- - Thursday, July 6, 2017


Squeezing out one last burst of applause is risky for any entertainer, as any old vaudevillian could have told Barack Obama. The idea is to leave the fans in the cheap seats yelling for more. But Mr. Obama, the original snowflake — always at risk of melting and dead certain that he’s unique in history — scorns the tradition of a president expected to go home after his time is done.

He’s understandably reluctant to leave town with his party decimated, clueless and bereft of credible leadership. But by stationing himself in Washington, barricaded behind the walls surrounding his new $8.1 million house and a quarter of a mile of the street in front of the house closed to the neighborhood, he imagines himself sitting pretty. Mr. Obama has roots in several cities on three continents and in one ocean, but there’s nothing to hold him to Washington except the dream of a new career as martyr president-in-exile.

He violates the tradition of former presidents by taking ceremonial laps overseas. When President Trump took his first visit to Europe, for a NATO summit, Mr. Obama turned up as well to make goo-goo eyes at German Chancellor Angela Merkel. He was no doubt anxious to listen for any remaining echoes of the applause for a famous speech at the Brandenburg Gate. He got a Nobel Peace Prize before he accomplished anything, and perhaps he thinks he might get another one for more nothing.

He’s making diplomacy difficult now for President Trump, and that’s probably his point. Mr. Trump is trying to get freeloading members of NATO to pay their dues, and the United States has difficult trade issues with Frau Merkel, who in turn faces an election with lagging support. Mr. Obama may be useful as a souvenir of happy times.

He has appointed himself to push back against trends that violate human rights, or suppress democracy or restrict individual freedoms and to fight back against “those who divide us.” Everybody knows he’s talking about the man who succeeded him.

There’s a venerable tradition that former American officials, particularly former presidents, do not criticize American policy from a pulpit overseas. With longer life producing more former presidents, there are a lot of former presidents floating around the world, and this tradition is more important than ever. Mr. Obama told the Montreal Chamber of Commerce earlier this summer that, in the face of uncertainty, everyone should stand by the post-World War II economic and political institutions that Mr. Trump has called into question.

“In periods like this, people looking for control and certainty — it’s inevitable,” he said. “But it is important to remember that the world has gone through similar moments. … Our history also shows there is a better way.” 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.”

Mr. Obama, sired by a Kenyan father and raised in Indonesia and Hawaii, grew up in a multi-culti environment and missed many of the traditions he might have otherwise learned to appreciate. Last month in Jakarta he opened the Fourth Congress of Indonesian Diaspora, and railed again against the American withdrawal from the Paris 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.” Mr. Obama is entitled to his opinion, but he ought to give it at home.

He is becoming ground zero of anti-Trump passion. With his following of fanatics, he can continue with his own domestic agenda and foreign policies. Nobody will try to stop him. Mr. Obama showed an admirable appreciation of dignity in office, and he should remember now that he’s not the president any longer. Even presidents have sell-by dates.

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