A look back into the history of American election and peaceful power transition or the lack of it….
The election campaign that played out between Hillary Clinton and President elect Donald Trump, has been one of the most corrosive election campaigns in recent American politics. The candidates and their allies hurled scathing criticisms against each other, to the point where serving President Barack Obama declared Presidential nominee Trump to be completely incapable of running office. The very same Obama, however, remained very dignified, diplomatic and optimistic on his first press appearance post Trump victory and emphasized how American democracy depends largely on peaceful transition of power especially after a sharply polarized election. Obama also stated how he and his team would ensure that the new President-elect has a smooth transition to the White House and remains thoroughly professional throughout the changeover.
This is not a demonstration of how Obama has gone back on his words and cowered to Trump’s popularity. This is a demonstration of institutions and the rule of law taking precedence over individual reservations and enmity. As President of the United States, it was Obama’s last duty before he resigned to make sure America’s 200 year old tradition of peaceful transition of power since the days of Jefferson remains intact and gets carried forward. The dignified and relatively peaceful transition of power from the Obamas to the Trumps is indicative of the maturity of American democracy and robustness of its core institutions. By defying the inauguration or remaining unsupportive during transition, the former president would have undermined millions of American citizens who did vote for Trump. Not all Trump’s supporters voted for his anti-immigrant rhetoric or insensible comments against women and the disabled. Many voted for him because they were tired of losing jobs to foreign labor markets or big corporations moving their operations offshore. Some felt Trump offered fresh politics and policies as a rebel outsider to Washington elites. Many felt they would be safer under a Trump regime and these expectations cannot be undermined by Obama just because he adheres to a completely different set of values.
While the Clinton vs. Trump campaign might at the moment look like the craziest election America have had so far, not so long ago, the Al Gore vs. Bush post- election skirmishes played out to be much worse. With election being decided by a difference of few votes in Florida, there was post-election lawsuit, disputes over ballot, petition for recounts, missing names and requests for ID from minority voters. Further back, the first democratic election of America in 1800 was so contentious and close that the inauguration ceremony of Jefferson was not even attended by his competing candidate Federalist John Adams.
A peaceful handover of power based on electoral mandate exercised under constitutional law is a luxury many Asian and African countries can only dream of achieving. At this very moment, a large number of countries around the world are suffering from poor governance, lack of accountability, election corruption, violence and dictatorship. Critics however argue that Trump’s populism, isolationism, and hate speeches should not be condoned by the ‘peaceful transition’ argument and Obama and the US populace in general should have brought forth peaceful mass uprising to thwart Trump’s inauguration. Yet, the protests should not seek to delegitimize or nullify the choice of the citizens who voted for Trump. If a large section of voters are unhappy with the voting system, protests should be directed at the constitutional legal basis that gives precedence to Electoral College over popular vote.
The grace with which former first lady Michelle Obama greeted current First Lady Melania Trump upon her arrival with her husband to the White House during the inauguration ceremony and the way Obama mouthed ‘Good Job’ to Trump upon completion of his inauguration speech – in spite of there being very many conflicting views and ideologies between the two men – demonstrated genuine respect for institutions, rule of law and general human civility and those are the core values that make the United States of America one of the most successful democratic republics in the world.