American democracy is fragile, and unless care is taken it could follow the path of Nazi Germany in the 1930s.

Mixed in with many softer comments, that was the somewhat jaw-dropping bottom line of Barack Obama last night as, in a Q&A session before the Economic Club of Chicago, the Chicagoan who used to be president dropped a bit of red meat to a hometown crowd that likely is a lot closer to him than the man whose name never was mentioned: President Donald Trump.

Obama’s comments came after a series of playful questions from moderator and Ariel Investments President Mellody Hobson—in the great Batman vs. Superman debate, for instance, we learned Obama sides with Batman—before she eventually asked him what he’s learned as a world citizen of sorts.

One thing he’s learned is that “things don’t happen internationally if we don’t put our shoulder to the wheel,” Obama said, speaking of the U.S. “No other country has the experience and bandwidth and ideals. . . .If the U.S. doesn’t do it, it’s not going to happen.”

Obama gave one specific example, but it was a solid one: Ebola. To fight the virus the U.S. did everything from build an airport tarmac in Africa to send in medical teams and ferry medicos from other countries. “We probably saved a million lives by doing that,” he said.

Invoking the specter of Nazi Germany, Obama warns against complacency

In an appearance before the Economic Club, the former president defends the media, global outreach and, without mentioning Trump, warns that a country ”grown complacent” could repeat history.


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