The former president, 57, told students at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign on Friday, September 7, that the United States has always been about progress and “backlash to progress.” He then argued that the nation is currently in the latter state.
“You happen to be coming of age during one of those moments. It did not start with Donald Trump. He is a symptom, not the cause,” Obama said. “He is just capitalizing on resentment that politicians have been fanning for years. A fear, an anger that is rooted in our past but is also born in in our enormous upheavals that have taken place in your brief lifetimes.”
Still, the former Illinois senator noted the importance of bipartisanship and took aim at conservatives who fortify bigotry when he referenced how Trump, 72, claimed after a white supremacist rally in Charlottesville, Virginia, in August 2017 that there was “blame on both sides.”
“How hard can that be, saying that Nazis are bad?” Obama, who has largely avoided the political spotlight this year, told the crowd. “It should 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.”
He continued, “I don’t mean to pretend I’m channeling Abraham Lincoln now, but that’s not what he had in mind, I think, when he helped form the Republican Party. It’s not conservative. It sure isn’t normal. It’s radical. It’s a vision that says the protection of our power and those who back us is all that matters, even when it hurts the country.”
Obama later addressed the op-ed that The New York Times published earlier this week by an anonymous senior Trump administration official, who wrote that a “quiet resistance” of “unsung heroes” in the White House are working against the current commander in chief.
“The claim that everything will turn out O.K. because there are people inside the White House who secretly aren’t following the president’s orders, this is not a check [on Trump],” the Harvard Law School graduate said. “I’m serious here. That’s not how our democracy is supposed to work.”
Trump was quick to respond to Obama’s speech. During his own address at a fundraiser in Fargo, North Dakota, the former reality star joked, “I’m sorry. I watched it, but I fell asleep.”