By William Tucker
Contributor, In Homeland Security
Former Czech Republic president and playwright Vaclav Havel, who helped the former Czechoslovakia divide into two separate states following the collapse of communism, once made an important statement about destiny. He stated, “The real test of a man is not how well he plays the role he has invented for himself, but how well he plays the role that destiny assigned to him.”
Havel’s post-communist era work to create the Czech and Slovak nations was no small undertaking. But Havel, among many others, managed to accomplish this feat peacefully, even as violence erupted in other former East bloc states.
But destiny is not what most statesmen grapple with. It is the reality of their positions and the limitations of their power.
President-elect Donald Trump comes into the Oval Office without any previous political experience or civil service employment. Many pundits wrote about how and why Trump won the election in spite of his inexperience and other shortcomings. All of that is moot now.
Trump will assume the presidency on January 20, 2017. No rehashing of the election outcome will change that fact.
Trump’s Coming Challenges Are Real and Many
For their part, foreign affairs analysts likewise wrote articles on the challenges facing the incoming Trump administration. While all of those challenges are very real, they are simply the symptoms of something far more profound.
Trump will be forced to rely on Washington mainstays and insiders who come from within his own Republican Party. This situation is anathema to a firebrand like Trump. His campaign rhetoric against the establishment resonated with those voters most frustrated by the current partisan climate and wanted a political outsider.
How this will play with Trump’s supporters is questionable. It’s worthy of watching closely.
Trump Activities Will Have Constitutional Constraints
Because Trump lost the popular vote by close to 1 million votes, he enters office with very little political capital. If it weren’t for his party’s control of both houses of Congress, Trump would have difficulty establishing his administration or following through with any of his initiatives.
Adapting to the realities of office is a leap all presidents must make. Gone are the campaign promises and lofty ideals of how Trump intends to remake the nation or the world.
Instead, the newly elected president will have crisis after crisis thrown his way. Trump will be hamstrung almost immediately by constitutional constraints and limits on relative power.
Obama Inherited a World “That Could Blow Up Any Minute”
As President Obama prepared to take office in 2008, he was given a series of intelligence briefings. These briefings brought him up to speed on the state of the world and ongoing operations.
Following the briefings, Obama allegedly remarked, “I’m inheriting a world that could blow up any minute in half a dozen ways, and I will have some powerful but limited and perhaps even dubious tools to keep it from happening.”
Although Obama faced this stark reality from the onset of his administration, it seems he didn’t fully accept it, as evidenced by his profound struggles in foreign affairs during his tenure.
This isn’t to say the president was incapable. Reality might be fixed, but how an American president addresses that reality is not.
Trump Must Adapt to Massive Political Realities
Mr. Trump comes into office inheriting political realities that are not of his own making – just like every previous president before him. It’s rare that a policy is remembered; instead, history recalls leadership in the face of challenge.
Trump’s administration will be tested early. Like all candidates, Trump made numerous promises during the campaign that he simply cannot keep due to laws and financial realities. His statements on foreign affairs bear little resemblance to reality.
Ultimately, Trump’s reckoning will come. He will have to adapt to have a successful presidency.
The world can be a brutal place for policymakers, no matter how righteous they believe themselves to be. As Mark Twain once said, “The world owes you nothing. It was here first.” The reality facing President-elect Trump will be no more forgiving.