PISCATAWAY, N.J. — President Obama delivered a commencement address at Rutgers University on Sunday that steered clear of the typical graduation advice and sounded a lot like a tough, aggressive takedown of the Republican presidential front-runner.

The president, who spoke before a crowd of more than 50,000 in the school’s football stadium, called on the graduates to reject politicians who hark back to better days. The 45-minute address was filled with obvious jabs at Donald Trump, whom the president didn’t name but who was a foil for the speech’s most cutting applause lines.

Obama slammed Trump’s proposal to build a wall along the country’s southern border, saying the world is becoming ever more interconnected and “building walls won’t change that.”

He mocked Trump’s call to “Make America Great Again” saying there was never a better time to be alive on the planet and in America. College graduation rates were up, he said. Crime rates had dropped, and more women were in the workplace than ever before in the country’s history.

“When you hear someone longing for the good old days, take it with a grain of salt,” he said to boisterous applause. “Take it with a grain of salt.”

The president decried a strain of anti-intellectualism in American politics that he said rejects science, reason and debate. “These are things you want in people making policy,” Obama said to laughter. “That might seem obvious.”

At one point, clearly referring to Trump and other congressional Republicans who have decried efforts to combat global warming, Obama warned that “in politics and in life, ignorance is not a virtue.”

“It’s not cool to not know what you are talking about,” he said. “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 are talking about.”

Obama blasted the disdain for facts in the current political debates and the desire for political amateurs – clearly taking another dig at Trump’s lack of traditional political experience. Obama noted ironically that Americans like their doctors and airline pilots to be experienced and wondered why “in our public lives we suddenly think I don’t want someone who has done it before.”

“You might wonder where this strain of anti-intellectualism came from,” Obama said. “The rejection of reason, the rejection of facts; that is the path to decline.”

He called on the graduates to hold leaders accountable and expect them “to know what the heck they are talking about.”

The president’s speech was also infused with a progressive optimism that is a regular element of his addresses and maintains that the country’s best days are ahead of it.

He asked the students to vote and remain engaged in American politics, a theme he also hit in his recent Howard University commencement speech.


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