God we’ve missed him.
With every passing day of the Trump administration - shot through with botched bills, in-fighting, backstabbing, angry tweets, lie after lie and plain ignorance - the period when an erudite, thoughtful man was president of the United States seems more of a distant memory.
Since leaving office in January, 44th president Barack Obama has kept a low profile, only popping up occasionally with an impeccably-observed tweet. Honestly, his timeline is a thing of beauty.
John McCain is an American hero & one of the bravest fighters I've ever known. Cancer doesn't know what it's up against. Give it hell, John.— Barack Obama (@BarackObama) July 20, 2017
But while this period of chillaxing has seemed to suit Obama, there’s been a growing desire for him to speak out more forcefully against the current administration - and he finally stepped back into the ring on Thursday, speaking at a rally in Richmond, Virginia and delivering a stinging rebuke to Donald Trump, despite not mentioning him by name.
Speaking at an event for Democrat Ralph Northam, who is running to become Governor of Virginia, he gave his strongest views since leaving the White House.
He told the crowds, many of whom had queued for hours to see him:
“You’ll notice I haven’t been commenting a lot on politics lately. But here’s one thing I know: if you have to win a campaign by dividing people, you’re not going to be able to govern them. You won’t be able to unite them later if that’s how you start.
“Instead of our politics reflecting our values, we’ve got politics infecting our communities. Instead of looking for ways to work together to get things done in a practical way, we’ve got folks who are deliberately trying to make folks angry, to demonise people who have different ideas, to get the base all riled up because it provides a short term tactical advantage.
“The question now, at a time when our politics seem so divided and so angry and so nasty, is whether we can recapture that spirit, whether we support and embrace somebody who wants to bring people together. Yes, we can.”
Virginia was a particularly appropriate place for Obama to speak, given the events surrounding a white supremacist march in Charlottesville in August, at which a civil rights activist was killed. Trump refused to condemn the nazis, who were marching to protest against the removal of a statue of Confederate icon General Robert E Lee.
“If we’re going to talk about our history then we should do it in a way that heals, not in a way that wounds, not in a way that divides. We shouldn’t use the most painful parts of our history just to score political points. We saw what happened in Charlottesville but we also saw what happened after Charlottesville when the biggest gatherings of all rejected fear and rejected hate and the decency and goodwill of the American people came out.
“That’s how we rise. We don’t rise up by repeating the past. We rise up by learning from the past and listening to each other.
“We can acknowledge that Thomas Jefferson, one of Virginia’s most famous sons, owned and sold slaves – that’s not disputable. And we can also acknowledge that he also wrote those words: ‘We hold these truths to be self-evident: that all men are created equal; that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights; that among these are life and liberty and the pursuit of happiness.
“And we can recognize that even if our past is not perfect we can honor the constitutional ideals that have allowed us to come this far and to keep moving toward a more perfect union. That’s what America is. That’s who we are.”
Even former Republican president George W Bush joined in the criticism, saying, at an event in New York:
“What we can’t have is the same old politics of division that we have seen so many times before that dates back centuries.
“Some of the politics we see now, we thought we put that to bed. That’s folks looking 50 years back. It’s the 21st Century, not the 19th Century. Come on!
“Bigotry seems emboldened. Our politics seems more vulnerable to conspiracy theories and outright fabrication.
“There are some signs that the intensity of support for democracy itself has waned - especially among the young.
“At times it can seem like the forces pulling us apart are stronger than the forces binding us together.
“We’ve seen nationalism distorted into nativism, forgotten the dynamism that immigration has always brought to America.”
Trump has spent much of his time in office trying to reverse the achievements of Obama’s time in office, most notably his signature healthcare law and the Iran nuclear deal. He is rumoured to be obsessed undoing the work of his predecessor and, seemingly, constantly thinks about what Obama would do, and tries to do the opposite.
He’ll have much more reason to be obsessed with him if this marks a permanent return to the arena for the 44th president.