Former President Barack Obama effectively started his campaign tour for the November midterm elections with a speech at the University of Illinois. Obama led a true and proper rally, in which he criticized Trump by name for the first time since he left the White House.
Obama’s speech was him at his finest: no longer limited by the institutional role of commander-in-chief, the former president can now speak more freely. His speech won him praise from Bernie Sanders as well, thanks to the line affirming the need for a free public health care system for all. He engaged in a full-on attack against Trump, calling him “a threat to our democracy,” one that Americans can defend themselves against by voting.
With this speech, Obama kicked off a two-month tour during which he will support Democratic candidates for the midterms. This is how he explained why people needed to vote: “Do not complain. Don’t hashtag. Don’t get anxious. Don’t retreat. Don’t binge on whatever it is you’re bingeing on. Don’t lose yourself in ironic detachment. Don’t put your head in the sand. Don’t boo. Vote.” “Don’t tell me your vote doesn’t matter,” he added. “If you thought elections don’t matter, I hope these last two years have corrected that impression.”
Obama spoke out directly about one of the darkest moments of Trump’s presidency: his official statements following the violent clashes at the neo-Nazi march in Charlottesville last year, when The Donald said “both sides” were to blame for the violence in which an anti-Nazi protester lost her life. “How hard can that be? Saying that Nazis are bad?” Obama asked rhetorically.
According to the former president, however, his successor is “a symptom, not the cause” of the problem: he is “capitalizing on resentments that politicians have been fanning for years.” Obama went on to accuse Trump’s party, which has changed for the worse, as now the Republicans are “not conservative” anymore, but “radical.” “Over the past few decades,” Obama pointed out, “the politics of division, of resentment and paranoia has unfortunately found a home in the Republican Party.”
He accused the GOP of having paved the way to the polarization of American politics with their blind, knee-jerk opposition to his administration, even on issues that could have been addressed in a bipartisan way.
He returned many times to his main theme: the exhortation to vote and to mobilize. He gave as example the students of Parkland High in Florida, who, after their high school was the scene of a school shooting, didn’t just hold vigils for the victims, but founded the pro-gun-control movement Never Again: “You cannot sit back and wait for a savior. You can’t opt out because you don’t feel sufficiently inspired by this or that particular candidate. This is not a rock concert, this is not Coachella. You don’t need a messiah.”