09/07/2018 13:56 EDT | Updated 09/07/2018 14:31 EDT

Obama Slams Donald Trump Publicly For The First Time (Video)

"That’s not how our democracy’s supposed to work," said the former president.

Former U.S. president Barack Obama is making his return to the political arena to help embattled Democrats win in November's midterm elections. And for the first time, Obama publicly called out President Donald Trump by name.

During a speech at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign on Friday, Obama said the country is in a "backlash" moment.

"You happen to be coming of age during one of those moments," Obama told the audience. "It did not start with Donald Trump ― he is a symptom, not the cause. He is just capitalizing on resentment that politicians have been fanning for years. A fear, an anger that is rooted in our past but is also borne in our enormous upheavals that have taken place in your brief lifetimes.

While Obama has in the past blasted Trump and his policies, this was the first speech in which he used his successor's name.

'This is not normal'

The former president also criticized the claims of an anonymous New York Times op-ed, which said many staffers are "working diligently from within" to keep Trump from enacting damaging policies.

"That is not a check, I'm being serious here. That's not how our democracy's supposed to work," Obama said. "These people aren't elected. They aren't accountable."They're not doing us a service by actively promoting 90 per cent of the crazy stuff that's coming out of this White House and then saying, 'Don't worry, we're preventing the other 10 per cent.' That's not how things are supposed to work. This is not normal."

The Times says the op-ed, published Wednesday, was written by a senior official in the Trump administration. A slew of officials working in the administration issued statements Thursday in which they denied authoring the piece. CNN reported Trump was closely monitoring the denials, according to a top White House official.

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Trump has argued the op-ed is "treason" and a product of the so-called "Deep State." He has also said the Times should reveal the author "for National Security purposes" and that Attorney General Jeff Sessions should investigate.

These are extraordinary times. These are dangerous times.Barack Obama

During his remarks, Obama also criticized Republicans in Congress who seem "utterly unwilling" to stand up to Trump and "safeguard the institutions that make our democracies work."

"These are extraordinary times," he said. "These are dangerous times."

The speech marked Obama's strongest rebuke of Trump since he left office in January 2017. Obama was in Illinois to accept an award for ethics in government from the University of Illinois.