LONDON — In his first interview since leaving office, former president Barack Obama didn’t mention President Trump by name, but he really didn’t have to: He told his host, Prince Harry, that leaders shouldn’t use social media to stoke division.
“All of us in leadership have to find ways in which we can recreate a common space on the Internet,” Obama said.
The interview took the form of a warm chat between the 44th U.S. president and Prince Harry, who was serving as guest host on BBC Radio 4’s popular “Today” program.
“One of the dangers of the Internet is that people can have entirely different realities. They can be cocooned in information that reinforces their current biases,” Obama said. “It is harder to be as obnoxious and cruel in person as people can be anonymously on the Internet.”
He continued, “The question is: How do we harness this technology that allows a multiplicity of voices, a diversity of views but does not lead to a Balkanization of our society but, rather, continues to promote ways of finding common ground?”
The interview was recorded in September in Toronto, when Obama was in Canada to attend the Invictus Games, a charity and sporting event created by Harry to honor wounded soldiers.
As a radio host, Harry provided a sympathetic ear for a back-and-forth between two global celebrities. The royal didn’t really grill, and mostly he kept his opinions to himself, but he did ask questions that might be on a listener’s mind.
Such as: What were Obama’s feelings upon leaving office?
The former president joked, “I used to cause traffic; I now experience traffic.”
Obama said his life after vacating 1600 Pennsylvania Ave. at first felt as if it were moving in a slower motion.
“We had run a good race,” Obama said.
Obama said he could now enjoy taking 45 minutes to have breakfast or talk with his wife, Michelle Obama, “who had been my partner through that whole process.”
The former president called his wife “a spectacular, funny and warm person. She is not someone who is naturally inclined to politics, so in some ways, though she was as good a first lady as has ever been, she did this largely in support of my decision to run.”
Obama also spoke of his marriage and family: “For us to be able to come out of that intact — our marriage strong, we are still each other’s best friends, our daughters turning into amazing young women — there was a sense of completion, and that we had done the work in a way that maintained our integrity and left us whole and fundamentally unchanged.”
On his life now, the former president said: “It is wonderful to be able to control your day. The job entailed a wide range of responsibilities and a constantly full inbox. Now when I wake up I can make my own decisions on how to spend my time and what to do to forward the things I care deeply about. That is obviously hugely liberating.”
“I don’t have the same tools,” Obama said. “I have to rely more on persuasion than legislation, but a lot of the things that still motivate me and move me continue until this day.”
Asked by Harry about what he would do now, Obama answered: “The things that are important to me haven’t changed. I still care about making the United States and the world a place where kids get an education, where people who are willing to work hard are able to find a job that pays a living wage, that we are conserving the amazing resources of our planet so that future generations can enjoy the beauty of this place like we did.”
During his session as guest host Wednesday, Harry was asked by a BBC reporter if he and his fiancee, the American actress Meghan Markle, would be inviting the Obamas to their wedding in May.
The prince laughed.
“Well, I don’t know about that,” Harry said. “We haven’t put the invites or the guest list together yet so who knows whether he’s going to be invited or not. I wouldn’t want to ruin that surprise.”