Former U.S. president Barack Obama jumped back into the political fray by asking Americans to get out to vote in the 2018 midterm elections.
“I’m here today because this is one of those pivotal moments that every one of us and citizens of the U.S. needs to determine who we are, and what we stand for,” Obama said Friday, adding that the “stakes really are higher” than they’ve ever been.
Obama made the comments while speaking at the University of Illinois.
“Just a glance at recent headlines should tell you that this moment is different… the consequences of any of us sitting on the sidelines are more dire,” he said.
After outlining America’s virtues, he said there is always a “darker aspect” to America’s history, and that for every two steps forward, there is one step back.
He said sometimes the people in power manufacture the pushback to maintain the “status quo.”
“It did not start with Donald Trump, he is a symptom, not the cause,” Obama said to applause. “He’s just capitalizing on resentment that politicians have been capitalizing on for years.”
Obama also took aim at the Republican Party specifically.
“But over the past few decades… the politics of division and resentment, the politics of paranoia, has unfortunately found a home in the Republican Party.”
He also slammed the party for “widely embracing” conspiracy theories like Benghazi and his own birth certificate, for rejecting science on climate change, and for rejecting a Supreme Court nominee because a Democratic president vouched for him.
But he said that’s not a “conservative” view.
“What happened to the Republican party?”
He took aim at Trump and his administration with specific rebukes on Trump’s border wall, lack of emergency response after Hurricane Maria in Puerto Rico and immigration laws.
“We know that we can’t put walls up, walls don’t keep out terrorism or disease,” he said.
He also called for more checks on Trump’s current administration and the now-infamous New York Times Op-ed, saying “The claim that everything will turn out okay because there are people inside the White House who secretly aren’t following the President’s orders, that is not a check.”
“That’s not how our democracy’s supposed to work. These people aren’t elected. They’re not accountable.”
WATCH: In a rare move, former U.S. President Barack Obama went after current President Donald Trump and the Republican Party, in an effort to get voters out to the polls in the upcoming U.S. midterm elections. Ines de La Cuetara reports.
Obama also clarified that the economic victories Trump has enjoyed started with his own presidency.
“By the time I left office, household income was near its all-time high, and the uninsured rate hit an all-time low, wages were rising, poverty was falling. I mention all this so when you hear how great the economy is doing right now, let’s all remember how this started,” he said.
But Trump took exception to that statement, saying in his own speech just an hour later that it was the “weakest recovery in the history of our country” since the Great Depression in the 1920s.
“I think he was trying to take credit for this incredible thing that’s happening in this country,” Trump said at a fundraiser Friday afternoon.
WATCH: Trump says he fell asleep during Obama’s speech, says U.S. would have negative growth if Democrats won
Turning his sights on his own party, Obama said Democrats won’t win in November by “dismissing” parts of the country as “racist, sexist, or homophobic.”
He also blamed the “financial elites” for skewing politics and starting the financial crisis in 2008.
WATCH: Obama: Democrats won’t win by calling parts of the country racist
Obama has largely stayed out of politics since leaving office, but the speech comes as he begins a flurry of events campaigning for the Democrats in the midterms.
The speech comes after Trump also urged Americans to vote by saying if he does get impeached, it would be his supporters’ fault because they “didn’t go out and vote.”