So—after the biggest march in American history, the first iteration of the Muslim ban, the second iteration of the Muslim ban, Paul Ryan’s failed attempt to finally “repeal and replace” Obamacare, late ethics reports for four out of nine cabinet nominees, President Trump defending Bill O’Reilly after accusations of sexual harassment, Attorney General Jeff Sessions connecting scrutiny of police departments with spikes in crime, press secretary Sean Spicer comparing Hitler favorably to Assad—President Obama has emerged from vacation, or whatever. And he used the momentous occasion to give an uninspired, nonpolitical speech about wanting to help America’s future leaders.
Speaking at the University of Chicago on Monday, the 44th president started his first public appearance since leaving office by cracking a couple jokes. Then he went into one of his favorite pastimes: expounding on how being a community organizer informed his career as a public servant. His public service isn’t over, Obama suggested, but it is, naturally, shifting. “I’m spending a lot of time thinking about: What is the most important thing I can do for my next job?” he said. He had, he told us, settled on “preparing the next generation of leadership to take up the baton and to take their own crack at changing the world.” He was light on the details—so far, the former president hasn’t announced plans to start an organization focused on this issue. And it’s not the only one Obama has said he’ll be focusing on: He is planning to work with his friend and former attorney general Eric Holder at the National Democratic Redistricting Committee, an organization devoted to curbing gerrymandering and securing a fair redistricting process. In February, Holder promised Obama would be a vocal and active participant in the organization, telling the press that the former president is “ready to roll,” and that he’ll “be a more visible part of the effort.” But it’s nearly May and the former president hasn’t been visible at all. Now that he’s resurfaced, it’s fair to ask: Is preparing the next generation of leaders and working on redistricting really the best use of Obama’s talents?
If Donald Trump wasn’t in the White House, I’d say, “Do whatever you want, man.” After leaving office, presidents have embraced a range of post-presidential activities: George W. Bush devoted his post-presidential efforts to becoming a painter of world renown, while Bill Clinton started his own (albeit controversial) philanthropic foundation that credits itself with making AIDS treatments more affordable and getting American public schools to get rid of sugary drinks. Jimmy Carter became a more respected leader after his presidency, picking up a Nobel Peace Prize for his humanitarian work in 2002.