The presidential learning curve
All presidents face a different set of circumstances upon entering office. Some must endure immediate crisis and some face relative peace and normalcy. No matter what personal narrative a new president has experienced, he or she will be honed by the challenges they must contend with. Campaign promises must be modified in meeting an ever changing and problematic world.
Abraham Lincoln faced half the nation in rebellion, Franklin Roosevelt took over the administration of a country with a third of its citizens unemployed, Harry Truman instantly had to deal with the most consequential decision regarding the deployment of the most devastating weapon in history.
Our 45th President Donald John Trump certainly has his mix of difficulties to handle. However, it is fair to say that although the present complex situations currently are not necessarily dire, they will need addressing in a prudent manner. The heated hyperbole of the campaign trail, which was chock full of superlatives and absolutes, has given way to more reasoned attitudes tempered by the reality of actually acting as president.
Trump has shown that he can be dissuaded from prior positions by his militarily well-experienced cabinet and by informative foreign leaders who seek to educate him about the realities of the geopolitical world.
Most presidents are changed after they take the oath of office. They become inevitably spellbound by the awesome responsibilities that rest on their shoulders. The question is whether they gain wisdom from facing the great magnitude of a president’s charge or whether they shrink from the burden. Hopefully, our real estate developer president will mature into the leader that we need him to be. Many of his predecessors evolved into the chief executives that we needed in the times they were tested in.
After the depression ridden years of Herbert Hoover, America was looking for a savior. As a former Assistant Secretary of the Navy and Governor of the State of New York, Franklin D. Roosevelt certainly was better suited to be the chief executive than Mr. Lincoln was upon taking the oath. However, Roosevelt faced a nation with a third of the working populous unemployed, a stock market in shambles having not adequately recovered from the economic crash of 1929, an agricultural disaster occurring in the American West, and an ever growing number of shuttered factories.
Roosevelt had to change virtually every paradigm he cherished as governor. Having once discounted government intervention and the creation of new bureaucracy, he made a dramatic turn toward incepting an alphabet soup of government public works and public concern programs to put people back to work. He intervened in unions, tried to extend the number of justices on the Supreme Court to preserve his initiatives, and he subsidized farmers and implemented price controls. Simply, he dramatically changed his political ideology to save America. To renew the nation he had to think and act anew. The reality of the presidency during the strife filled days of the 1930s required him to change to succeed, so he did and transformed into the leader we needed in that time period.
His successor Harry Truman had to come to grips with his own dilemma. Harry had only been vice president for a few months. He was not even informed of the Manhattan Project, which produced “Fat Man” and “Little Boy”, the world’s first nuclear bombs. Truman who was a short term US Senator from Missouri, a circuit judge, and failed gentlemen’s storeowner, had little government experience other than rooting out over charging military equipment suppliers through his senate oversight committee.
Now faced with the most controversial military decision in history, Truman asked for force depletion numbers from different and somewhat unorthodox sources in government regarding the impending invasion of Japan. Knowing that the use of this new weapon would possibly alienate countries across the globe as being unduly inhuman, Truman gave the order anyway. The prospective loss of over 100 thousand men during an invasion of the Empire of Japan was too much to withstand. Truman went on to desegregate the military, create the Truman Doctrine of communist containment, conduct the Berlin airlift sustaining West Berlin, and pushed for the formation of the United Nations. His plainspoken Missouri common sense attitude toward the presidency served him well. Arguably, one could say his adaptation to the presidency and its responsibilities, considering his lack of information upon ascension, was perhaps the most impressive in history.
Donald J. Trump is starting to evolve from the bombastic and impetuous campaign candidate he was to a competent chief executive who relies upon a cabinet of experts. After previously concentrating his remarks on a greater possible presence in Iraq and dismissing Afghanistan as less pertinent to the cause of defeating ISIS/ISIL, Trump delegated authority to his commanders in theatre to deploy the 21,000-pound Mother of all Bombs (MOAB). The ordinance was dropped on a labyrinth cave network used by the Islamic State in Northern Afghanistan. The act followed a measured attack on the Syrian Air Base responsible for launching a chemical attack on Syrian citizens last week. On Trump’s orders, the Navy launched a Tomahawk Missile attack on the base, which was a complete reversal from Trump’s stated standpoints previously.
Secretary of Defense, Marine Corps General Jim Mattis, National Security Advisor Army Lt. General H. R. Mc Master, and Chief of Staff of the National Security Council Army Lt. General Keith Kellogg educated Trump and convinced him of the appropriateness of both actions.
After a meeting with Chinese President Xi Jinping, Trump had a change of heart in regard to establishing tariffs, carping about China’s manipulation of their currency, and seeking restrictions in regard to the trade imbalance. Free market economists drew a collective breath of relief in that Trump’s hard line trade rhetoric against China during the campaign was worrisome. They believe a severe restrictive stance by the US would have been economically corrosive to our country’s interests.
Also, by Trump assuming a more reasonable position, China might be more willing to help us with the North Korean problem as China is their closest ally. Additionally, China will be more apt not to press their authority in the South China Sea with the US remaining so intertwined with them financially through ongoing trade.
Thankfully, Trump changed his position on the NATO. After repeatedly saying the protective alliance was obsolete, he was convinced by consultations with German Chancellor Angela Merkel and United Kingdom Prime Minister Theresa May and his key advisors here at home to appreciate NATO’s crucial viability.
Time will tell if these paradigm shifts have permanence or are ad hoc temporary reversals of previous opinions.
As a lifelong student of American History and Politics, I was quite distressed at the divisive utterances by the Donald on the campaign trail last year. Trump’s ideas were extreme and nationalistic without a conscience understanding of the interlocked global economy that we simply cannot extricate our nation from.
In 8 short weeks, it has become evident that the president is seemingly more malleable and pliable then was indicated during the campaign. If he is forming new long-term policy positions then one can conclude that the president is progressing on that presidential learning curve. Like Lincoln, Roosevelt, and Truman before him, apparently he can evolve.