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Obama to America: Trump's not normal

Axios illustration
Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

Barack Obama re-entered the political arena today, declaring himself a "fellow citizen" rather than former president.

Why it matters: The most successful Democratic politician of his generation is breaking with precedents from a more civil era. It's highly unusual for a former president to criticize a current one in such blunt terms.

In a fiery speech at the University of Illinois, Obama directly criticized President Trump, linking him to a "darker aspect" of the American story.

  • "Each time we painstakingly pull ourselves closer to our founding ideals ... somebody somewhere has pushed back. The status quo pushes back."
  • "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."

The big picture: Obama's message to America is that Trump isn't normal, and shouldn't be accepted as normal.

  • "[W]e do not pressure the Attorney General or the FBI to use the criminal justice system as a cudgel to punish our political opponents."
  • "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."
  • "[W]e don't threaten the freedom of the press... because they say things or publish stories we don't like.
  • "[Y]ou never heard me threaten to shut [Fox News] down, or call them enemies of the people."
  • "And we're sure as heck supposed to stand up... to Nazi sympathizers.
  • "How hard can that be? Saying that Nazis are bad."

Between the lines: Obama didn't forget Republicans in Congress:

  • "Republicans who know better in Congress ... are still bending overbackwards to shield this behavior from scrutiny or accountability or consequence."
  • "None of this is conservative... It sure isn't normal. It's radical."

Trump's response to Obama's speech, per the AP: "I’m sorry, I watched it, but I fell asleep... I found he’s very good for sleeping.”

The bottom line: Buckle up. This is just the beginning for Obama.