexicans, I think it should be worrisome for anyone that believes that people have the same rights.”

“You should not use stereotypes or negative categories to talk about countries and peoples that are your friends, your allies — and should be accorded the same respect as anyone else,” she told CBC News.

Mr. Obama also told Parliament that Britain’s vote last week to leave the EU has implications for democracies struggling with the challenges of inequality and globalization. And again, he compared the situation obliquely to Mr. Trump’s candidacy.

“If our democracies seem incapable of assuring broad-based growth for everyone, then people will push back out of anger or out of fear,” Mr. Obama said. “And politicians, some sincere and some entirely cynical, will tap that anger and fear, harkening back to bygone days of order and predictability and national glory, arguing that we must rebuild walls and disengage from a chaotic world, or rid ourselves of supposed ills brought on by immigrants.”

He said “we saw some of these currents at work this past week” in the Brexit vote.

“While the circumstances of Brexit may be unique to the United Kingdom, the frustrations people felt are not,” the president said.

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