By Keith Allred // Tennessean
Whatever the controversies, we need to remain calm and let the process play out on Election Night and the days that will come afterward. We have done this before. We can do it again.
The United States is justifiably proud of our tradition of peaceful transfers of power. Each time that parties have handed off the executive branch from one to the next absent bloodshed or violence we set a new world record as the republic with the longest history of orderly transitions.
It’s a record that extends back to when John Adams and the Federalists relinquished the White House to Thomas Jefferson and the Democratic-Republicans in 1800 after what remains one of the most bitter presidential contests in American history.
The political climate has again grown more acrimonious in our day. Our research confirms that the recent debates extend a decades long trend of increasing incivility those election forums. As measured by party-line roll call votes in Congress, polarization is the worst it has been in our 230 years under the Constitution. Amidst the partisan rancor, voters go to the polls to choose their next president as we also face a pandemic, economic crisis, and racial strife.
In these surreal times, there is some speculation that the principle of a peaceful transition of power could be compromised.
The current president of the United States has refused to commit to accepting the outcome of the election. On some occasions he has claimed that he could only lose in the event of cheating – an assertion that seems to prefigure him challenging a potential Biden victory as legitimate. The most extreme on both the left and the right have made dangerous threats if their side does not prevail. In response, we’ve joined with the National Conference on Citizenship and other partners in the Election Trust Project.
We may not know results of national, state and local races right away
It should stand to reason that either candidate can win this election, and that either outcome would be legitimate and should be accepted.
Nonetheless, due to the pressures of the pandemic, which has necessitated absentee, mail-in, and early voting at record levels, we could see a slew of legal challenges in the aftermath of the election.
Many states do not permit the counting of mail-in and absentee ballots until Election Night. That could delay the results, fuel conspiracy theories, and lead to wide-scale protests.
It is not only the presidential result that will hang in the balance.
Numerous House and Senate elections, not to mention state and local elections, could hinge on the same issues.
Whatever the controversies, we need to remain calm and let the process play out on Election Night and the days that will come afterward. We have done this before, even in dark times. We can do it again.
We know how transfer power from one party to another
While peaceful for the last 230 years, presidential transitions have never been easy, especially when one party hands off to the other or in the wake of a bitter presidential contest.
As the story is told, when the George W. Bush administration entered the White House, numerous staffers noted that computer keyboards had been excised of their “W” key, perhaps in a small act of revenge for the election debacle and Florida recount of 2000. Franklin Roosevelt spent his presidential campaign trashing his rival and ultimate predecessor Herbert Hoover. The two would sit next to each other in stony silence during Roosevelt’s inauguration in 1933.
Political leaders do not have to like each other, but they must set an example of constructive engagement of our differences through civil discourse. We expect that both President Trump and Vice President Biden will accept the results of our free and fair election, and will instruct their supporters to do the same.
We also expect that in the event of a protracted vote count or legal challenge, both camps will seek to resolve their differences before the courts and electoral commissions and not in the streets. That is how it always has been, and that is how it must continue to be.
As America prepares to extend its record for abiding by the voice of the people, we should remember that the world and our children will be watching. It is incumbent on us to live up to the example of the generations of Americans who have preceded us. It’s up to us to continue to set an example for our friends around the world where peaceful transitions of power are often the exception, not the norm. Whether Joe Biden or Donald Trump takes the oath of office next January, we will still live in the same country and must find ways to treat each other with dignity and respect.
Keith Allred is the executive director for the National Institute for Civil Discourse and President of Common Sense American.