President Obama Takes on Walls, Ignorance and Rigged Systems at Rutgers

President Obama gave the commencement address at Rutgers University yesterday. In many ways the content was similar to what he said at Howard University last week – minus the references to African American history and culture. But most of the headlines today zeroed in on one part of the speech where he went pretty directly at Donald Trump without ever naming him. For example, he said this:

The world is more interconnected than ever before, and it’s becoming more connected every day. Building walls won’t change that…

Isolating or disparaging Muslims, suggesting that they should be treated differently when it comes to entering this country – that is not just a betrayal of our values – that’s not just a betrayal of who we are, it would alienate the very communities at home and abroad who are our most important partners in the fight against violent extremism. Suggesting that we can build an endless wall along our borders, and blame our challenges on immigrants – that doesn’t just run counter to our history as the world’s melting pot; it contradicts the evidence that our growth and our innovation and our dynamism has always been spurred by our ability to attract strivers from every corner of the globe. That’s how we became America. Why would we want to stop it now?

He also made this point quite eloquently:

Facts, evidence, reason, logic, an understanding of science — these are good things. These are qualities you want in people making policy. These are qualities you want to continue to cultivate in yourselves as citizens.

Here is the clip that is getting the most attention today:

But the President also had a few words to say about something that is getting a lot of attention in the Democratic primary.

Have faith in democracy. Look, I know it’s not always pretty. Really, I know. I’ve been living it. But it’s how, bit by bit, generation by generation, we have made progress in this nation…

In 2014, voter turnout was the lowest since World War II. Fewer than one in five young people showed up to vote — 2014. And the four who stayed home determined the course of this country just as much as the single one who voted. Because apathy has consequences

And, yes, big money in politics is a huge problem. We’ve got to reduce its influence. Yes, special interests and lobbyists have disproportionate access to the corridors of power. But, contrary to what we hear sometimes from both the left as well as the right, the system isn’t as rigged as you think, and it certainly is not as hopeless as you think. Politicians care about being elected, and they especially care about being reelected. And if you vote and you elect a majority that represents your views, you will get what you want. And if you opt out, or stop paying attention, you won’t. It’s that simple. It’s not that complicated.

In this address President Obama was a bit more feisty and impassioned. It is clear that he is more than ready to weigh in on the conversations that are driving this election. Yesterday was probably the opening salvo of what we’ll hear once the primaries are over.

Nancy LeTourneau

Nancy LeTourneau is a contributing writer for the Washington Monthly.