One of Obama’s friends repeatedly described the former president as newly “Zen-like,” a striking descriptor given that Obama’s impossible calm has been a hallmark of his entire time on the national stage. To those who’ve known him longest, his confidence in the decision not to wade back into the political muck is the product of the same hyper-self-aware posture he’s had since childhood, growing up straddling worlds and then writing a book about himself in his 30s. “This has been a difficult thing for him, and for me, to see what this administration has done to the policy initiatives that we put in place and that were proving to be successful,” says Eric Holder, Obama’s friend and former attorney general. “But I think it’s really been true — we’ve had conversations about this — he’s been encouraged by the amount of progressive energy he’s seen around the country.”

To Obama, the Women’s Marches and the wave of gun-control activism after the Parkland school shooting are more influential than anything he might do to alter the news cycle, especially since his presence as a Trump counterweight often consolidates the otherwise fractured GOP base. “Even when we were in the White House, he wasn’t interested in discussing the day-to-day of politics, whether it was Speaker Boehner or Speaker Ryan or Leader McConnell, or whatever was the news of the day,” says Valerie Jarrett, one of Obama’s closest advisers. “Wasting time on things he can’t control is not of interest to him. Getting sucked into a conversation over someone who he has no ability to influence? What’s the point?”