Obama criticises Trump by name for first time since election: 'A symptom of the politics of fear'

The former president has resisted mentioning his successor directly over fears it would energise Mr Trump's support base - but views upcoming midterms as 'pivotal' for American democracy

Chris Riotta
New York
Monday 15 October 2018 15:12 BST
Barack Obama calls Donald Trump 'the symptom, not the cause'

Barack Obama has called out Donald Trump by name for the first time in public since the election as part of a blistering speech, calling the current president a “symptom of the politics of fear”.

The former president spoke with voters at the University of Illinois, directly attacking Mr Trump over a slew of controversies from his first 18 months in office as he called on all Americans to vote in “pivotal” upcoming midterm elections.

“I’m here today because this is one of those pivotal moments where everyone of us as citizens of the United States need to determine who we are,” Mr Obama said on Friday. “And as a fellow citizen, not as an ex-president, I’m here to deliver a simple message, and that is you need to vote because our democracy depends on it.”

Mr Obama’s return to campaign politics marks a clear departure from tradition for most former presidents, who often sit out of national elections in the immediate years following their White House tenure. On Friday, he called the current president out by name, criticising his most controversial moments in the White House and asking: “How hard can that be, saying that Nazis are bad?”

“I complained plenty about Fox News. But you never heard me threaten to shut them down. Or call them enemies of the people,” he continued. “It should not be a partisan issue to say that we do not pressure the attorney general or the FBI to use the criminal justice system as a cudgel to punish our political opponents.”

The former president has embarked on a nationwide journey to warn “that this moment in our country is too perilous for Democratic voters to sit out,” according to his communications director, Katie Hill.

“He will echo his call to reject the rising strain of authoritarian politics and policies,” she said. “And he will preview arguments he’ll make this fall, specifically that Americans must not fall victim to our own apathy by refusing to do the most fundamental thing demanded of us as citizens: vote.”

On Friday, the former president mentioned directly called out Mr Trump and Republicans for creating an ecosystem of divisive politics in Washington for years.

“[Donald Trump] is just capitalising on resentments politicians have been fanning for years,” Mr Obama said. “A fear and anger that has been rooted in our past, but also the enormous upheavals that have taken place during your brief lifetimes.”

The biggest threat to our democracy is indifference,” he continued. “The biggest threat to our democracy is cynicism.”

Meanwhile, Mr Trump has launched his own nationwide campaign tour for Republican candidates, although he has continued hosting massive rallies across the country ever since his 2016 victory.

Both presidents are releasing slates of endorsements for Congressional hopefuls, along with gubernatorial and mayoral candidates. Each are seen as wielding immense influence among voters in their respective parties, although it remains unclear what impact a presidential endorsement could have in any of the close races between Mr Trump’s allies and a bold new progressive left force sweeping through the Democratic Party.

Mr Obama has been reluctant to endorse a wave of Democratic Socialist candidates like Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and Ayanna Pressley, both of whom unseated 10-term Democratic congressmen in primaries this year.

But his endorsement was seen as providing a boost to the campaign of Stacey Abrams, who is vying to become governor of Georgia and the first black female governor of a US state.

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