Obama hits Trump policies on Muslims, border at Rutgers graduation speech

May 16, 2016
U.S. President Barack Obama delivers remarks to the 2016 graduating class at High Point Solutions Stadium during Rutgers University's 250th commencement exercises, in New Brunswick, New Jersey, May 15, 2016.            REUTERS/Mike Theiler - RTSEFA5

President Barack Obama speaks at Rutgers University’s 250th commencement, in New Brunswick, New Jersey, May 15, 2016. REUTERS/Mike Theiler

PISCATAWAY, New Jersey – Democratic President Barack Obama used a commencement speech at a university on Sunday to slam the policies of Donald Trump, the presumptive Republican nominee, from immigration to the motto on his hat. 

Without mentioning Trump’s name, Obama said a temporary ban on Muslims entering the United States, and building a wall on the southern border would run counter to U.S. history and values.

“Isolating or disparaging Muslims, suggesting that they should be treated differently when it comes to entering this country, that’s not just a betrayal of our values, that’s … a betrayal of who we are,” Obama told the students at Rutgers University in New Jersey.

Building a wall on the border with Mexico, as Trump has championed “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,” Obama said. “That’s how we became America,” he told the 12,000 graduates, most of whom cheered. “Why would we want to stop it now?” 

The Trump campaign did not return a request for comment.

Students and administrators at Rutgers had urged Obama for three years to come to the commencement, which comes on the university’s 250th year. Obama said he had agreed to come to Rutgers because of their persistence, including that of a grandmother of the student council president who had written him. “I have a soft spot for grandmas,” he said.

But it was also clear that Obama wanted to launch a forceful campaign against Trump ahead of the Nov. 8 election at a large university that nearly mirrors the country’s racial and economic diversity. About one quarter of the scholars at the commencement were the first in their families to graduate from college.

Obama also weighed in on what he said was a strain of “anti-intellectualism” in the U.S. political debate.

“In politics and in life, ignorance is not a virtue. It’s not cool to not know what you’re talking about. That’s not keeping it real or telling it like it is. That’s not challenging political correctness. That’s just not knowing what you’re talking about,” Obama said. 

He also slammed those who deny climate change, such as Senator James Inhofe, an Oklahoma Republican, who brought a snowball to the Senate floor during a storm in Washington in an attempt to show that global warming is not real. 

And the slogan on Trump’s hat — “Make America Great Again” — was also an Obama target, and again without direct mention.

“The ‘good old days’ weren’t that great,” Obama said. America is better now, with fewer people suffering from poverty and disease and more women and minorities graduating from college, “We didn’t look backwards… we seized the future and made it our own.”

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