US leaders ‘aren’t even pretending to be in charge’: Obama

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In what is seen as a rebuke of Trump, former US President blasts American leadership amid the pandemic

WASHINGTON: Former US President Barack Obama criticised the response to the Covid-19 pandemic ravaging America, in what was widely regarded as a rare public rebuke of his successor Donald Trump.

"More than anything, this pandemic has fully, finally torn back the curtain on the idea that so many of the folks in charge know what they're doing," Mr Obama told graduates from several dozen historically black colleges and universities on Saturday.

"A lot of them aren't even pretending to be in charge," he said, as he discussed the implications of the pandemic during the online event, without naming any specific leaders.

Mr Obama has kept a low profile since leaving office in January 2017 but on Saturday, he also highlighted how the health crisis had underscored racial inequality in America, and expressed outrage at the shooting death of 25-year-old Ahmaud Arbery, killed on February 23 while out for a jog in Georgia.

"A disease like this just spotlights the underlying inequalities and extra burdens that black communities have historically had to deal with in this country," he said.

"We see it in the disproportionate impact of Covid-19 on our communities. Just as we see it when a black man goes for a jog and some folks feel like they can stop and question, and shoot him, if he doesn't submit to their question," he continued, without naming Mr Arbery.

Virtual graduation ceremonies like this are being held all over the US while the Covid-19 crisis continues to blight the country.

The number of coronavirus deaths stood at a grim 88,730, according to the latest real-time tally reported by Johns Hopkins University on Saturday.

The country - hardest hit by the pandemic in terms of the number of fatalities - has confirmed a total of 1,466,682 cases.

While virtual ceremonies cannot replace a rite of passage, and a chance to don a scholarly cap and gown and celebrate with friends and family as another stage of school is completed, some of the country's biggest names have come together to hold a number of virtual events.

TV star Oprah Winfrey gave a commencement address on a Facebook event on Friday, and supportive words were shared by actor Matthew Mc-Conaughey and rapper Cardi B, among others.


TV networks will broadcast an event called Graduate Together, with Mr Obama and basketball player LeBron James, while the former President will be joined by his wife Michelle and others from the worlds of politics and entertainment for a YouTube event on June 6 called "Dear Class of 2020".

Meanwhile, students are doing what they can to celebrate.

Convoys of cars sounding their horns have become a common sight in US towns, while others are holding ceremonies at home with their families.

"You are originals, enjoy that," said Mr McConaughey at the Facebook event.

"There will always be only one graduating class of 2020 who did it the way you're doing it now." - AFP, REUTERS