[WATCH] Former US president Obama rebukes Donald Trump

Back in the public fray at a rally in Virginia, the former president delivered his views on the current political climate in his strongest terms yet

Former President Barack Obama speaks at a rally with New Jersey Democratic Gubernatorial candidate Jim Murphy in Newark, New Jersey on October 19, 2017 (Photo: Reuters)
Former President Barack Obama speaks at a rally with New Jersey Democratic Gubernatorial candidate Jim Murphy in Newark, New Jersey on October 19, 2017 (Photo: Reuters)


Barack Obama returned to the Fray on Thursday, after nine months, with a fervent denunciation of his successor Donald Trump in all but name, condemning the politics of division.

Former president received deafening cheers at a rally ostensibly for the Democratic candidate in an election in Virginia. In championing Ralph Northam’s cause, Obama expressed his views on the state of the nation in strong terms, since the inauguration of Trump and antithesis.

“You’ll notice I haven’t been commenting a lot on politics lately,” Obama said, to a crowd of thousands in Richmond.

“But here’s one thing I know: if you have to win a campaign by dividing people, you’re not going to be able to govern them. You won’t be able to unite them later if that’s how you start.”

Campaigning for fellow Democrat Hillary Clinton last year, Obama criticized Trump often during the presidential election but became more circumspect after the Republican’s shock win. He initially expressed a wish to follow the example of George W Bush, who refrained from commentary once he left the White House.

Nevertheless, he has taken Trump to task in written statements, for efforts to gut his signature healthcare law and reverse his immigration and environmental policies. He has also offered spare, pointed criticisms during public appearances. On Thursday, however, he returned to full campaign mode in New Jersey and Virginia, both of which elect governors on 7 November.

Trump was not mentioned by name but Obama delivered a withering critique of the president’s time in office.

“Instead of our politics reflecting our values, we’ve got politics infecting our communities,” said Obama.

“Instead of looking for ways to work together to get things done in a practical way, we’ve got folks who are deliberately trying to make folks angry, to demonise people who have different ideas, to get the base all riled up because it provides a short term tactical advantage.”

“The question now, at a time when our politics seem so divided and so angry and so nasty, is whether we can recapture that spirit, whether we support and embrace somebody who wants to bring people together,” he continued. “Yes, we can.”

The crowd erupted in chants of the winning 2008 slogan, “Yes, we can!”

This summer, white supremacists marched in Charlottesville and a civil rights activist was killed. Trump responded by saying that there was blame “on both sides”, and deflected attention to whether Confederate statues should be torn down.

The first black president said: “If we’re going to talk about our history then we should do it in a way that heals, not in a way that wounds, not in a way that divides. We shouldn’t use the most painful parts of our history just to score political points. We saw what happened in Charlottesville but we also saw what happened after Charlottesville when the biggest gatherings of all rejected fear and rejected hate and the decency and goodwill of the American people came out.

“That’s how we rise. We don’t rise up by repeating the past. We rise up by learning from the past and listening to each other.”

 “And we can recognize that even if our past is not perfect we can honour the constitutional ideals that have allowed us to come this far and to keep moving toward a more perfect union. That’s what America is. That’s who we are.”

In an NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll in August, 51% of Americans said they have a favourable opinion of Obama, while 35% had a negative opinion. The same survey found that 36% said they had a positive opinion of Trump and 52% had a negative opinion. The pair are not thought to have spoken to each other since Trump’s inauguration.

Michael Steele, former chairman of the Republican National Committee, sat at the table next to Trump’s at the 2011 White House correspondents dinner, where Obama ‘roasted’ Trump. “I remember him not enjoying one bit of it,” he said by phone on Thursday. “There is no doubt in my mind that the president has had a fixation on President Obama since then.”


Trump pulled the US out of the Trans Pacific Partnership, announced his intention to quit the Paris climate agreement and has threatened to walk away from the Iran nuclear deal – all products of the Obama administration. He has also tried to torpedo the Affordable Care Act, known as Obamacare, turning to executive orders after deadlock in the Republican-controlled Congress.

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