CHICAGO, IL - DECEMBER 05:  Former president Barack Obama speaks to a gathering of more than 50 mayors and other guests during the North American Climate Summit on December 5, 2017 in Chicago, Illinois. The summit was held to bring together leaders from the U.S., Canada and Mexico to commit their cities to addressing climate change at the local level.  (Photo by Scott Olson/Getty Images)
Scott Olson/Getty Images North America/Getty Images
CHICAGO, IL - DECEMBER 05: Former president Barack Obama speaks to a gathering of more than 50 mayors and other guests during the North American Climate Summit on December 5, 2017 in Chicago, Illinois. The summit was held to bring together leaders from the U.S., Canada and Mexico to commit their cities to addressing climate change at the local level. (Photo by Scott Olson/Getty Images)
Now playing
01:14
Obama: Tend to democracy or risk Nazism
Pool
Now playing
02:19
Obama: Trump capitalizing on resentments
Pres. Trump Remarks at Fundraiser
POOL
Pres. Trump Remarks at Fundraiser
Now playing
01:32
Trump: I fell asleep during Obama speech
URBANA, IL - SEPTEMBER 07:  Former President Barack Obama speaks to students at the University of Illinois where he accepted the Paul H. Douglas Award for Ethics in Government on September 7, 2018 in Urbana, Illinois. The award is an annual honor given by the university's Institute of Government and Public Affairs to recognize public officials who have made significant contributions in public service.  (Photo by Scott Olson/Getty Images)
Scott Olson/Getty Images
URBANA, IL - SEPTEMBER 07: Former President Barack Obama speaks to students at the University of Illinois where he accepted the Paul H. Douglas Award for Ethics in Government on September 7, 2018 in Urbana, Illinois. The award is an annual honor given by the university's Institute of Government and Public Affairs to recognize public officials who have made significant contributions in public service. (Photo by Scott Olson/Getty Images)
Now playing
02:34
Obama unleashes on Trump in speech
SCALZO/Wilson/Getty Images
Now playing
02:38
Farrow: Memo in White House warned of conspiracy
Jeh Johnson NR
CNN
Jeh Johnson NR
Now playing
02:42
Johnson compares Trump, Obama immigration
SCALZO/Wilson/Getty Images
Now playing
02:34
Fox News slams Obama, praises Trump
Pete Souza
Now playing
00:50
Obama's photographer is trolling Trump
trevor noah
CNN
trevor noah
Now playing
01:18
'Daily Show' host on Obama vs. Trump
WASHINGTON, DC - JANUARY 20:  Former U.S. President Barack Obama (R) congratulates U.S. President Donald Trump after he took the oath of office on the West Front of the U.S. Capitol on January 20, 2017 in Washington, DC. In today's inauguration ceremony Donald J. Trump becomes the 45th president of the United States.  (Photo by Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)
Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images North America/Getty Images
WASHINGTON, DC - JANUARY 20: Former U.S. President Barack Obama (R) congratulates U.S. President Donald Trump after he took the oath of office on the West Front of the U.S. Capitol on January 20, 2017 in Washington, DC. In today's inauguration ceremony Donald J. Trump becomes the 45th president of the United States. (Photo by Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)
Now playing
01:43
Trump vs. Obama: A rocky relationship
Now playing
02:27
Obama's parting letter to Trump revealed
Twitter/Jerry Travone
Now playing
01:47
Trump retweets meme of his Obama 'eclipse'
SCALZO/Wilson/Getty Images
Now playing
02:43
Trump continues to take aim at Obama legacy
US President Donald Trump and former President Barack Obama talk on the East front steps of the US Capitol after inauguration ceremonies on January 20, 2017 in Washington, DC.
ROBYN BECK/AFP/Getty Images
US President Donald Trump and former President Barack Obama talk on the East front steps of the US Capitol after inauguration ceremonies on January 20, 2017 in Washington, DC.
Now playing
02:23
The wiretapping saga in 2 minutes

Story highlights

"You have to tend to this garden of democracy, otherwise things can fall apart fairly quickly," Obama said

Obama has occasionally voiced thinly veiled criticisms of the Trump administration's policies

Washington CNN —  

Former President Barack Obama urged voters this week to stay engaged in democracy, warning that complacency was responsible for the rise of Nazi Germany.

“You have to tend to this garden of democracy, otherwise things can fall apart fairly quickly. And we’ve seen societies where that happens,” Obama said at the Economic Club of Chicago on Tuesday, according to video of the event.

“Now, presume there was a ballroom here in Vienna in the late 1920s or ‘30s that looked and seemed as if it, filled with the music and art and literature that was emerging, would continue into perpetuity. And then 60 million people died. An entire world was plunged into chaos,” Obama said. “So you got to pay attention – and vote.”

During the event, the former President mentioned similar themes of responding to a changing political landscape, mentioning examples from America’s history.

“FDR is one of my political heroes. In my mind, the second greatest president after Lincoln. … But he interned a bunch of loyal Japanese Americans during World War II. That was a threat to our institutions,” he said. “There have been periods in our history where censorship was considered OK. We had the McCarthy era. We had a President who had to resign prior to impeachment because he was undermining rule of law. At every juncture, we’ve had to wrestle with big problems.”

Obama also defended the necessity of a free press.

“During my presidency, the press often drove me nuts,” he said. “There were times where I thought reporters were ill-informed. There were times where they didn’t actually get the story right. But what I understood was that principle of the free press was vital, and that, as President, part of my job was to make sure that that was maintained.”

Obama over the past year has occasionally voiced thinly veiled criticisms of the Trump administration’s policies, particularly on climate change, though it’s not clear from the video that he was directly addressing his successor.