Like many people, I am having trouble wrapping my brain around the words, “President-elect Donald Trump.”

Once you get over the shock of Trump’s surprising victory, there is plenty to worry about.

How will he be able to govern the country when he seems to have so much difficulty governing himself?

It’s one thing for Trump to win an election by promising angry voters massive change, but to deliver that change is a different matter, especially when the president-elect seems devoid of the particular skill set needed to lead one of the largest democracies in the world.

Republican nominee Donald Trump gets ready to address the faithful last month in Phoenix.
Donald Trump was in his element on the campaign trail. That will change in the Oval Office. Gage Skidmore via Flickr

Trump’s skill set is making business deals, saying what he thinks people want to hear in order to persuade them to do what he wants and then walking out of the room. He has zero government or military experience.  Americans never have elected anyone as scantily prepared and temperamentally challenged to be president.

New York Times columnist David Brooks wrote before the election, “If you wanted to design a personality type ill suited to be a change agent in government, you would come up with Donald Trump: solipsistic, impatient, combative, unstable and ignorant.”

Of course, Trump can learn, but you have to wonder if the 70-year-old real estate developer and reality show star — a man who thrives on name calling and conflict — will be able to settle down long enough to learn new skills from his advisors, especially when what Trump has been doing up until now has worked very well for him.

Trump’s skill set is making business deals, saying what he thinks people want to hear in order to persuade them to do what he wants and then walking out of the room.

Tony Schwartz, the ghostwriter of Trump’s best-selling “The Art of the Deal,” says the tycoon has the attention span of a praying mantis.

It’s impossible to keep him focused on any topic, other than his own self-aggrandizement, for more than a few minutes,” says Schwartz.

Will Trump, the bombastic candidate, shift to Trump, the calm and patient president? How can anyone change so dramatically overnight and navigate such a steep learning curve?

Political analyst Neal Milner thinks Trump will not change, but that might not matter. Even with no political experience, Trump could still get what he wants.

“Trump’s critics during the campaign kept saying he would be doomed if he did this or that, but he didn’t fail,” says Milner “He kept succeeding. He was very effective in mobilizing unlikely groups of people. The dark side is Trump’s particular skill set might continue to work in the White House, helping him mobilize unlikely allies. Who knows what he might achieve with Republican majorities in both chambers of Congress?”

It’s Usually Lonely At The Top

Still, I think Trump might be out of his element now. He seems to thrive on the energy and excitement of crowds. The work of policymaking can be frustrating, boring and lonely. It is often done in isolated rooms in the company of specialists full of critical comments, not adoring acolytes

To govern means he will have to work with some people he doesn’t like. And he can’t fire them on the spot or threaten to lock them up or sue them.

The House and Senate may have Republican majorities, but who knows how unified the Republicans are?  Trump has never been a GOP team player. Washington Post writer James Hohmann on Thursday pointed out Trump’s many disagreements with House Speaker Paul Ryan on issues dear to conservative Republicans, including cutting entitlements.

Once as a reporter, I covered a similar phenomenon, although on a much smaller scale than Trump’s astonishing win.

Trump says he wants to preserve Social Security and Medicare funding, Ryan wants to reduce the benefits. Ryan wants to defund Planned Parenthood; Trump wants to keep money going to the organization, saying Planned Parenthood has helped many women.

Trump’s transition team is now ensconced in an office a block away from the White House, working on lists of cabinet choices and issues such as how to quickly deliver one of the president-elect’s more grandiose campaign promises: building a massive wall to block illegal immigrants from sneaking in from Mexico.

If there is ever a chance to test the workings of our democracy, it is now: to see if Trump can humble his boasting self to learn enough to keep our country afloat and make life better for millions of Americans.

The larger hope is that members of Trump’s transition team will work for the long-term good rather than its own short-term self-interest. And that Trump will pay them heed.

It is rare for a complete neophyte be elected to take on a complex political job. Once as a reporter, I covered a similar phenomenon, although on a much smaller scale than Trump’s astonishing win. 

The Strange Case of Bernard Akana

This was in 1988, when a a golf-playing senior citizen named Bernard Akana, whose main leisure activity was hanging out in a Hilo Shopping Mall drinking coffee with his friends, astounded everyone by beating incumbent Big Island mayor Dante Carpenter.

Hawaii Island voters were fed up with the flashy and cocky ways of Democrat Carpenter, who had further enraged them when he confidently taunted, “If folks don’t like what I am doing, they can vote me out of office.” 

Bernard Akana
Bernard Akana 

Angry voters heeded Carpenter’s challenge and to everyone’s surprise elected Republican Akana. Akana was a former planner for Hawaii Electric Light Co. He had run for office unsuccessfully 10 times in 20 years — his friends said he liked seeing his name on the ballot.

 When it was apparent Akana had won, Big Islanders, stunned and very worried about the future of the island, got together, Republicans and Democrats alike, to help the political newcomer succeed. They formed a blue ribbon committee and worked with Akana for weeks in a little wooden cottage in the Hilo suburbs. They selected skilled cabinet members to guide Akana once in office.

Akana was a humble man who listened and learned and served Hawaii Islanders successfully until he died in office of stomach cancer two years later.

Trump’s election, of course, is a much bigger story than what happened in Hilo two decades ago and it will have a bigger ending. The potenial to wreak havoc is so much greater.    

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