Former US president Barack Obama returned to politics with a scathing and unusually direct rebuke of his successor Donald Trump.
President Trump pretended to be unmoved, saying, “I watched it but I fell asleep. I found he’s very good…for sleeping.” But he cared enough to retweet posts by supporters denouncing Obama.
American presidents tend not to publicly criticise their successors or campaign against them directly, but Obama has been under pressure to step up to defend his policies and programmes from being dismantled by Trump and to rally Democrats who are without an impressive leader.
“I’m here today because this is one of those pivotal moments when every one of us, as citizens of the United States, need to determine just who it is that we are, just what it is that we stand for,” Obama said on Friday, kicking off his campaign schedule for the mid-term elections in November.
He went on to attack Trump by name. The current climate of fear, divisions and cynicism, he said, “did not start with Donald Trump. He is a symptom, not the cause. He’s just capitalising on resentments that politicians have been fanning for years”.
Speaking to a largely young audience at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, Obama urged them to vote if they wanted to make a difference — “In two months we have the chance, not the certainty but the chance, to restore some semblance of sanity to our politics.
“If you thought elections don’t matter, I hope these last two years have corrected that impression,” he said.
Obama’s return is not without some downsides for Democrats, as a Republican senator pointed out.
“The more former President Obama speaks about the ‘good ol years’ of his presidency, the more likely President Trump is to get re-elected,” senator Lindsey Graham tweeted.
“In fact, the best explanation of President Trump’s victory are the ‘results’ of the Obama Presidency!”
Also, Obama has been known to be unsuccessful in transferring votes of his supporter to other Democrats.
The party did poorly in both the mid-terms during his presidency — 2010 and 2014 — and he failed to hand them over to Hillary Clinton, the Democratic presidential nominee in 2016.