But today, the former president made clear the consequences of being quiet -- of polite presidential deference - have become too "dire".
"Even though we took out bin Laden and wound down the wars in Iraq and our combat role in Afghanistan, and got Iran to halt its nuclear programme, the world's still full of threats and disorder", he said, adding that comes streaming through people's televisions every single day.
"In two months we have the chance, not the certainty, but the chance to restore some semblance of sanity to our politics", he said in a speech at the University of IL at Urbana-Champaign.
Former President Barack Obama used an appearance at the University of IL on Friday to vilify Donald Trump and the Republicans who control Congress, calling the GOP "radical" in using fear and division to hold power under the controversial president's leadership.
On Saturday, Obama didn't mention Trump once and, instead, told Democrats that the problems in Washington are bigger than one person.
"We're supposed to stand up to discrimination", Obama said. He'll next travel to California for an event with seven House candidates in Orange County.
"Isn't this much more exciting than listening to President Obama's speech?" he asked, as the audience laughed and applauded.
"There are people out there right now that are counting on us to make sure they still have health care after this election", Obama said.
"More often it's manufactured by the powerful and the privileged who want to keep us divided and keep us angry and keep us cynical because it helps them maintain the status quo and keep their power and keep their privilege".
Obama made mention of the death toll in Hurricane Maria which hit Puerto Rico previous year.
"That's the story of America", he said.
The speech marked Obama's strongest rebuke of Trump since he left office in January 2017.
The speech was a preview of the arguments Obama is expected to make as he starts campaigning for Democrats on the ballot this fall.
"As a fellow citizen, not as an ex-president but as a citizen, I'm here to deliver simple message and that is that you need to vote because our democracy depends on it", Obama said on Friday.
Mr Obama was eager to "remind" voters that the economic recovery - one of Mr Trump's favourite talking points - actually began "in 2015" under his presidency. He is just capitalizing on resentment that politicians have been fanning for years.
His overarching message in both speeches, however, was the complaining does nothing when people don't vote.
"If you thought that elections don't matter, I hope these last two years have corrected that impression", he said.
But Democrats saw the president's return to the trail in another way.
During a speech at the University of IL at Urbana-Champaign on Friday, Obama said the country is in a "backlash" moment. After a particularly brutal loss in the 2010 midterms - 63 House seats and six Senate seats - Obama said the party had received a "shellacking".
Some Republicans pounced on Obama's remarks to bash his two terms in office and defend Trump.
Obama also unloaded on the Republican Party, saying that it has become a home for the politics of "division, of resentment and paranoia" and that its members are abdicating their responsibilities by doing nothing "when the president does something insane".
Cox, Democrats' nominee in CA-21, said that optimism was misplaced, and action necessary. He also says the GOP has "cozied up" to the former head of the KGB, a reference to Russian President Vladimir Putin, and is calling out lawmakers for not standing up to President Donald Trump. We can march, we can rally, we can put signs up. Next week, he'll return to the campaign trail in OH to campaign for Richard Cordray and other Democrats.
This content was republished with permission from CNN.