Sun, Sep 09, 2018 - Page 1 News List

Obama rebukes Trump, ‘politics of fear’

AP, URBANA, Illinois

Former US president Barack Obama speaks to students at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign in Urbana, Illinois, on Friday.

Photo: AFP

Former US president Barack Obama on Friday issued a scorching critique of his successor, blasting US President Donald Trump’s policies and his pattern of pressuring the US Department of Justice.

Obama also reminded voters that the economic recovery — one of Trump’s favorite talking points — began on his watch.

Obama’s speech at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign was delivered less than two months before US midterm elections that could determine the course of Trump’s presidency.

The remarks amounted to a stinging indictment of political life in the Trump era.

“It did not start with Donald Trump,” Obama said. “He is a symptom, not the cause. He’s just capitalizing on resentments that politicians have been fanning for years.”

Noting the history of former presidents avoiding the rough and tumble of politics, Obama acknowledged that his sharp critique of Trump was something of a departure from tradition.

However, he said that the political moment required a pushback and called for better discourse.

“Appealing to tribe, appealing to fear, pitting one group against another, telling people that order and security will be restored if it weren’t for those who don’t look like us or don’t sound like us or don’t pray like we do — that’s an old playbook,” Obama said.

“It’s as old as time. And in a healthy democracy, it doesn’t work. Our antibodies kick in and people of goodwill from across the political spectrum call out the bigots and the fear-mongers and work to compromise and get things done and promote the better angels of our nature,” he said.

However, 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.”

Even as he has largely remained out of the spotlight, Obama made clear that he has paid close attention to the steady stream of headlines chronicling the Trump administration, saying that the news is a reminder of what is at stake in the November midterm elections.

“Just a glance at recent headlines should tell you this moment really is different,” Obama said. “The stakes really are higher. The consequences of any of us sitting on the sidelines are more dire.”

“This is not normal,” he added later.

He was especially stern in his condemnation of Trump’s pattern of pressuring law enforcement officials, including US Attorney General Jeff Sessions.

Trump has repeatedly called on Sessions to fire special counsel Robert Mueller, and earlier this week blamed the department for indicting two incumbent Republican members of US Congress, arguing the moves could jeopardize their seats.

“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,” Obama said. “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. I’m not making that up. That’s not hypothetical.”

As Obama spoke, Trump told reporters aboard Air Force One that he believed Sessions should investigate the identity of the author of an anonymous New York Times opinion piece that was sharply critical of his leadership, saying that the essay was a “national security issue.”

Regarding the op-ed, Obama said: “That’s not how our democracy is supposed to work.”

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