After months of choosing not to comment, former President Barack Obama did not hold back in his first 2018 campaign appearances this week as he criticized the state of the country’s politics under President Donald Trump.
Obama first dropped a scathing critique of Trump’s 21 months in office on Friday, then gave a raucous speech the following day to Democrats while campaigning for seven Democratic California congressional candidates competing in GOP-held districts.
Obama’s first speech on Friday to students at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign was a direct—and uncharacteristic— rebuke of the Trump administration, criticizing the president for the “crazy stuff that’s coming out of this White House.”
“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,” he said in a preview of his midterm campaign speeches to come. “Or to explicitly call on the attorney general to protect members of our own party from prosecution because an election happens to be coming up.”
But Obama was clear that not all the blame should go to Trump and the Republican-led congress.
“It did not start with Donald Trump,” Obama told his audience in a speech that namechecked Trump twice. “He is a symptom, not the cause. He’s just capitalizing on resentments that politicians have been fanning for years.”
He echoed that similar sentiment — that the issue was bigger than just one person —- to Democrats in California on Saturday. He emphasized the importance of the upcoming election.
“The biggest threat to our democracy … is not one individual, it is not one big super PAC billionaires,” he said. “It is apathy, it is indifference, it is us not doing what we are supposed to do.”
“This is a consequential moment in our history. The fact is if we don’t step up things can get worse,” he continued. “When there is a vacuum in our democracy … other voices fill the void. But the good news is in two months, we have a chance to restore some sanity in our politics. We have a chance to flip the House of Representatives.”
The two events this weekend marked the end of the months-long absence of the former president from the campaign trail. But understanding the importance of the November elections, he is no longer holding back.
“Don’t tell me your vote doesn’t matter,” he said in Illinois. “And if you thought elections don’t matter, I hope these last two years have corrected the impression.”