Former President Obama stepped back into the spotlight on Monday after spending months in seclusion on a South Pacific island. His goal was to encourage young people to become civically engaged. While lamenting the unprecedented polarization of American politics, he managed to keep two words out of his dialogue: Donald Trump.You can also watch the speech below:
In his very first post-presidency public appearance, Obama clearly stated his concern that the current highly charged political environment is turning off most Americans. But he kept the course that other former presidents have walked; he did not criticize his predecessor and gave him space in the early days of the new administration. This grace was admirable in light of the unsubstantiated charges that the former president “wiretapped” the new president at Trump Tower. And earlier this month, Trump suggested that Obama’s national security adviser, Susan Rice, may have committed a crime by trying to learn the identities if Trump associates through surveillance. You can add even more tension between the former and present presidents by considering how Trump is trying to dismantle Obama’s healthcare bill, tighten the previous administration’s immigration rules and roll back their environmental regulations.
Obama joked with the crowd as he took the stage: “What’s been going on while I’ve been gone?” Obama spent most of the forum at the University of Chicago quizzing the young panelists about their ideas for getting their fellow Americans more engaged in politics and policy. He told the panelists and the audience of mostly college-age students that he planned to dedicate his energy in the first chapter of his post-presidency to working with young people and encouraging them “to take up the baton and take their crack at changing the world.” Obama continued, “The one thing that I’m absolutely convinced of is that, yes we confront a whole range of challenges.”
This very first public appearance from Obama came just on the heels of President Trump’s 100th day in office. While some of the former president’s backers would have loved him to weigh in on things former President Obama di not. Some would have liked to hear Obama comment on Trump’s inability to get a major legislative victory and his low approval rating, however, he abstained.
“The way Obama managed his presidency compared to the current presidency is making some people who didn’t support him reconsider his presidency in a positive way,” Susan MacManus, a political scientist at the University of South Florida said. “Speaking out during this quiet moment for Obama risks interrupting peoples’ reflections on his presidency that might be improving from where they were at when he left office.”
What do you think about Obama’s very loud silence at this first public event since he left office?
Credit: USA Today