President Trump’s 'Peaceful Transfer of Power' Rhetoric Is Shameful

President Donald Trump speaks to reporters during a news conference at the White House, September 23, 2020. (Tom Brenner/Reuters)

The answer to the question, “Will your administration oversee a peaceful transfer of power after the impending election?” is, without exception, “Yes.” It would be better for the United States, and for this administration, if President Trump understood that.

One of the more peculiar political dynamics during the last four years has been this president’s dogged determination to play into the hands of his opponents and to make his critics’ fears worse. There is, in fact, no chance that this president — or any president — will successfully remain in the White House having lost an election. A careful parsing of Trump’s words makes clear that he isn’t saying he’s going to try. But a careful parsing of his meandering answer should not be necessary. The president was not asked about mail-in ballots, and he was not asked about a contested result. He was asked whether the eventual transfer of power would be peaceful. There was no reason for him to complicate the answer. Even small children are capable of saying “Yes” and moving on.

President Trump is not alone in his shameful rhetoric. Since he won in 2016, large swathes of the Democratic Party have insisted that he is “illegitimate,” which he is not. Former senate majority Leader Harry Reid has argued that Russia quite literally changed the vote totals, which it did not. And Hillary Clinton, who has said publicly that she actually “won” the 2016 election, recently suggested that “Joe Biden should not concede under any circumstances,” which he should. None of these people, however, is the president of the United States. None issue words that carry the extraordinary weight of that office. None bear the responsibility that Trump does. We applaud the Senate for unanimously passing a resolution reaffirming its commitment to “the orderly and peaceful transfer of power called for in the Constitution.”

It should be a source of enormous national pride that, for 223 unbroken years, American presidents have handed the reins to their successors without bloodshed or complaint. Nothing has interrupted this tradition — not war, not economic calamity, not pandemic — nothing. We are not worried that President Trump intends to bring this streak to an end. That choice, after all, is not his to make. The system is set forth in the Constitution, and it is administered not at the president’s will, but by the states and by the people. Nevertheless, all systems rely upon buy-in, and every demurral helps to chip away a little at the rock on which the country has been built.

The Editors comprise the senior editorial staff of the National Review magazine and website.

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