POLITICS
09/07/2018 12:57 pm ET Updated Sep 07, 2018

Barack Obama Rebukes Donald Trump Publicly For First Time

The country is facing a "backlash" moment, and the current president is a symptom, Obama said.

President Barack Obama is making his return to the political arena to help embattled Democrats win in November’s midterm elections. And for the first time, Obama publicly called out President Donald Trump by name.

During a speech at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign on Friday, Obama said the country is in a “backlash” moment. 

“You happen to be coming of age during one of those moments,” Obama told the audience. “It did not start with Donald Trump ― he is a symptom, not the cause. 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 borne in our enormous upheavals that have taken place in your brief lifetimes.”

While Obama has in the past blasted Trump and his policies, this was the first speech in which he used his successor’s name.

Obama also addressed Trump’s tone-deaf comments last year, when the president claimed that there were “some very fine people on both sides” during the Unite the Right rally in Charlottesville, Virginia, that saw white supremacists squaring off against anti-racism protesters. Paralegal Heather Heyer, 32, was killed during the protest when a white supremacist struck her with his car.

“We’re supposed to stand up to discrimination, and we’re sure as heck supposed to stand up clearly and unequivocally to Nazi sympathizers,” Obama said. “How hard can that be, saying that Nazis are bad?”

I mention this just so when you hear how great the economy is doing right now, let's just remember when this recovery started. Barack Obama

For all his bloviating about a strong economy, Trump got a reminder Friday about just who started the country’s upswing:

“By the time I left office, household income was near its all-time high, and the uninsured rate hit an all-time low, poverty rates were falling,” Obama said. “I mention this just so when you hear how great the economy is doing right now, let’s just remember when this recovery started.”

The former president also applauded the women who have taken a stand in the Me Too movement, and the teens of Parkland, Florida, who are standing up to gun violence and the National Rifle Association. That’s how real change starts, Obama said. But nothing will get done if this generation doesn’t vote, he added.

“The threat to our democracy doesn’t just come from Donald Trump,” Obama said. “The biggest threat to our democracy is indifference. The biggest threat to our democracy is cynicism. Cynicism has led too many people to turn away from politics and stay home on Election Day. To all the young people that are here today, there are now more eligible voters in your generation than in any other, which means your generation now has more power than any other to change things.” 

The only thing they have to do, Obama said, is “show up.”

This post has been updated with additional comments from Obama’s speech.

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