Blogs: Paul Pillar

Ideology is Supplanting Intelligence

The Unnecessary and Undemocratic Quadrennial Shuffle

Building on the Iran Nuclear Agreement

Mr. Trump, Make Yourself a Successful One-Term President

Paul Pillar

Even if you were to run and win in 2020, you would be pressing your luck in terms of the legacy you would leave.  There would be twice as much opportunity as with a single term for events, even those not of your own making, to trip you up.  The economic expansion since the Great Recession will be getting very long in the tooth by four years from now, and you probably could not escape another recession.

Speaking of legacies, history’s treatment of presidents does not depend on winning second terms.  Look at the Bushes.  The father is appropriately regarded more highly today than the son, even though the former served only one term and the latter served two.  And think about Nixon, who won re-election in a landslide.  He would be regarded far more favorably in the history books if he had stopped with one term, during which he had major achievements such as the opening to China.  Of course, running for re-election need not involve doing the sort of things that made for the Watergate scandal.  But any favorable place that you win in the history books, Mr. President-elect, will be in spite of, and certainly not because of, the way in which you have campaigned for office.

Turning to more personal desires on your part, everything about your background and temperament suggest that four years will give you more than your fill of carrying the burdens of being a head of government.  Although you have craved the adulation of politics on the campaign trail, the part of politics that involves running a government will be much less satisfying to you.  You more than most presidents, and certainly more than career politicians, will experience frustrations from the many ways in which running the government is much different from running a business.  Unsolvable problems cannot be dropped in favor of some new business opportunity; instead they keep nagging at you.  Getting people and institutions to do your bidding is not just a matter of having the power to say “you’re fired.”  You will experience some of the same frustrations that Harry Truman predicted for Eisenhower when Truman said, “He’ll sit here, and he’ll say, ‘Do this! Do that!’ And nothing will happen.”

Being president is a wonderful status to attain, but in some respects the status of ex-president is even better.  Sure, you don’t fly around in Air Force One anymore, but you will have whatever prestige and achievements and past victories that you have won and that no one can take away from you, without the unrelenting responsibilities of incumbency.  You probably are better equipped than most presidents to flow seamlessly and joyfully into a post-presidency.  You have your business.  You don’t have to search for something new to do to add meaning to your life, be it Dubya painting portraits or Jimmy Carter hammering nails in a Habitat for Humanity project.  And there is the boost that a successful presidential term will give to the Trump brand—which we know you consider very important, given how you continued to promote it as a business matter even while campaigning for the presidency.  You should leave yourself ample time to enjoy the fruits of that brand enhancement.

Speaking of leaving enough time for enjoyment, I apologize for bringing up the age factor again, but you will, after all, be the oldest person ever to enter the presidency.  You will deserve a retirement as much as any other president, and you shouldn’t cut yourself short on that score.

If you do decide to announce yourself as a one-term president, the timing and circumstances of the announcement deserve some planning.  You do not want to make it seem as if it were a reaction to frustrations already felt or a giving up.  You certainly don’t want to be like Lyndon Johnson, who, beset by the Vietnam War, waited until even after the New Hampshire primary to announce in 1968 that he wasn’t running again.  I suggest that you make the announcement part of your inaugural address.  What a spectacular and wonderful reaction that will bring about, at home and abroad.  It will put everything else you say in that speech in a positive and selfless light.  There could be no better way of proclaiming that you will give it your all during the next for years for the good of the country.

Think about it, Mr. President-elect.  You have already won the biggest prize of all.  There’s no place higher to go.  If politics consisted of skyscrapers, you have the tallest one.  Consider yourself fulfilled.

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Foreign Policy in an Ignorant Democracy

Paul Pillar

Even if you were to run and win in 2020, you would be pressing your luck in terms of the legacy you would leave.  There would be twice as much opportunity as with a single term for events, even those not of your own making, to trip you up.  The economic expansion since the Great Recession will be getting very long in the tooth by four years from now, and you probably could not escape another recession.

Speaking of legacies, history’s treatment of presidents does not depend on winning second terms.  Look at the Bushes.  The father is appropriately regarded more highly today than the son, even though the former served only one term and the latter served two.  And think about Nixon, who won re-election in a landslide.  He would be regarded far more favorably in the history books if he had stopped with one term, during which he had major achievements such as the opening to China.  Of course, running for re-election need not involve doing the sort of things that made for the Watergate scandal.  But any favorable place that you win in the history books, Mr. President-elect, will be in spite of, and certainly not because of, the way in which you have campaigned for office.

Turning to more personal desires on your part, everything about your background and temperament suggest that four years will give you more than your fill of carrying the burdens of being a head of government.  Although you have craved the adulation of politics on the campaign trail, the part of politics that involves running a government will be much less satisfying to you.  You more than most presidents, and certainly more than career politicians, will experience frustrations from the many ways in which running the government is much different from running a business.  Unsolvable problems cannot be dropped in favor of some new business opportunity; instead they keep nagging at you.  Getting people and institutions to do your bidding is not just a matter of having the power to say “you’re fired.”  You will experience some of the same frustrations that Harry Truman predicted for Eisenhower when Truman said, “He’ll sit here, and he’ll say, ‘Do this! Do that!’ And nothing will happen.”

Being president is a wonderful status to attain, but in some respects the status of ex-president is even better.  Sure, you don’t fly around in Air Force One anymore, but you will have whatever prestige and achievements and past victories that you have won and that no one can take away from you, without the unrelenting responsibilities of incumbency.  You probably are better equipped than most presidents to flow seamlessly and joyfully into a post-presidency.  You have your business.  You don’t have to search for something new to do to add meaning to your life, be it Dubya painting portraits or Jimmy Carter hammering nails in a Habitat for Humanity project.  And there is the boost that a successful presidential term will give to the Trump brand—which we know you consider very important, given how you continued to promote it as a business matter even while campaigning for the presidency.  You should leave yourself ample time to enjoy the fruits of that brand enhancement.

Speaking of leaving enough time for enjoyment, I apologize for bringing up the age factor again, but you will, after all, be the oldest person ever to enter the presidency.  You will deserve a retirement as much as any other president, and you shouldn’t cut yourself short on that score.

If you do decide to announce yourself as a one-term president, the timing and circumstances of the announcement deserve some planning.  You do not want to make it seem as if it were a reaction to frustrations already felt or a giving up.  You certainly don’t want to be like Lyndon Johnson, who, beset by the Vietnam War, waited until even after the New Hampshire primary to announce in 1968 that he wasn’t running again.  I suggest that you make the announcement part of your inaugural address.  What a spectacular and wonderful reaction that will bring about, at home and abroad.  It will put everything else you say in that speech in a positive and selfless light.  There could be no better way of proclaiming that you will give it your all during the next for years for the good of the country.

Think about it, Mr. President-elect.  You have already won the biggest prize of all.  There’s no place higher to go.  If politics consisted of skyscrapers, you have the tallest one.  Consider yourself fulfilled.

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