Presidential Vandalism

Trump’s refusal to accept his defeat graciously is certainly no surprise.  The ‘man’ does not know the meaning of the word gracious.  Still, though I am not surprised by his antics over the past week since it became clear that Joe Biden has won the presidential election, I find it deeply disturbing.  That so many people in and out of government are playing along with his little game, either out of fear or because they have no respect for the founding principles of this nation, is even more disturbing.  Never before in the history of this nation have We the People been treated with more disdain and disrespect by the top elected official than we are today.

Yesterday, I came across the following OpEd by Nickholas Kristof reminding us how other presidents have accepted their defeat.  No matter what you thought of Hillary Clinton, you have to admit her response to her loss was far more dignified and professional than any we’ve seen since then.

When Trump Vandalizes Our Country

The president should grit his teeth and repeat Hillary Clinton’s line from 2016: “We must accept this result.”

nicholas-kristof-thumblargeBy Nicholas Kristof

Opinion Columnist

Nov. 11, 2020

As it became clear that she would lose the 2016 election and news organizations called the race for Donald Trump, Hillary Clinton spoke to her supporters.

“We must accept this result,” she declared. “Donald Trump is going to be our president. We owe him an open mind and the chance to lead.”

She did not boast that she had won 2.9 million more votes than Trump. She did not file lawsuits to try to reverse thin margins. And she did not offer evidence-free allegations of voter fraud — as Trump did, even though he had won. Rather, she buttressed the norm in American electoral politics of the loser acknowledging the winner.

This norm is as traditional as it is wrenching for the losers. In conceding the presidential race in 1952 and sharing how he felt, Adlai Stevenson recalled what Lincoln supposedly said after losing an election: “He said he felt like a little boy who had stubbed his toe in the dark. He was too old to cry, but it hurt too much to laugh.” Still, Stevenson resolutely called on his backers to support Dwight Eisenhower in the presidency.

In 2000, after the Supreme Court effectively ended Al Gore’s quest for the presidency, Gore likewise admitted his heartache but urged voters: “I call on all Americans — I particularly urge all who stood with us — to unite behind our next president.”

Trump might study the particularly eloquent speech by John McCain as he conceded to Barack Obama in 2008. McCain said: “I urge all Americans who supported me to join me in not just congratulating him but offering our next president our good will and earnest effort to find ways to come together.”

President Trump’s pattern instead has been to scrape the wounds opened during campaigns, for he has been a sore loser as well as a sore winner. In 2016, when Trump lost the Iowa caucuses, he claimed that “Ted Cruz didn’t win Iowa, he stole it.”

Today Trump is not simply saying that we should wait for every vote to be counted in the 2020 election. Rather, he is fabricating election fraud and falsely claiming that he won, sowing doubts within his base about American democracy itself. A Politico/Morning Consult poll found that 70 percent of Republicans don’t believe the election was free and fair.

Republican officials have, with some noble exceptions, joined Trump in this dangerous charade, with Secretary of State Mike Pompeo asserting — perhaps jokingly — that “there will be a smooth transition to a second Trump administration.”

The blunt truth is that there is zero evidence of widespread fraud or impropriety, and in any case, the average statewide recount over 20 years has resulted in a shift of just 430 votes. There is no realistic chance for recounts to shift enough votes for Trump to win a second term.

Yet Trump is denying reality and impeding a lawful transition in ways that diminish the United States before the world, that make our country less governable and that risk inciting violence. This is presidential vandalism.

Can America heal?

The most likely course ahead, I believe, is that reality will gradually take hold: Trump’s litigation will fail, voting results will be certified and the Trump administration will grumpily accept the inevitable and cooperate with a transition.

But I may be wrong. If Republicans egg Trump on, rather than try to rein him in, might he try to block the transition in ways that would be comparable to an attempted coup d’état?

Sean Wilentz, the historian, told my colleague Thomas B. Edsall that if Trump were to deny the legitimacy of Joe Biden’s election, “It would be an act of disloyalty unsurpassed in American history except by the Southern secession in 1860-61.”

One impediment to healing is that we now all have our own news ecosystems to feed our selection bias, reinforce our prejudices and dial up our outrage. In recent days I’ve been tuning to the conservative outlet One America News, and it’s the simplest way to travel to another planet: On that planet, Democrats are engaging in massive election fraud and trying to steal the election. If you live on that planet, with Facebook feeds that reinforce that fiction, you’re not inclined to sing “Kumbaya.”

Yet we have to try to heal and reassert norms of civility that are the lubricant that make democracy work. Biden has modeled those norms in his outreach to Trump voters, in empathizing with their disappointment, in quoting the Bible in his call for Americans to unite and heal. But it will take all of us, on both sides of this divide, to join him.

Republicans scoff that Democrats, after delegitimizing Trump for four years, now preach harmony. I take their point. But for the most part Democrats protested that Trump was a bad president, not that he wasn’t president at all. It is possible, imperfectly, to uphold norms both of acknowledging losses and of pushing accountability.

The day after the 2016 election I wrote a column saying that “having lost, we owe it to our nation to grit our teeth and give President-elect Trump a chance.” I now invite Republicans, having lost, to grit their teeth and give President-elect Biden a chance.

18 thoughts on “Presidential Vandalism

  1. Jill, Nicholas JKristof has won two Pulitzer Prizes for a reason. So, has Bob Woodward. We need to listen to these voices. What is not mentioned enough is the president of the United States has planned this mission for many months. Hobbling the post office, defaming the mail-in process over GOP objections, telling his supporters to vote the day of or in person, as those votes would be counted first, hiring over 1,000 attorneys around the country, and just saying he expects cheating were all stage setting measures.

    What Trump is doing now was highly predicted and predictable. I wrote at the end of September (after merely observing and reading) a post called “Take it to the bank – Trump will sue not avoid losing the election.” I was not being prescient, I was just observing what he was saying and doing on top of his deceitful nature and history. His actions leading up to this were obvious and overt. And, remember the narcissist playbook – call out that others are doing what you are doing as a defense mechanism. So, others are cheating is a defense mechanism to avoid scrutiny on his.

    By the way, in 2016 a reason Obama did not make the public aware of the Russian involvement is Trump made a big deal in July that he was being treated unfairly. Does this sound familiar? Trump was expected to lose, until Comey’s late announcement made it close and more stayed home. Had he lost, he would have likely sued then, as well. That is his nature. Litigious. Corrupt. Keith

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    • Agreed … you and I have both predicted this. Based on Trump’s megalomania, there was really no way he was going to accept defeat, failure. However … he does NOT have the right to bring devastation and destruction to the people of this nation as he is doing. With 67 days left before Joe Biden takes the oath of office, there is still much damage that Trump can do on his way out. He needs to be stopped NOW, but his sycophants are standing close beside him hoping for … what ARE they hoping for? Redemption? Or is it just that they realize there’s no place for them now that they’ve sold their souls downriver, so they figure they might as well stick with the ship and see where it’s headed? Sigh.


  2. A great OpEd. Trump can never be expected to do the norm especially if that norm means conceding power. He’s like a child not prepared to share hi toys. The only way to release his grasp is to offer him something bigger. But what comes bigger than the US? Maybe he wants the Popemobile to go golfing in.?
    Huge Hugs

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  3. Nice speech, or OpEd, but almost absolutely meaningless–not because I want it to be meaningless, but because the losers are making it so. In every game, every race, every competition of any kind, there can be only one winner (barring a dead heat, an exact tie!) There is no tie here, one candidate has won, the other candidate refuses to lose. And he is expecting his Repuglycan base to defend his nightmare. No, he is demanding they support his nightmare. He has avoided a foreign war successfully for 4 years–well, at least he didn’t start a new one, though he fought old wars like a coward, guerilla attacks on unexpecting, if not innocent, victims. But now he is trying to force a civil war on an unbelieving Joe Biden. And like all good leaders, he is demanding others fight for him, another very cowardly act. But then, we all already know–bullies are cowards, they hate when people fight back!

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