“Threatening to upend a basic pillar of American democracy, Donald Trump refused Wednesday night to say he would accept the results of the November election if he loses to Hillary Clinton”
That was the opening sentence of the article the Associated Press sent out to their thousands of partner media outlets around the country as a summary of Wednesday night’s third and final presidential debate. It caused ripples through journalistic community: was the AP’s tagline hyperbole or a brutally accurate assessment of Trump’s remarks? I lean towards the latter.
George Washington once posed the question, “What is most important, of this grand experiment, the United States? Not the election of the first president, but the election of its second president. The peaceful transfer of power is what will separate our country from every other country in the world.”
Trump’s reckless statements challenging the legitimacy of the American electoral system before ballots have even been cast on Election Day pose an existential threat to our country’s successful 240 year-old project in representative democracy. More over, the Republican Party’s continued support of such a candidate and his ludicrous statements have caused irreparable harm to the GOP’s reputation as a political party able to effectively govern our country.
The party’s support of Trump has normalized dangerous policy proposals and statements, from Trump’s questioning of the efficacy of our judicial system to his rejection of our long standing military alliances in Europe and Asia to his cavalier and blasé discussions on using nuclear weapons against our enemies.
However, his response when moderator Chris Wallace asked whether he would support the result of the election that he will “keep us all in suspense” and “decide after the election” is even more demagogical than democratic. If an incumbent president running for reelection were to say that they will “let us know” whether or not they will be accepting the results of an election, the country would be plunged into an international political and financial crisis. The basic respect for our system of government goes far beyond whether or not you are an anti-establishment candidate. Trump’s remarks are simply inherently un-American.
As Senator John McCain (R – Ariz.) said after the debate, “I didn’t like the outcome of the 2008 election. But I had a duty to concede, and I did so without reluctance. A concession isn’t just an exercise in graciousness. It is an act of respect for the will of the American people, a respect that is every American leader’s first responsibility.”
This election season has many voters longing for a return to relative civility after a tempestuous year and a half of negative campaigning on all sides. This nostalgia was exemplified when a letter from George H.W Bush to his successor, Bill Clinton after Bush’s defeat recently went viral on social media. In the letter, Bush writes to the new incoming President, “I wish you great happiness here … You will be our President when you read this note. I wish you well. Your success now is our country’s success. I am rooting hard for you. Good luck – George”
Read this. Think about this. George H.W. Bush’s gracious handoff to Bill Clinton. It’s beautiful. pic.twitter.com/XHjPvbzGu8
— Tom Ashbrook (@tomashbrooknpr) October 19, 2016
I truly hope that after November 8, we as Americans will be able to come together and return to a level of civility and respect for the office of the presidency, for the sake of our country and our democracy.
Image Credit: Bill B/Flick