Obama tells Prince Harry: leaders must stop corroding civil discourse

Politicians, and others in positions of power, should stop corroding civil discourse and seek to unify society, the former US president Barack Obama said in a rare interview conducted by Prince Harry for BBC Radio 4’s Today programme.

Obama did not mention his successor, Donald Trump, by name, but said social media could lead to facts being discarded and prejudices being reinforced, making public conversation harder. “All of us in leadership have to find ways to recreate a common space on the internet,” he said.

Obama reflected on the day he relinquished power to Trump and said: “Overall there was serenity there, more than I would have expected,” but his sense of achievement was laced with a sense of “all the work that was left undone”. He said he viewed each presidency as part of a relay race, but felt he had passed the baton on successfully. “We had run a good race,” he said.

Since leaving office, he said, life appeared to move in slow motion, but he insisted this slower pace could be liberating if it meant he “could spend an extra 45 minutes talking to Michelle or having a long breakfast”.

Trump has been fiercely critical of Obama personally and politically since he entered the Oval Office, but Obama in his first interview since leaving office did not take the chance to hit back, possibly reflecting his wife Michelle’s famous dictum: “When they go low, you go high”.

He showed that he regarded his civil health reforms, providing insurance to 20 million people, as his greatest legacy, and since leaving office he has been using social media to encourage Americans to take up the extended offer of insurance.

Prince Harry and Obama spent part of an often personal interview – the first since he left office – discussing their shared “obsession” in empowering a new generation of young civic leaders worldwide, an issue that lies at the heart of the Obama Foundation, the central vehicle for Obama’s post-presidential public work.

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