The Atlantic

Obama Faces the Ex-President's Dilemma

The former president must decide how to remain an influential player in the world without intervening too much in the national debate.
Source: Luca Bruno / AP

“I see you Barry,” said comedian Hasan Minhaj at the White House Correspondent’s Association dinner. “What you doin’ right now? You jet skiing while the world burns?” After leaving office, Barack Obama spent a few weeks palling around with Bruce Springsteen, Tom Hanks, and Oprah Winfrey in French Polynesia. Now the vacation’s over, how can Obama maximize his sway in American politics? The answer lies in understanding the source of his influence.

President Trump’s strength is founded on hard power, or the ability to coerce people through payments and force. As commander-in-chief, millions of men and women stand ready to follow his orders. With a stroke of the pen, Trump can renounce America’s commitment to the Paris climate treaty. Or he can put the pen down and press the nuclear button—and here, there are no checks and balances.

By contrast, as an ex-president, Obama has virtually no hard power. He even had to learn how to use the coffee machine

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