Obama Blasts Trump’s ‘Politics Of Division’

President Obama spoke out yesterday against his successor and the America he has created.

Echoing words spoken earlier in the day by his predecessor, albeit in the far more partisan atmosphere of a campaign rally before a friendly audience, former President Obama spoke out about recent political developments during a campaign rally in Virginia for Gubernatorial candidate:

RICHMOND, Va. — “It is time.”

Ralph Northam, the Democratic candidate for governor, finished his own speech, said those words, and the crowd of more than 7,000 erupted. Then U2’s “City of Blinding Lights” from all the way back in the 2008 campaign started playing, and Barack Obama made his return to the campaign trail here Thursday night.

Fresh from New Jersey after making an appearance for the Democratic gubernatorial candidate there, Phil Murphy, his own former ambassador to Germany, Obama uncorked. He argued that this year’s elections are an existential moment that should — if Democrats do what he’s kept telling them to do, without much success — vote — be the start of reasserting an American politics and society that turns away from what’s embodied by President Donald Trump.

“We need you to take this seriously. Our democracy is at stake,” Obama said. “Elections matter. Voting matters. You can’t take anything for granted. You can’t sit this one out. It’s up to you. And if you believe in that better vision not just of our politics, but of our common life, of our democracy, of who we are; if you want that reflected in our government, if you want our kids to see our government and feel good about it, and feel like they’re represented and if you want those values that you are teaching your children reinforced … then you’ve got to go out there.”

As former President George W. Bush did earlier Thursday in a surprisingly forward speech in New York, Obama kept to not mentioning Trump’s name, but left no question who he was talking about.

“Folks don’t feel good right now about what they see. Maybe they don’t feel as if our public life reflects our best,” Obama said. “Instead of our politics reflecting our values, we’ve got politics infecting our communities. Instead of looking for ways to work together and get things done in a practical way, we’ve got folks who are deliberately trying to make folks angry, to demonize people who have different ideas, to get the base all riled up because it provides a short-term tactical advantage.”

He returned to some of the Obama classics: kicking off with “Are you fired up? Are you ready to go?” and working his way through to “Don’t boo. Vote!” Then, to criticize ads by Northam’s opponent, Ed Gillespie, as misleading, he used a phrase that’s only a favorite to him, calling it “the okey doke.”

He returned to some of the Obama classics: kicking off with “Are you fired up? Are you ready to go?” and working his way through to “Don’t boo. Vote!” Then, to criticize ads by Northam’s opponent, Ed Gillespie, as misleading, he used a phrase that’s only a favorite to him, calling it “the okey doke.”


In New Jersey, Obama railed against “the politics of fear,” complaining that there are people engaging in a sadly archaic form of politics that he said is “folks looking 50 years back.”

“This is the 21st century, not the 19th,” the former president said.

In Virginia, there was a more recent kind of nostalgia going on.

“Can you believe that a year ago this time, we had someone in the White House who knew how to be president?” Richmond Mayor Levar Stoney said, warming up the crowd before Northam and Obama appeared.

Obama is, of course, absolutely correct in decrying the politics of our time and what we’ve seen becoming the mainstream of political thought inside one of America’s major political parties. The truth of the matter, though, is that it existed long before Donald Trump became President. Its roots go back at least to the 90s when the conservatism that Ronald Reagan, William F. Buckley Jr., and Barry Goldwater began to die off in the wake of the end of the Cold War. In its wake what we saw arise was some perverted fusion of conservatism and populism stirred up by fanatics on talk radio who pushed the right-wing of American politics into fever swamps of conspiracy theories about the Clinton Administration that covered everything from allegations that the President and/or First Lady were somehow responsible for the suicide of Presidential aide Vince Foster to allegations that President Clinton was involved in cocaine smuggling while he was Governor of Arkansas. While there were certainly some questionable dealings surrounding the Clintons to say the very least, the paranoia that people like Rush Limbaugh and others helped create on the right resulted in post Cold War conservatism turning into something that was decidedly not conservative.

Things became much worse once Obama became President. What was once known as Clinton Derangement Syndrome quickly became Obama Derangement Syndrome. The difference in Obama’s case, of course, was the fact that there was often a direct appeal to racism in the attacks on the President that were obvious to anyone viewing them objectively. This was especially true, of course, of the whole birther movement and the idea that the President was not legitimate. Most of us can also probably remember the memes that got spread around by email and other means that made clear appeals to racism. The one that comes to mind most immediately for me was one that started circulating before the 2008 election that showed a White House after Obama had moved in, complete with such stereotypical images as fried chicken, watermelon, and Michelle Obama dressed like Aunt Jemima. It was hard to miss what the people distributing such memes were trying to say, and disturbing when you would receive such items from people you thought you knew. It certainly wasn’t the case that all of the people who opposed the President were racist but the fact that such attitudes were allowed to exist without being condemned is what made it possible for the perverted populism known as Trumpism to take hold inside the Republican Party, and what made Donald Trump’s victory possible.

As with Bush earlier in the day, Obama didn’t mention Trump by name, but then there really wasn’t any need to because in both speeches it was obvious who the two former Presidents were referring to and the events that they were referring to. Both during his campaign and since becoming President, Donald Trump has consistently appealed to the worst aspects of American politics in a manner once perfected by demagogues such as Father Charles Coughlin, the Dixiecrats who rose up in response to the Civil Rights Movement, and George Wallace, who until Ross Perot was the most successful third-party candidate for President since Theodore Roosevelt in 1912. The difference between those men and Trump, though, is that none of them managed to rally a major political party behind them and actually get elected President of the United States. This fact alone far more dangerous than any of those other demagogues, and the divisions that he is actively exploiting far more serious.

As with Bush, it’s good to see the former President speaking out against it. In both cases, though, I have to wonder if in the end all they are really doing is preaching to the choir. In Bush’s case, its to those on the right and within the Republican Party who realize, even silently, what the man leading their party and the nation and who are genuinely concerned about it. These ‘Never Trumpers,’ though, have already been convinced even if they have chosen to line up behind the President out of expediency for the time being. In Obama’s case, he’s speaking to people who already deeply oppose the sitting President. Neither one is likely to convince the base of the Republican Party that remains devoted to Trump and others who are also still hardcore Trump supporters to change their mind, and it’s unclear what electoral impact either one of them is going have.  As long as that’s the case, Trump and his Administration will continue going along as it has been for the past nine months, and the nation will continue to pay the price for that. At some point, someone is going to have to step in and clean up this mess, and it’s not going to be easy.

FILED UNDER: Democracy, Open Forum, , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,
Doug Mataconis
About Doug Mataconis
Doug Mataconis held a B.A. in Political Science from Rutgers University and J.D. from George Mason University School of Law. He joined the staff of OTB in May 2010 and contributed a staggering 16,483 posts before his retirement in January 2020. He passed far too young in July 2021.


  1. MBunge says:

    Well, at least Obama isn’t a possible war criminal, so that’s an improvement.

    But all this commentary, criticism, and speechifying seems to be built on the same mistake. It’s conceived, constructed, and phrased as though Donald Trump is a super-villain with a mind control device…or an alien invader with telepathic powers…or a demon from the black beyond who has cast a spell over the public.

    He isn’t any of those things.

    Donald Trump is a reaction to the FAILURES of Barack Obama, the FAILURES of George W. Bush, the FAILURES of Hillary Clinton, the FAILURES of Bill Clinton, even the FAILURES of people like Doug Mataconis. Donald Trump did not create the environment in which he won the White House. Barack Obama did. Donald Trump did not degrade or destroy conservatism or the GOP, people like George W. Bush did and people like Doug Mataconis either helped or let it happen. Donald Trump did not undermine and de-legitimize standards of public morals or ethics. Bill “It depends what the meaning of the word “is” is” Clinton and Hillary “First major party candidate to run for President while being investigated by the FBI for possible criminal prosecution” Clinton did along with all their Harvey Weinstein-esque enablers and defenders. Donald Trump did not smash people’s faith in the mainstream media or our political institutions. The mainstream media and our political institutions were doing that themselves long before Trump rode down that golden escalator.

    People love to throw the Hitler analogy around with Trump and it actually fits in a single clear way. Adolph Hitler did not come to power because the German people all went unaccountably insane one day. His path was smoothed by years, decades, and even generations of moral, ethical, and practical failures by the German elite.

    Donald Trump is not somebody else’s fault. HE’S YOUR FAULT. HE’S OUR FAULT. Donald Trump is a warning and he may be the last damn one we get before it really does all end in fire and blood.

    It’s time to put the binkies down, stop blaming everyone else, and start actually dealing with the things that made President Trump possible. Hint: Masturbatory proclamations of one’s own wonderfulness don’t qualify.


  2. Mister Bluster says:

    “Can you believe that a year ago this time, we had someone in the White House who knew how to be president?” Richmond Mayor Levar Stoney

    Bungle’s boyfriend REPUBLICAN Pud: Grab them by the pussy!

  3. OzarkHillbilly says:

    Senator Flake’s destiny will be an indication of which way the GOP will go.

  4. OzarkHillbilly says:

    @MBunge: You’re right, Donald trump is not a super villian with a mind control device, he’s a moronic black hole of narcissism. And yes, it is the failure of all those people to eradicate white supremacy when they had the absolute power to do it by just signing an executive order to that effect. And it’s especially my fault for not taking into consideration the delicate feefee’s of all those special white working class snowflakes when I said that Jim Crow was no longer acceptable and that henceforth they needed to treat people of all races, sexes, and sexual preferences the same as they wanted to be treated.

    My bad.

  5. Tony W says:

    @MBunge: Blaming Trump’s victims won’t solve the problem.

  6. Mister Bluster says:

    Masturbatory proclamations of one’s own wonderfulness don’t qualify.

    Yes they do!
    Trump’s vomit mouth is what appeals to his drones! You know, the schmucks that actually voted REPUBLICAN and put his lying azz in the White House.
    Bungles’ Dear Leader Speaks!

    “We are going to have an unbelievable, perhaps record-setting turnout for the inauguration, and there will be plenty of movie and entertainment stars. All the dress shops are sold out in Washington. It’s hard to find a great dress for this inauguration

    “Happy New Year to all, including to my many enemies and those who have fought me and lost so badly they just don’t know what to do. Love!”

    “All of the women on The Apprentice flirted with me – consciously or unconsciously. That’s to be expected.”

    “The beauty of me is that I’m very rich.”

    “I’ve said if Ivanka weren’t my daughter, perhaps I’d be dating her.”

    “My fingers are long and beautiful, as, it has been well documented, are various other parts of my body.”

    “I think the only difference between me and the other candidates is that I’m more honest and my women are more beautiful.”

    “My IQ is one of the highest — and you all know it! Please don’t feel so stupid or insecure; it’s not your fault.”

    “I’m just thinking to myself right now, we should just cancel the election and just give it to Trump, right?”

    “You know, it really doesn’t matter what the media write as long as you’ve got a young, and beautiful, piece of ass.” 

    “I think I am actually humble. I think I’m much more humble than you would understand.”


  7. James Pearce says:


    Donald Trump did not

    You’re right about all of that, Mike. Donald Trump is not to blame for the conditions that led to his election. But he is not making things better, and instead appears to think these bleak conditions are good for him personally.

    Donald Trump is a warning and he may be the last damn one we get before it really does all end in fire and blood.

    What is he warning?

  8. John430 says:

    The thing that I liked about Obama’s administration was all the racial healing. LOL!

  9. wr says:

    @MBunge: “Hillary “First major party candidate to run for President while being investigated by the FBI for possible criminal prosecution”

    As adorable as that phrasing is, the fact is that she was one of two major party candidates running for the same office at the same time while being investigated for possible criminal prosecution. The difference is that the FBI announced they were investigating Hillary while hiding the fact that they were investigating Trump.

    Oh, and while you probably missed this, they were unable to find anything to charge Hillary with, while Trump is still staring down the barrel of treason and so many other crimes.

  10. Mister Bluster says:

    Johnny Telephone must have got a hold of Pud’s list of names of the good Nazis and good Ku Klux Klan members who were in Charlottesville.

  11. Mikey says:

    @John430: You know, when Obama was elected, America was presented with a great opportunity, a chance to begin bridging the racial gaps that still exist, to reach across and understand we’re all one people, with far more commonality than difference.

    People like you made damn sure that opportunity was strangled in the cradle.

  12. Franklin says:

    @John430: Ahh, you think it’s gotten better with Trump??? Or the reality, which is that it is now far, far worse.

  13. wr says:

    @Franklin: “hh, you think it’s gotten better with Trump??? ”

    John’s idea of racial healing is when ni@@ers know to stay in their place.

  14. David Farrar says:

    Man! Talk about the pot calling the kettle Mexican, “Obama Blasts Trump’s ‘Politics Of Division’”

  15. pylon says:

    @David Farrar:

    The only divisive thing Obama did was to be born black.

  16. John430 says:

    @wr: F**k you. Sincerely.

    @Mikey: America elected a congenital liar who was an incompetent Illinois backbencher. –remember: “if you like your doctor…: and then the infamous pronouncement that ISIS was the JV team.
    I could go on but troglodytes like you can’t quite get it.

  17. Mikey says:

    @John430: Do you really want to bring up congenital lying when you support a man who was the least honest candidate, and is now the least honest President, we’ve ever had?

    But Obama was black. I get it.

  18. Franklin says:

    @John430: Wow, one example of a misrepresentation and one example of an underestimation. You’re really on a roll here. Your mom upstairs must be really proud of your research skills!

    Eight years and that’s all you got. You want the list from 9 months of Trump?

  19. Scott F. says:


    9 months?

    There’s a longer list of lies from Trump since lunch time today.

  20. DrDaveT says:

    Its roots go back at least to the 90s when the conservatism that Ronald Reagan, William F. Buckley Jr., and Barry Goldwater began to die off in the wake of the end of the Cold War.

    No, Doug. You don’t get to cling to that myth. What we have now is “the conservatism that Ronald Reagan, William F. Buckley Jr.” etc. stood for, and gave to America. They put a prettier wrapper on it, usually, but nothing has actually changed — the racists and the dupes are still voting to line the pockets of the selfish wealthy, just like Ronnie and Billy wanted. The only real difference is that, back then, we didn’t yet have overwhelming evidence that supply-side economics was a load of fetid dingo’s kidneys. Now, we do.

  21. JohnMcC says:

    @DrDaveT: Also, too, it was….interesting to read in the Original Post where our Mr Mataconis says that “conspiracy theories” about the Clintons emerged from the “fever swamps” of right wing “paranoia”. Has our friend become a co-conspirator with the secret leftist handshake and decoder ring? Is he self-aware of a metamorphosis?

    But let by-gones be by-gones. Thank you, Doug. Welcome. We need all the help we can get.

  22. HarvardLaw92 says:


    The only divisive thing Obama did was to be born black.

    Well that, and he failed to show the degree of obsequious deference to white superiority that folks like John & the Trumpkins seem to think is still required.

    I saw a funny line once (may have been on here, not sure) that sums them up nicely: Obama could have woken up one random Thursday & found the cure for cancer, and these people would be bitching about unemployed oncologists. All they have is rage, and all they are interested in is feeding it.

    At its heart, they are lashing out against the loss of white cultural hegemony & the abnormally prosperous middle class existence that lives in their rose colored memories. Nobody can fix that, because the one viable option open to them – accepting that the world has permanently changed and there increasingly will be no place for them in it unless they adapt – is the one thing that they obstinately refuse to do.

  23. John430 says:

    @HarvardLaw92: That is so stupid just on the face of it.

  24. John430 says:

    @Mikey: You’re being disingenuous. I never mentioned Trump. Taken alone, Obama’s incompetence rivals Jimmy Carter’s.

  25. HarvardLaw92 says:


    Helpful hint:

    Obama is no longer the f’king president. He’s out of office. You got what you wanted in that regard, so focus on the problem currently at hand – the incompetent embarrassment that you elected president.

    “Your guy sucked worse” is the hallmark of a partisan who’s trying to score partisan points for partisan reasons, and that just isn’t worth my time.

  26. Mikey says:


    I never mentioned Trump.

    If you want to bring up the issue of honesty/dishonesty and you’re a Trump supporter, you have no leg on which to stand. It’s like Hannibal Lecter griping about Jeffrey Dahmer’s cannibalism.

  27. John430 says:

    @HarvardLaw92: that just isn’t worth my time. so sayeth the Dean of the Harvard in the Ozarks School of Law and Culinary Arts.

  28. HarvardLaw92 says:


    Know what the second most prevalent sign of a partisan hack is?

    Responding with ad hominems. You’re batting 1000, Lou.

    Still not worth my time …

  29. An Interested Party says:

    Taken alone, Obama’s incompetence rivals Jimmy Carter’s.

    Other than bitter white racist trolls, I wonder who else actually believes this load of horse$hit…