Obama Says ‘Ignorance Is Not a Virtue’ in Latest Swipe at Trump

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President Barack Obama speaks after receiving an honorary doctorate of laws during the 250th anniversary commencement ceremony at Rutgers University on May 15, 2016, in New Brunswick, New Jersey.

Photographer: Eduardo Munoz Alvarez/Getty Images
  • President bemoans anti-intellectualism in commencement speech
  • Comments reflect Obama’s coming role as surrogate-in-chief

President Barack Obama told graduating students at Rutgers University that “ignorance is not a virtue” in politics, as the president continued to attack Donald Trump -- by implication, if not by name -- for his provocative campaign pronouncements.

“Facts, evidence, reason, logic, an understanding of science, these are good things,” Obama said in a commencement address Sunday on the university’s New Brunswick, New Jersey, campus. “These are qualities you want in people making policies. These are qualities you want to continue to cultivate in yourselves as citizens.”

“We have traditionally valued those things, but if you are listening to today’s political debate, you might wonder where the strain of anti-intellectualism came from,” Obama, a Democrat, said without naming Trump, the presumptive Republican presidential nominee. “So class of 2016, let me be as clear as I can be: in politics and in life, ignorance is not a virtue.”

Obama has ramped up criticism of Trump in recent weeks, previewing his likely role in the general election campaign as surrogate-in-chief for the Democratic Party’s nominee to succeed him in the Oval Office. On Sunday, he repeated past criticism of Trump’s proposal to at least temporarily ban Muslims from entering the U.S. on the basis that some may be terrorists.

‘Betrayal’ of Values

“That is not just a betrayal of our values, that is not just a betrayal of who we are,” said Obama. He said isolating Muslims or treating them differently would alienate partners needed in the fight against terrorism.

On May 6, in his first public remarks after Trump cleared the Republican field of its challengers, Obama told reporters at the White House that Trump hadn’t offered serious proposals on the economy or national security.

“We are in serious times and this is a really serious job,” Obama said then. “This is not entertainment. This is not a reality show.”

At Rutgers, Obama urged the students to “start participating” in the political system, saying that “a huge chunk of Americans, especially young people do not vote.” He made similar comments on May 7 at the commencement for students at Howard University, a historically black university in Washington, urging “not just hashtags, but votes.”

“Have faith in democracy,” Obama said on Sunday. “I know it is not always pretty. Really I know -- I’ve been living it. But is is how bit by bit, generation by generation, we have made progress in this nation.”

Obama will deliver a third commencement address for the season at the U.S. Air Force Academy’s graduation ceremony on June 2 in Colorado. He also spoke to graduating cadets there in 2012.

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