Because we don’t think we’ve done so before, let us use the words “quiet” and “successful” in a sentence that references the Trump White House:

Two of President Donald Trump’s Cabinet picks got off to – here it is – quiet, successful starts in their positions, reinforcing the notion that business-as-has-been-customary just might be a viable expectation for elements of this peripatetic administration. Stay with us here:

Do you recall all the Obama Cabinet members who pushed back at the president when he overstepped his role? Neither do we. Not a lot of iconoclasts in that group. Some of Trump’s Cabinet members, though, appear independent enough to get in his face when he oversteps his role, or foments bad policy. Two in particular have gone their own way in recent days.

Defense Secretary James Mattis calmed fears on a visit to Japan and South Korea, signaling to those key allies that their tight relationships with the U.S. will continue. Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe sounded effusive, and relieved, to meet with Mattis, a retired Marine Corps general. “I was very encouraged to see someone like you who has substantial experience, both in the military and in security, defense and diplomacy, taking this office,” Abe said.

You could take Abe’s comment as a dig at Trump, who obviously doesn’t have previous experience of that kind. On the campaign trail, Trump questioned the U.S. defense alliance with Japan and South Korea, and he has not settled smoothly into the role of being commander in chief. The president appears oddly – and wrongly – accepting of Russia’s Vladimir Putin, treating him like an intriguing new neighbor instead of a dangerous geopolitical adversary. Meanwhile, Trump had a needlessly snippy phone exchange with Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull over an agreement to resettle a group of Australian-held refugees here.

Stepping in to address ruffled feathers Down Under was newly installed Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, who talked to his counterparts in Australia as well as in Japan and South Korea. Those conversations seemed to go well. As one Australian headline put it: “Rex Tillerson cleans up Donald Trump’s mess in Australia, Japan and South Korea.”

The days of judging Trump’s presidency have barely begun. There have been some serious missteps (the Mexican wall and immigration executive orders), some sober decisions (telling Israel to hold it on West Bank settlements), plus a whole lot of venting by the president, much of it on Twitter. He’s lashed out at federal judges, Democrats, Nordstrom, polling, the news media – and that’s just in the last few days. The president can’t hold back, or simply won’t.

We dislike this impetuous behavior. It’s often a distraction and often damaging to the country’s civic discourse at a time when Trump should be trying to unify Americans. Nevertheless, most of his verbiage barely lasts a news cycle before it’s edged out by something else he says.

Ultimately what is most important is Trump’s policy agenda – national security, jobs, immigration, trade and the like. Which raises the question of who will help achieve his goals, and rein him in when he veers off. Some of that guidance should come from his Cabinet, which is still taking shape.

We’ve liked Mattis and Tillerson, the former Exxon CEO, from the start. They are strong leaders and able administrators who appear willing to speak their minds to the president. They aren’t like the many technocrats from government and academia who, in other Cabinets, have been mesmerized and ultimately overwhelmed by process. Mattis and Tillerson instead have long records of meeting goals, of achieving results, of finding solutions. That’s precisely what many Americans say they haven’t seen from Washington.

We supported Betsy DeVos for education secretary because of her passionate advocacy of the charter school movement and other student-centered (as opposed to employee-centered) priorities. We have concerns with Trump’s newly confirmed attorney general, Jeff Sessions, because of his too-strict views on such issues as immigration and voting rights. But that doesn’t automatically make the long-tenured Alabama senator an enabler of the president’s worst impulses. Trump’s executive order on immigration might have gone smoother if Sessions had been confirmed and advised him.

Trump, a political outsider, was elected to shake up the status quo. Many voters wanted a different kind of leader, so we should expect some unorthodox results.

But he’s been given the world’s most challenging job and needs wisdom – if not his own, then that of his White House aides and, yes, his Cabinet. Ladies and gentlemen, be prepared to challenge him.

Chicago Tribune