Former US President Barack Obama (2-L) participates in a 'conversation on community organizing and civic engagement' with local students at the University of Chicago in Chicago, Illinois, USA, 24 April 2017. The event is the first public function for Obama since leaving office in January.
Former US President Barack Obama (2-L) participates in a 'conversation on community organizing and civic engagement' with local students at the University of Chicago in Chicago, Illinois, USA, 24 April 2017. The event is the first public function for Obama since leaving office in January. EPA - TANNEN MAURY

Obama makes first public appearance since leaving office

FORMER US president Barack Obama has declined to criticise Donald Trump in his first public appearance since he left office, instead taking the opportunity to declare what he wants to do in the next phase of his career.

Mr Obama returned to the spotlight on Monday at a function at the University of Chicago, the city where his political career began.

"On the back end now of my presidency, now that it's completed, I'm spending a lot of time thinking about what is the most important thing I can do for my next job?" the former Democratic president said while sharing the stage with youth leaders.

"What I'm convinced of is that - although there are all kinds of issues that I care about and all kinds of issues that I intend to work on - the single most important thing I can do is to help in any way I can prepare the next generation of leadership to take up the baton and to take their own crack at changing the world."

Mr Obama outlined his view of a divided America riddled with problems, and said he wanted to use his influence to encourage young people to tackle those issues.

"We confront a whole range of challenges … all those problems are serious, they're daunting, but they're not insoluble.

"What is preventing us from tackling them and making more progress really has to do with our politics and our civic life. It has to do with the fact that … our parties have moved further and further apart and it's harder and harder to find common ground because of money and politics.

"Special interests dominate the debates in Washington in ways that don't match up with what the broad majority of Americans feel.

Former President Barack Obama listens to Ramuel Figueroa, second from left, as Kelsey McClear, left, and Tiffany Brown participate in a conversation on civic engagement and community organizing, Monday, April 24, 2017, at the University of Chicago in Chicago. It's the former president's first public event of his post-presidential life in the place where he started his political career.
Former President Barack Obama listens to Ramuel Figueroa, second from left, as Kelsey McClear, left, and Tiffany Brown participate in a conversation on civic engagement and community organizing, Monday, April 24, 2017, at the University of Chicago in Chicago. It's the former president's first public event of his post-presidential life in the place where he started his political career. AP Photo - Charles Rex Arbogast

"Because of changes in the media, we now have a situation in which everybody's listening to people who already agree with them and are further and further reinforcing their own realities to the neglect of a common reality that allows us to have a healthy debate and then try to find common ground and actually move solutions forward.

"What I said in 2004 that there were no red states or blue states there were United States of America, that was an aspirational comment. And it's one, by the way, that I still believe in the sense that when you talk to individuals one on one there's a lot more that people have in common than divides them.

"But obviously it's not true when it comes to our politics and civic life, and maybe more pernicious is the fact that people just aren't involved. They get cynical and they give up. And as a consequence we have some of the lowest voting rates of any advanced democracy and low participation rates then translate into a further gap between who's governing us and what we believe."

Mr Obama said his goal was to create path ways to help the next generation get involved.

"I want to work with them to knock down those barriers and to get this next generation to accelerate their move towards leadership, because if that happens I think we're going to be just fine and I end up being incredibly optimistic," he said.

Mr Obama made no mention of Mr Trump during his appearance.

Mr Obama has kept a low profile since leaving office, most noticeably making the news when he went kitesurfing in the Caribbean with billionaire Richard Branson.

He has reportedly spent part of his time off writing a book.

News Corp Australia


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