FILE - President Barack Obama 9-7-18

Former President Barack Obama speaks at the University of Illinois on Friday, September 7, 2018.

Former President Barack Obama criticized President Donald Trump and the GOP at a speech at the University of Illinois while accepting an award for ethical behavior while in office.

Obama stumped for Democrats and said Republicans were running on “the politics of fear” Friday in Urbana. He spoke to a full auditorium of students there to see him accept the University of Illinois’ Paul H. Douglas Award for Ethics in Government, an annual honor to recognize officials who make “significant contributions to the understanding and practice of ethical behavior in public service.”

Obama called out Trump by name for the first time since leaving office, saying Trump had capitalized on resentment.

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

He also chided the GOP for attempting to undo many of his signature achievements and give tax breaks to the wealthy, only to let the national deficit widen.

“They’re undermining our alliances, cozying up to Russia. What happened to the Republican Party?” he asked, to laughs.

Obama told the students that this fall’s election will be the most important in his lifetime, saying that more young people and minorities are becoming politically active.

“As a fellow citizen, I’m here to deliver a simple message and that is you need to vote because our democracy depends on it,” he said.

Previous award winners include the late Sen. John McCain, former Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O’Connor and former New York Gov. Eliot Spitzer, who resigned in 2008 after he was caught arranging to meet a high-priced sex worker.


Cole Lauterbach reports on Illinois government and statewide issues for INN. Lauterbach has managed and produced shows for news/talk radio stations in both Bloomington/Normal and Peoria, and created award-winning programs for Comcast SportsNet Chicago.

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