It's time for America's ex-presidents to team up against Trump

Jimmy Carter, George H.W. Bush, Bill Clinton, George W. Bush, Barack Obama — assemble!

Former presidents Barack Obama, George Bush, and Bill Clinton.
(Image credit: AP Photo/Charles Dharapak)

The idea that American presidents must basically go into occultation, focus on memoir-writing, or transform themselves into nonpartisan cheerleaders for various uncontroversial causes is deeply engrained in American culture. From George Washington retiring back to his plantation to Harry Truman and Lyndon Johnson basically disappearing from the public eye altogether to George W. Bush becoming a quietly reflective painter, few ex-presidents have remained active in the country's political life after leaving office. Citizens don't generally want someone who dominated public debates for four or eight years interfering with the workings of a new administration, one that typically enters office with a temporary surfeit of goodwill and popularity that crosses party lines. Even popular presidents have typically worn out their welcome by the time they leave.

In normal times, this makes a certain kind of sense. New presidents should, ideally, be granted time to fulfill their campaign promises and enact sensible public policy without the last president hovering over their shoulders like latte-addled helicopter parents. And even presidents who left office ostracized and alone have, over time, gradually become unifying figures, in part because they are free to pursue hobbies or endeavors that are not related to divisive party politics. With their high-minded departure from the boxing ring of politics, they communicate to the public that our differences are not so profound after all. This is to say nothing of the total exhaustion most presidents feel after serving one or two terms in office.

Subscribe to The Week

Escape your echo chamber. Get the facts behind the news, plus analysis from multiple perspectives.


Sign up for The Week's Free Newsletters

From our morning news briefing to a weekly Good News Newsletter, get the best of The Week delivered directly to your inbox.

From our morning news briefing to a weekly Good News Newsletter, get the best of The Week delivered directly to your inbox.

Sign up
To continue reading this article...
Continue reading this article and get limited website access each month.
Get unlimited website access, exclusive newsletters plus much more.
Cancel or pause at any time.
Already a subscriber to The Week?
Not sure which email you used for your subscription? Contact us
David Faris

David Faris is an associate professor of political science at Roosevelt University and the author of It's Time to Fight Dirty: How Democrats Can Build a Lasting Majority in American Politics. He is a frequent contributor to Informed Comment, and his work has appeared in the Chicago Sun-Times, The Christian Science Monitor, and Indy Week.