Sunya Hassan || News Editor
On Friday, September 7th, Former President Barack Obama gave a speech at the University of Illinois, imploring people to vote this November, stressing that American democracy “depends on it.” He also issued a critique of his successor, President Donald Trump, attacking his policies and calling attention to Trump’s tendency of pressuring the Justice Department. The speech was delivered less than two months prior to the midterm elections, elections that could arguably change the course of the Trump presidency.
He addressed the student body of the University of Illinois, stating that they happened to be coming of age at a time when the backlash against American progress was overwhelming, and that most of said backlash spawned from those with power and privilege who wanted to maintain their status through polarization and division. He added that when there is a vacuum in democracy, “other voices fill the void. A politics of fear and resentment and retrenchment takes hold.” But “it did not start with Donald Trump,” he said. “He is a symptom, not the cause.” Obama asserted that Trump has merely been capitalizing on pent up resentment that politicians had been fanning for years prior.
Obama’s remarks on current political life not only took direct aim at Trump’s presidency, but also at the broader Republican Party’s capitulation to him. “What happened to the Republican Party?” Obama asked, “Its central organizing principle in foreign policy was the fight against Communism, and now they’re cozying up to the former head of the KGB, actively blocking legislation that would defend our elections from Russian attack. What happened?” He argued that the primary principles that the Republican Party once stood for––lower taxes, aggressive foreign policy especially in regards to Russia, shrinking the national debt––had been sabotaged by Trump’s influence. Of course, Obama, recognized that there are those in the Republican Party who are opposed to Trump, but they “seem utterly unwilling to find the backbone to safeguard the institutions that make our democracy work.”
Historically, former presidents refrain from speaking against their successors in order to avoid the politics and controversy that would inevitably follow. Obama, himself, acknowledged that his critique of President Trump was something of a deviation from tradition. However, he stated the political moment was a pivotel one and that it required all American citizens to determine what they stood for. “As a fellow citizen, not as an ex-president,” he said, “but as a fellow citizen, I am here to deliver a simple message and that is that you need to vote because our democracy depends on it.”
At the end of the speech, Obama again stressed how important it is to vote in the upcoming midterm elections. According to him, the November elections are truly more important than any others that have occurred within his lifetime, as it has the power to change the fate and restore true democracy to America. “You’ve got to vote. When you vote, you’ve got the power to make it easier to afford college, and harder to shoot up a school. When you vote, you’ve got the power to make sure a family keeps its health insurance; you could save somebody’s life. When you vote, you’ve got the power to make sure white nationalists don’t feel emboldened to march with their hoods off or their hoods on in Charlottesville in the middle of the day.”
In response to Obama’s critique, Trump claims to have fallen asleep while watching the speech. “I’m sorry, I watched it, but I fell asleep,” Trump stated at a campaign appearance in Fargo, North Dakota. “I found he’s very good for sleeping.” He also claimed that Obama was trying to take credit for this, “incredible thing that’s happening to our country,” primarily referring to one of his favorite talking points, the economic recovery. Obama had reminded voters in his speech that the economic recovery had began under his watch.
Sophmore Sunya Hassan is the News Editor. Her email is firstname.lastname@example.org