Obama avoids Trump in 1st public remarks since leaving office

President Obama hosts a panel at the University of Chicago.

— -- Former President Obama today offered a preview of what his "next job" might be during his first public remarks since leaving office, with no mention of his White House successor.

"So, what's been going on while I've been gone?" he joked today at the start of a panel discussion.

Obama, who had taken some vacation time after handing the White House keys to President Trump, made his return to the public stage at the University of Chicago, where he taught constitutional law for years.

While there are a number of issues he cares about, Obama said, he hopes to help inspire the younger generation to get more involved in civic engagement.

"On the back end of my presidency, now that it's completed, I'm spending a lot of time thinking about what is the most important thing I can do for my next job?" said Obama, who was joined by six young adults from schools in the Chicago area.

Obama, 55, added: "The single most important thing I can do is to help in any way I can prepare the next generation of leadership to take up the baton and to take their own crack at changing the world."

The former president didn't mention his successor once during the discussion, but he did comment on the polarizing political climate.

"Because of changes in the media, we now have a situation in which everybody's listening to people who already agree with them and are further and further reinforcing their own realities to the neglect of a common reality that allows us to have a healthy debate and then try to find common ground and actually move solutions forward," Obama said.

"I think a lot of us who have been in politics for a while do see a change from 20 years ago, certainly 30 years ago, where it used to be everybody kind of had the same information. And we had different opinions about it, but there were a common baseline of facts," Obama said.

He added: “If you're liberal, then you're on MSNBC and conservative, you're on Fox News. You're reading The Wall Street Journal or you're reading The New York Times, or whatever your choices are.”

"Or maybe you're just looking at cat videos, which is fine," Obama joked.

Obama also said he hopes that his foundation and presidential center, which is set to be built in the Windy City, will create more "pathways for young people getting involved" and "so that when somebody like me 35 years ago decides I have got something to contribute that we will have eased the path for them."

"Maybe they will learn from the mistakes I and others have made so that they can seize the future," Obama said.

The Democratic president, who was a U.S. senator from Illinois before winning the presidency in 2008 and a second term in 2012, also teased the latest book on which he’s working while reflecting on the value of failure in a political career.

"I'm writing a book about my political journey and as I was writing, I thought about that race," Obama said of his loss to Rep. Bobby Rush in a 2001 Congressional race in Illinois.

Obama, who was critical of President Trump during the election and as of late has had to watch key legislation and regulations he passed get rolled back, concluded on a positive note.

"I have to say that there is a reason why I am always optimistic even when things look like they are sometimes not going the way I want and it is because of young people like this," Obama said. "It gives you a sense of what is possible for this country."