(Peaceful?) Transitions of Power
Wednesday, August 3rd, 2016
By Reed Galen
Quote by a Smart Person: “We’re living in an era of unprecedented change and I want to be part of documenting it.” Ron Fournier
Every four years at noon on January 20th, Americans watch something relatively rare in the history of human events: The peaceful transfer of power from one person to another. With the pomp and circumstance of “Hail to the Chief” and nothing more violent than the roaring of a 21 gun salute, a new President of the United States ascends the rostrum to lay out their vision for the country, to heal political wounds and celebrate our unique American system. Like so much in this country, we now seem to be taking this truly unique act for granted.
On Tuesday, President Barack Obama, standing inside the White House, proclaimed that he believed Donald Trump, one of his two likely successors, is unfit for the responsibility. What’s more, he encouraged Republican candidates who’d backed Trump to disassociate themselves from the GOP nominee; cold comfort indeed. The president’s statement is unprecedented in recent political memory and is yet another example of the continuing decline of American political discourse; and may have far reaching consequences.
(Author’s note: As a super-smart media type pointed out to me yesterday, during his remarks, President Obama also noted that he always believed that John McCain and Mitt Romney, his two General Election opponents, were qualified for the job. I direct you to both of those campaigns in which the Obama campaign systematically dismantled and de-legitamized both of those men en route to the White House. That’s how the game is played but it is hypocritical that the president now holds himself up as a paragon of political fair play.)
It is clear that Trump has systematically achieved the once unthinkable: getting under the skin of Mr. Cool — Barack Obama. It is not unusual for a sitting president to endorse the nominee of their party. It is not normal, however, for one to take so active a role in the campaign — pledging to do all they can to defeat the opposition party’s candidate. It’s not just presidential politics in which we’ve seen breaks from tradition, nor only Democrats. Sen. Tom Cotton of Arkansas sent a letter directly to the leadership of Iran, outside the scope of the Administration. Then-Speaker John Boehner extended a speaking invitation to Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu without informing the White House first, as is standard practice. The basic boundaries of our branches of government and campaigns are now blurred, unlikely to bear clarified anytime soon.
Retired Marine General John Allen posited that should Trump be elected, there could be civil and military disturbances as ostensibly the armed forces refuse to abide by the new commander in chief’s orders. The #NeverTrump movement has made exposing The Donald as wrong for high office their stock and trade. Even this author, as recently as three weeks ago, deemed the Republican standard-bearer “Trump the Unready.” But there is a world of difference between a partisan surrogate, a political organization and an operative making their cases for why an individual is unworthy of election and the current White House occupant doing so during a press conference with an international leader.
Should Trump be elected President of the United States, his legitimacy, not only in the United States but around the world will already be woefully compromised. That’s not to say much of what Trump says and does on a daily basis doesn’t already illustrate some troubling likelihoods, but if he is duly elected, the American people, the only people in this case who matter, have deemed him fit to serve.
But before the next president takes the oath of office, someone will be the loser on Election Night in November. Once the press outlets call the race, the winner having achieved 270 electoral votes, it is traditional that the vanquished to make remarks first. Aside from thanking their supporters and expressing any thoughts on the campaign, and finally, most importantly, formally accepting that their opponent has won fair and square and pledging some sort of cooperation.
Regardless of the winner, half the country will believe them to be an unacceptable choice. Is Donald Trump capable of a dignified confession? Or will he foment continued to discord by claiming the election was rigged from the begging — despite him crushing 16 opponents. Would Hillary Clinton be able to look into the camera and tell 300 million Americans she accepts their decision?
President Obama clearly feels strongly about who will lead the country when he leaves office next January. But as a Constitutional scholar, and someone who has dealt with his own accusations of illegitimacy (many at the hands of the same Donald Trump) he should know better than to make the next president’s job harder than it will undoubtedly already be. The country is already severely divided and there is no shortage of blame or responsibility to go around.
However, we cannot and must not become a country in which through word, act or deed, sitting Presidents harm their successor’s chances of success because they disagree or dislike them. Eventually that leads to many more unthinkable outcomes.
Copyright 2016. Jedburghs, LLC.