Former President Barack Obama spoke Friday in Illinois, contrasting Democrats' agenda against President Trump and Republicans ahead of the midterm elections.

Obama stepped back into the political fray in an address at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, urging students to vote in November. 

“You need to vote because our democracy depends on it. ... Just a glance at recent headlines should tell you this moment really is different," he said.

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Obama said progress has not been easy in American history, often coming with a "step back" after a few steps forward. 

"Each time we've gotten closer to those ideals, somebody somewhere has pushed back. The status quo pushes back," he said, adding that many in power want to keep Americans divided.

"You happen to be coming of age during one of those moments. It did not start with Donald Trump. He is a symptom, not the cause. He's just capitalizing on resentments that politicians have been fanning for years."

Obama cast doubt on Trump's claims of an economic turnaround, pointing out that the recovery started during his administration and has continued the last few years.

"I'm glad it's continued, but when you hear about this economic miracle that's been going on? ... I have to kind of remind [Republicans], those job numbers are the same as they were in 2015 and 2016," he said. 

Obama said the "politics of division, resentment and paranoia has unfortunately found a home in the Republican Party," while Congress has unwound campaign finance laws to give billionaires influence over politics. 

The 44th president called out politicians "who have no compunction, no shame about tapping into America's dark history of racial, ethnic and religious division."

"Appealing to tribe, appealing to fear, pitting one group against another, telling people that order and security will be restored if it weren't for those who don't look like us or don't sound like us or don't pray like we do, that's an old playbook. It's as old as time," said Obama, adding that in a healthy democracy people across the political spectrum speak out against bigots and "promote the better angels of our nature."

Obama said some things should not be partisan issues, including the independence of the Justice Department and freedom of the press. 

"I complained plenty about Fox News, but I never threatened to shut them down, I never called them the enemy of the people," he said, calling on Americans to "stand up to bullies, not follow them."

"We're supposed to stand up to discrimination and we're sure as heck supposed to stand up clearly and unequivocally to Nazi sympathizers. ... How hard can that be? Saying that Nazis are bad," he said, referencing President Trump's response in August 2017 to a white supremacist demonstration in Charlottesville, Va.

Obama also spoke about the senior Trump administration official who wrote an anonymous New York Times op-ed criticizing Trump's behavior and saying there are numerous other officials working to undermine some of Trump's orders.

"That's not how our democracy is supposed to work. These people aren't elected, they're not accountable. They're not doing us a service by actively promoting 90 percent of the crazy stuff coming out of this White House and then saying 'don't worry, we're preventing the other 10 percent.' ... This is not normal."

Obama urged young people to vote in November, saying "indifference" in the last few elections led to the current makeup of Congress.

"In the 2014 midterm election, fewer than one in five young people voted. One in five! ... Is it any wonder this Congress doesn't reflect your values and your priorities? Are you surprised by that? ... Don't tell me your vote doesn't matter," he said. 

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