Former President Barack Obama took direct aim and fired several shots at Donald Trump during a speech Friday, Sept. 7, to students at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. It was Obama’s most vocal attack on Trump since he was elected president in 2017.
Obama, who was at the university to receive the Institute of Government and Public Affairs Paul H. Douglas Award for Ethics in Government, called Trump out by name for the first time and said that he was the symptom of radical right-wing groups like the Tea Party. “You happen to be coming of age during one of those moments,” Obama said. “It did not start with Donald Trump. He is a symptom, not the cause. He just capitalizes on resentments that politicians have been fanning for years.”
Obama also took aim at Trump for his initial refusal to speak out against racist terrorists at the Charlottesville attack in 2017.
“How hard can that be, saying that Nazis are bad?” Obama asked rhetorically. “It shouldn’t be Democratic or Republican to say that we don’t target groups of people because of what they look like or how they pray. We are supposed to stand up to discrimination, and we are sure as heck to stand up clearly and unequivocally to Nazi sympathizers.”
The former president also mentioned The New York Times op-ed that recently was written by an anonymous White House staff member who revealed Trump’s lack of leadership. Obama, however, called the staff writer an enabler.
“They’re not doing us a service by actively promoting 90 percent of the crazy stuff coming out of this White House and then saying don’t worry, we’re preventing the other 10 percent.”
Obama also took aim at the Republican Party for its complacency. “They made it so that the only nation on Earth to pull out of the global climate agreement, it’s not North Korea, it’s not Syria, it’s not Russia or Saudi Arabia, it’s us,” Obama lamented.
Two months ahead of the important November elections, Obama encouraged members of the audience to vote. “As a fellow citizen, not as a former president, but as a fellow citizen I am here to deliver a simple message. You need to vote because our democracy depends on it.”