In a speech on Tuesday in front of the Montreal Chamber of Commerce, former President Barack Obama offered ominous warnings about the dangers of authoritarian rule and several implicit critiques of the Trump administration.
Obama opened with a quick survey of the “old divisions and fresh hatreds” that are currently dominating news headlines. “It seems like the international order … is being constantly tested and the center may not hold,” he said. Times of social and economic stress “lead people to search for certainty and control,” he continued. “They can call for isolationism or nationalism, or they can suggest rolling back the rights of others.”
But as he did so many times during his presidency, Obama encouraged hope and faith rather than agitation and resentment. “I am convinced the future does not belong to strongmen,” he asserted later in his address. “We’re going to have to replace fear with hope. That’s the spirit that we need right now.”
Obama also used his pulpit to speak about the policies of his successor, though he never mentioned President Trump by name. Obama suggested that Trump’s recent decision to pull the U.S. out of the Paris Climate Agreement was only a temporary setback in the battle against global warming. “In Paris, we came together around the most ambitious agreement in history to fight climate change, an agreement that even with the temporary absence of American leadership will still give our children a fighting chance,” he said.
Obama also took a moment to hit back against Trump’s xenophobic rhetoric, especially as it pertains to immigration policy. “I believe we cannot unwind integration,” Obama declared. “I don’t think we can pull up a drawbridge … It’s important for us to establish processes to make sure that we reaffirm that we are nations of immigrants, that it creates dynamism in our economies, strengthens us rather than weakens us and upholds our tradition of lawfulness.”
The former president’s address wasn’t all dire pronouncements – after being introduced by Michel Leblanc, president of the local chamber, Obama got some laughs with a lighthearted pun in one of his opening lines: “One of the things I love about Montreal is that there’s a high percentage of Michels here.”
Obama’s address in Montreal marked a rare public appearance since leaving office. He delivered his first public, post-presidency remarks at the University of Chicago in April.