The U.S. president may have the most important job on Earth. Presidents control America’s military. They enforce the laws of the country. They travel the world and meet other top leaders. Then, one day, their term ends — and they go back to being normal citizens once again.
This has happened for dozens of American presidents since George Washington left office in 1797. It happened for Donald Trump on Wednesday. But... what does a president do after he or she steps down?
“There is no set path for presidents to follow after they leave office,” said Louis Picone. He is a presidential historian and has written three books about presidents. Picone told News-O-Matic that there are “some commonalities of the surviving presidents.” Jimmy Carter, Bill Clinton, George W. Bush, and Barack Obama have each “focused on their presidential library, lent their prestige for good causes, and written a post-presidential memoir.”
Earlier presidents followed different paths. Some even found their way back into government! That happened after America’s sixth president, John Quincy Adams, lost his reelection attempt in 1828. He won a seat in the House of Representatives! “Adams reinvented himself,” said presidential historian Mike Purdy. “He served as a congressman from Massachusetts for 17 years, passionately arguing against slavery,” Purdy told News-O-Matic.
Many presidents served in the House before their presidency. Yet Adams was the only president to serve in the House after his term as president. And he seemed to enjoy his later job more. Adams once said: “My election as president of the United States was not half so gratifying” as his election to the House.
President William Taft also rejoined America’s government after leaving office. He lost the election of 1912 — then became a Supreme Court justice in 1921! Taft served as the court’s chief justice until 1930. “I don't remember that I was ever President,” he later wrote. Taft is still the only person to serve as president and on the Supreme Court.
Few experts believe that Jimmy Carter was one of America’s best presidents. Yet many argue that he was the best former president in the nation’s history. “Carter has set the model for compassionate service and dedication to humanitarianism,” said presidential historian Lindsay Chervinsky.
With his group the Carter Center, Carter has helped the world work toward peace and fight disease. He has helped to build houses for Habitat for Humanity. For many years, the former president taught Sunday school near his home in Plains, Georgia. Carter even won the Nobel Peace Prize in 2002 for his work.
And how about former President Donald Trump? Of course, no one is sure what he will do yet. “I think he will try and set up some sort of media platform,” Chervinsky told News-O-Matic. That could be a social media website or TV channel.
“It would not be surprising if he chooses a different path than” other presidents, said Picone. “Trump has vowed to remain politically active and has even suggested he may run for president again in 2024,” he added. “If he does, and succeeds, he would be the only president with non-consecutive terms besides Grover Cleveland.”
“Now that Donald Trump has joined the ranks of former presidents,” added Purdy, “it will be interesting to watch what he does in these years.”
Updated January 22, 2021, 5:03 P.M.(ET)
By Russell Kahn (Russ)
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