As hard as the campaign might have been and the transition is proving to be, Donald Trump’s challenges are really just beginning. Governing after a toxic election in which the results awarded him an ambiguous national mandate—his opponent, after all, got more votes—will require finesse, a clear-eyed view of his role in the world, and no small amount of luck.
He will soon find that the commitments and promises made during the campaign are going to be very hard to carry out. The new President’s number one priority almost certainly is going to be rebuilding U.S. economic power. A great many of the people who voted for him did so because they expect him to produce more good jobs, better incomes, and better economic opportunity.
But he faces great difficulties on this front, from persistent poverty and a decaying infrastructure to rapid technological and global changes that make it harder for people without a college education to find work. Plus, of course, a slow-moving Congress and an entrenched bureaucracy.
Other domestic issues he addressed in the campaign will prove no easier to pursue. Donald Trump campaigned on replacing Obamacare, a position that President-Elect Trump began to moderate within days of winning the election. He has not set out a comprehensive alternative — simply keeping the popular parts and jettisoning the rest, which he suggested he might do, is not an acceptable or workable option.
He has made clear that he wants to enact large tax cuts, especially on businesses, while at the same time spending billions on infrastructure improvements. Most evaluations of his policy proposals suggest that deficits will explode under his program. We’ll see how much stomach Congress and the country have for sending deficits spiraling upward.
Others of the President-elect’s programs—slashing regulations on financial institutions, on worker protections, and on environmental impacts–would create major changes in American policy at home. These, too, will arouse much opposition.
As a candidate, Mr. Trump effectively captured the discontent and anger of many Americans. With his proposals, he has upended the political order with a new brand of politics and policies. My guess is that he is on a steep learning curve, having under-estimated the difficulties and over-estimated his capabilities to deal with them. We should all extend the President-elect the benefit of the doubt, be vigilant, and see how his presidency unfolds before becoming judgmental.
Lee Hamilton is a Senior Advisor for the Indiana University Center on Representative Government; a Distinguished Scholar, IU School of Global and International Studies; and a Professor of Practice, IU School of Public and Environmental Affairs. He was a member of the U.S. House of Representatives for 34 years.