By Alana Abramson
September 7, 2018

Former President Barack Obama returned to the political arena with full force on Friday, giving a speech reflecting on the partisan gridlock and upheaval that he believes has characterized the United States since President Donald Trump succeeded him in office over a year and a half ago.

Obama delivered his speech at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, where he received the Paul H. Douglas Award for Ethics in Government. In the remarks, which were a preview of the arguments he will make on the campaign trail, Obama denounced President Trump by name — the first time he has done so that explicitly since leaving the White House — and offered a broader critique of the direction he believes the country is heading in under the leadership of his successor.

“Some of you may think I am exaggerating when I say these November elections are more important than any in our lifetime,” Obama said. “I have been guilty at saying this when I was on the ballot..but a glance at recent headlines should tell you this moment really is different.”

The only way to combat this current state of democracy, he told his audience, was to get out and vote in the midterm elections.

“As a fellow citizen, not as a President, but as a fellow citizen, I am here to deliver a message,” said Obama. “And that is— you need to vote because our democracy depends on it.”

Read Obama’s full speech transcript below.

Write to Alana Abramson at Alana.Abramson@time.com.

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