WASHINGTON — Former President Barack Obama, making a rare public speech rebuking President Donald Trump, said the situation in the White House was “not normal” and even “dangerous,” referring to a New York Times op-ed in which an anonymous writer said an administration “resistance” was preventing the president’s worst impulses.
“That is not a check. I’m being serious. That’s not how our democracy’s supposed to work. These people aren’t elected,” Obama said in a speech at the University of Illinois at Urbana Champaign. “They’re not accountable. They’re not actively doing us a service by actively promoting 90% of the crazy stuff that’s coming out of this White House, and saying, ‘Don’t worry, we’re preventing the other 10%.'”
“This is not normal. These are extraordinary times, and they are dangerous times,” he added.
Obama has largely stayed out of the everyday political fray, but his speech was the first of a series he is expected during the midterms.
The U of I appearance was part of an event in which he received an award for ethics in government, but what he said are expected to be themes he will use on the campaign trail.
On Saturday, he is scheduled to appear in Anaheim, Calif., and other visits are planned to Ohio, Illinois, and Pennsylvania.
In his speech, Obama said Trump was the “symptom, not the cause” of the current political situation.
“He’s just capitalizing on resentments that politicians have been fanning for years,” he said.
He said over the past few decades, the “politics of division and resentment and paranoia has found a home in the Republican party.”
He said that Trump’s attacks in the media were outside the norm of other occupants of the White House.
“It shouldn’t be Democratic or Republican to say that we don’t threaten the freedom of the press because they say things or publish stories we don’t like,” he said. “I complained plenty about Fox News but you never heard me threaten to shut them down, or call them enemies of the people.”
Obama mentioned Trump’s name at points in the speech, but made more subtle references to him in others.
“We are supposed to stand up to bullies, not follow them,” Obama said. “We are supposed to stand up to discrimination, and we sure are as heck are supposed to stand up clearly and unequivocally to Nazi sympathizers.”
He devoted a great portion of the speech to urge the students to vote. He said, as much as politicians talk about each election being the most important of their lifetimes, “this moment really is different. The stakes really are higher, the consequences of any of us sitting on the sidelines are more dire.”