The Juiciest Parts of Obama's Big Anti-Trump Speech

The former president offered a theory about how the country got where it was, and reminded us this wasn't Coachella.

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Sep 7 2018, 10:11pm

Photo of Barack Obama's Illinois speech by Scott Olson/Getty

In a rousing speech at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign on Friday, Barack Obama uttered the words "Donald Trump" for the first time since he left office. Speaking for over an hour, the former president urged young Americans to vote, endorsed Medicare for all, and directly addressed the threat Trump and the Republican Party to American democracy. Here are the most important and/or funniest parts:

Why he didn't speak out about Trump until now:

"Truth was, I was also intent on following a wise American tradition of ex-presidents gracefully exiting the political stage and making room for new voices and new ideas."

On why you should vote in the midterm elections:

"I’m here to deliver a simple message, and that is that you need to vote because our democracy depends on it. Now some of you may think I’m exaggerating when I say this November’s elections are more important than any I can remember in my lifetime... But just a glance at recent headlines should tell you that this moment really is different. The stakes really are higher. The consequences of any of us sitting on the sidelines are more dire."

On how we got Trump:

"Progress doesn’t just move in a straight line... Each time we painstakingly pull ourselves closer to our founding ideals, that all of us are created equal, endowed by our creator with certain inalienable rights... somebody somewhere has pushed back. Sometimes the backlash comes from people who are genuinely, if wrongly, fearful of change. More often it’s manufactured by the powerful and the privileged who want to keep us divided and keep us angry and keep us cynical because it helps them maintain the status quo and keep their power and keep their privilege. And you happen to be coming of age during one of those moments.

It did not start with Donald Trump. He is a symptom, not the cause. He’s just capitalizing on resentments that politicians have been fanning for years, a fear and anger that’s rooted in our past but it’s also born out of the enormous upheavals that have taken place in your brief lifetimes."

On how 9/11 changed America:

"Most of you don’t remember a time before 9/11, when you didn’t have to take off your shoes at an airport."

On the Republican Party:

"Over the past few decades, the politics of division and resentment and paranoia has unfortunately found a home in the Republican Party. This Congress has championed the unwinding of campaign finance laws to give billionaires outside influence over our politics. Systematically attacked voting rights to make it harder for young people and minorities and the poor to vote... embraced wild conspiracy theories like those surrounding Benghazi or my birth certificate, rejected science, rejected facts on things like climate change... They’ve made it so that the only nation on Earth to pull out of the global climate agreement, it’s not North Korea, it’s not Syria, it’s not Russia or Saudi Arabia, it’s us. The only country."

On whether this is normal:

"This is not normal."

On the most important thing every American can do:

"In two months we have the chance, not the certainty, but the chance to restore some semblance of sanity to our politics. Because there is actually only one real check on bad policy and abuse of power. That’s you. You and your vote."

On why you should vote Democrat even if you're a libertarian:

"I am here to tell you that even if you don’t agree with me or Democrats on policy, even if you believe in more libertarian economic theories, even if you are an evangelical and our position on certain social issues is a bridge too far, even if you think my assessment of immigration is mistaken and the Democrats aren’t serious enough about immigration enforcement, I’m here to tell you that you should still be concerned with our current course and should still want to see a restoration of honesty and decency and lawfulness in our government."

On Nazis:

"We’re supposed to stand up to discrimination, and we’re sure as heck supposed to stand up clearly and unequivocally to Nazi sympathizers. How hard can that be? Saying that Nazis are bad."

On the bright side of this hell:

"I am hopeful because out of this political darkness, I am seeing a great awakening of citizenship all across the country. I cannot tell you how encouraged I’ve been by watching so many people get involved for the first time or the first time in a long time."

On the differences between voting and Coachella:

"You can’t opt out because you don’t feel sufficiently inspired by this or that particular candidate. This is not a rock concert. This is not Coachella."

On whether voting will fix everything:

"One election will not fix everything that needs to be fixed. But it will be a start. And you have to start it. What’s going to fix our democracy is you."

On snappy comebacks to stupid questions:

"People ask me, what are you going to do for the election? No, the question is what are you going to do?"

On why you should vote, if you weren't already convinced:

"If you want it, you can make sure America gets out of its current funk. If you actually care about it, you have the power to make sure what we see is a brighter future. But to exercise that clout, to exercise that power, you have to show up. In the last midterm elections in 2014, fewer than one in five young people voted... Is it any wonder this Congress doesn’t reflect your values and your priorities?"

On voting:

"Don’t lose yourself in ironic detachment, don’t put your head in the sand, don’t boo. Vote. Vote... You’ve got to vote."

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