Given the challenges of the American presidency, Donald Trump faces an uphill battle no matter how the world spins the next four years. And given his personality, he’s likely to charge the incline the way Col. Teddy Roosevelt did in the Spanish-American War.
Roosevelt’s Rough Riders, of course, accomplished one of the great victories in the history of battle in 1898 when they fought for and seized San Juan Hill.
Trump, too, was victorious, winning the most storied election of our time, despite losing the popular vote by almost two million, a wider margin than any past election. He doesn’t have a mandate exactly, but he has plenty to prove in terms of ability.
Each of the men’s bullheadedness served him well. Roosevelt, battle-worn and heroic, went on to be elected the 26th president. He had proven his mettle by the time of his inaugural address. Donald John Trump, strategically brilliant as he is, has a long way to go. The hardest part will not be the election but the aftermath.
The American people have given the president-elect one of the most unusual opportunities of any commander in chief. They now expect a lot, and if he doesn’t live up to expectations he’ll pass into history as quickly as a New York minute.
However, if he does well, he could find himself on the way to a second term. Here’s how the president-elect can secure the necessary confidence.
- Drop the Twitter account. His unfiltered, innermost thoughts do not deserve to be played out on the world stage. While they give us insight, they also undermine the significance of the office — and potentially make the world a more dangerous place.
- Be transparent, but not totally. Stage regular press conferences. Invite the media’s scrutiny. Don’t overtly hold the Fourth Estate in scorn. Respect diversity of opinion. At the same time, remain coy enough with our geopolitical foes that they never take advantage. Think Putin, puzzling over whether to stage his next “annexation.”
- Divest himself of every business. He might be a billionaire but he chose to run for office. He must distance himself from every investment that could reasonably be seen as a conflict of interest.
- Throw out all sense of hatred and bias. They might play well with a certain base, but not with the majority of Americans. Our president represents all. He should at least act like it.
- Use the “bully pulpit” correctly. He has the opportunity to speak and be heard. But such privilege also necessitates clarity of message. Mr. Trump was elected as one of the least-clear candidates in history. That won’t work as president. Convince us.
Coincidentally, it was the aforementioned Mr. Roosevelt who popularized the bully pulpit expression. He also used “Bully!” — a phrase of his era — to praise greatness. He also called for speaking softly and carrying a big stick, which could be sage advice for No. 45.
The parallels with past and future presidents are indeed fascinating. Mr. Trump, like Mr. Roosevelt before him, has some progressive ideas, which is unusual for a Republican but not a guarantee of failure. He has it within his grasp to have real, positive impact. Anything less won’t suffice. We, the people will put up with bullishness. But we also recognize bull for what it is.