Former Pres. Barack Hussein Obama refuses to leave the stage.
He is defying the tradition of former presidents who too a senior statesman role with philanthropic, scholarly and other non-political activities. True, he has a different problem with a decimated Democratic Party bereft of leadership.But stationing himself in Washington, with a $8.1 million house, despite the fact he has no roots in the District, was generally seen as an expression of his continued search for political leadership.
He also has violated the tradition of former presidents of taking only a ceremonial role in visits overseas. When Pres. Donald K. Trump was making his first visit to Europe, for a controversial NATO summit, Obama turned up simultaneously to court German Chancellor Angela Merkel. It’s true, of course, again, that Obama was recalling his pre-presidency May 2017 Brandenburg Gate speech before a wildly enthusiastic 70,000 Europeans. He got a premature Nobel Prize for Peace for that performance. But his activities made Trumps’ simultaneous diplomatic efforts more difficult. The sitting president, of course, had taken up the cudgels for NATO members to pay up and Washington is facing difficult trade issues with Merkel, who is playing domestic politics as she approaches an election with lagging support.
Obama “…push [es] back against those trends that would violate human rights or suppress democracy or restrict individual freedoms” and to “fight against those who divide us”. These charges are widely interpreted as being aimed at Trump.
There has been, of course, a tradition that former American officials do not criticize Washington policy from overseas venues. Longer lifespans have proliferated the number of former chief executives increasing the importance of the issue with so many ex-presidents around.
In early June, speaking to the Montreal Chamber of Commerce, Obama called on people, in the face of uncertainty, to stand by some of the very post-World War II economic and political institutions. These are postwar positions Trump has repeatedly called into question.
“In periods like this, people looking for control and certainty — it’s inevitable,” Obama told the Canadians. “But it is important to remember that the world has gone through similar moments. … Our history also shows there is a better way.”
He said people should overcome fear and not listen to those who “call for isolation or nationalism” and those who “suggest rolling back the rights of others.”
The fact is that although Obama is touted as “the first black president”, he neither comes from the Urban Ghetto nor the rising black professional class but a multicultural environment in Hawaii with time out as a student in Indonesia. On June 30 in Jakarta, Obama, greeted by a crowd of thousands of leaders, students and business people, where he opened the Fourth Congress of Indonesian Diaspora, struck out against Trump’s withdrawal from the agreement on climate change. “In Paris, we came together around the most ambitious agreement in history about climate change, an agreement that even with the temporary absence of American leadership, can still give our children a fighting chance.”
At a time when the Trump Administration is facing difficulties in its own Republican Party and with the President’s unpredictable – he says it is a strategic tactic – approach to issues, Obama is becoming a center of anti-Trump activism.With his own fanatical following within the left, Obama may continue to pursue his own set of domestic and foreign policies in public debate with Trump. But it is neither appropriate nor helpful to defy the traditional American withdrawal of former executives after they have had their “innings”.
It’s time for Obama to make a dignified exit to the traditional role of elder statesman.