Within three months of taking office, John F. Kennedy fell into the Bay of Pigs fiasco because either he didn’t have the advisors in place to tell him it was folly — or wasn’t listening to them. In desperation, he called Dwight D. Eisenhower to Camp David for help. And Ike gave him the Abilene version of “I told you so” with a big grin, before offering sage advice to the young president.
Donald Trump has made big business decisions and has taken advice from a small circle of advisors and family members, but has never had the weight of the world on his shoulders in crisis. We live in a fast-moving, Internet, social media, 24-hour news world where decisions are talked about, debated, discarded, and then resurrected — even before they are actually made by world leaders.
But the job of President of the United States is performed mostly outside the view of the media — much to the news media’s chagrin. And as Eisenhower noted throughout his time in office, sitting behind that desk in the Oval Office is grave and serious business. On the campaign trail, Trump touted Eisenhower several times at rallies, always adding, “I like Ike.”
On foreign policy, Trump has talked tough but also expressed a healthy skepticism about getting involved militarily around the world. Finding the balance to promote peace was vintage Eisenhower. In this transition time since his election, PresidentTrump has been urged to take a step back from the noisy clamor of day-to-day modern politics to try to draw inspiration from history.
In particular, Eisenhower may provide a template for how to govern during a time when the international landscape is hostile and dangerous as it is now. One of the biggest gifts Ike had was ignoring the loudest voices in the room in favor of deliberate and wise counsel. Campaigning and governing are two very different things. The decisions President Trump makes will shape the world.
Every president is peppered with questions, problems, decisions to be made, and every president comes from his or her own perspective — but the one question aides said Ike always asked was, “Is it good for America?”
Let’s hope that question drives most discussions inside the White House and that the new president remembers the Latin inscription on the paperweight on Eisenhower’s Oval Office desk: Gently in manner, Strong in deed.”
Adapted from Three Days in January. Copyright © 2017 By Bret Baier. To be published on January 10, 2017, by William Morrow, an imprint of HarperCollins Publishers.