Former President Obama on Tuesday praised public and private entities for vowing to press ahead with the goals of the Paris accord on climate change, despite his successor’s decision to abandon the landmark global agreement.
Speaking at an event in Montreal, one of the few public appearances he has made since leaving office in January, Obama said he “took great comfort” in watching as states, cities and corporations “made clear that they will keep pushing forward” despite President Trump’s decision last week to withdraw the United States from the 2016 agreement that Obama had considered one of his biggest achievements.
The deal, “even with the temporary absence of American leadership, will still give our children a fighting chance,” Obama said.
The former president made no direct reference to Trump in a wide-ranging speech that also covered income inequality, America’s international alliances, and the opportunities and challenges posed by fast-paced change around the world.
But while Obama’s takes on each topic were familiar ones, his reiteration of his positions only underscored the dramatic changes that Trump has brought in policy and posture on national and global issues.
Facing a Canadian audience, Obama touted the strong ties between the two countries, including their shared roles in multilateral institutions to enhance global security like NATO. That reference to the long-standing mutual-defense pact inevitably called to mind Trump’s failure last month, while at NATO headquarters in Brussels, to formally reaffirm the American commitment to the alliance charter’s Article V, holding that an attack on any one member would be considered an attack on all.
Obama seemed to offer an implied rebuke of Trump in remarks about the recent terrorist attacks in London. He applauded the British for responding “not with fear, but with resolve,” and not with “blame and division.” Trump sparked something of an international incident with tweets that criticized London’s mayor, Sadiq Khan, for remarks that Trump took out of context; other politicians, including the prime minister, rallied to the mayor’s defense.
Obama broke from his prepared text to lament the spread of “bad news, and sometimes fake news,” through social media platforms that, he said, test whether the center will hold.
Obama called for finding new ways to push against propaganda, “cultivate independent journalism, and listen to those with whom we disagree, and work hard to find common ground.”
“Democracy is hard,” Obama said. “Progress does not always move in a straight line. And its gains are often fragile if we as citizens are not tilling the soil and maintaining democracy.”
But, he added, he was confident that “the future does not belong to strongmen.”
During a question-and-answer session, Obama was asked whether any of the women in his family might succeed in shattering the “glass ceiling” to become president. “Michelle will not change her mind,” Obama said flatly, adding that his daughters also were unlikely to seek the presidency.
He did predict that a woman would be elected president in his lifetime, adding, “I don’t know who that will be.”