After the Congress certified Joe Biden as the winner of the presidential election, Donald Trump pledged an orderly transition of power.
It wasn’t. And it likely won’t be.
Here’s the statement, posted on the Twitter account of Deputy Chief of Staff Dan Scavino (because Twitter had suspended the President’s @realDonaldTrump account for inciting violence):
Even though I totally disagree with the outcome of the election, and the facts bear me out, nevertheless there will be an orderly transition on January 20th. I have always said we would continue our fight to ensure that only legal votes were counted. While this represents the end of the greatest first term in presidential history, it’s only the beginning of our fight to Make America Great Again!
Notice that the statement does not even mention President-elect Biden, to whom the transition will presumably take place. I also question whether Trump actually made the statement, given that it does not appear on the White House site, the Trump campaign site, or any official channel other than the Twitter account of a minor official.
Our electoral system, in contrast to the parliamentary systems common throughout western democracies, requires presidents who lose national elections to relinquish power independent of what’s happening with the legislature. For this reason, the “orderly transition of power” is essential to the operation of our democracy. Simply put, losers have to acknowledge that they are losers. As former candidate Mitt Romney commented yesterday, given the passion with which we contest our elections, that’s not easy to do.
The first time this eventuality arose in our new republic was in the election of 1800, when John Adams, our second president, lost reelection to Thomas Jefferson. It was a close election, decided in the House of Representatives because no candidate won a majority of electoral votes. And it was the first time that an incumbent president lost. (George Washington left office after two terms, never having lost an election.) As Sara Georgini writes in Smithsonian Magazine:
In the most technical sense, [Adams] lived (awkwardly) with the impending loss of power from December 1800, when key electoral votes failed to tip his way. He was not eager to stick around and watch the next inauguration. . . . The chief significance of the election of 1800, as Bayard Smith rightly identified it, was the peaceful transfer of power between two parties. As Adams battled through personal and professional defeats in 1800 and 1801, using “midnight appointments” to sculpt a Federalist judiciary as his legacy, the President reflected that the election of 1800 was about far more than two men trading power, or knowing when to let go. . . . In his last look around the presidential office, Adams weighed Jefferson’s challenges with unique appreciation. Then, quietly, he returned power to where it rightfully rests—with the people.
This is our tradition. I think back with pride on how, in the 2000 election, Al Gore eventually gave up his quest to win the state of Florida, the last state that would determine the election, where 537 disputed ballots could have swung the election his way. He congratulated President-Elect George W. Bush, and on January 6, 2001, as outgoing vice-president, presided over the counting of the electoral votes. When the counting was done and Bush certified as the next president — and himself as the electoral loser — he closed the session by saying “May God bless our new president and new vice president, and may God bless the United States of America.”
What did Trump mean by the “orderly transition?” Let’s review the record.
He declared victory on election night, with no evidence at all of winning. Very orderly.
He and his lawyers pursued court cases, losing 59 times, long past the point where there was any chance of turning the election in his favor. Quite orderly. Most of the rulings featured judges issuing statements that basically said “You want me to invalidate people’s votes but present no evidence. Ha! Not happening.”
He met with members of the Michigan legislature to see if they would overturn the results of the election in Michigan.
He called the Georgia Secretary of State and asked him to “find” 11,780 votes so he could win the state.
He asked Vice President Mike Pence to throw out electoral votes as he presided over the count yesterday. Pence, acknowledging that his role was only ceremonial, declined. Then Trump said Pence didn’t have the “courage” to overturn the election. That’s certainly orderly, don’t you think?
He embraced hundreds of congressional Republicans planning to object to the the electoral vote count, despite the fact that those objections would inevitably lead to nothing.
He encouraged protestors to come to Washington on January 6, the day the electoral votes were to be counted — and once they arrived, he spoke with them on the White House grounds and told them to march down Pennsylvania Avenue to the Capitol. “All of us here today do not want to see our election victory stolen by emboldened radical Democrats,” he told them. “We will never give up. We will never concede. It will never happen. You don’t concede when there’s theft involved. Our country has had enough. We will not take it anymore.”
Then, predictably, the protestors, many of whom were armed, became rioters, smashing news gathering equipment, surging past police, breaking windows, and occupying the capitol building waving confederate flags. Capitol police shot and killed a protestor. Safety officials in the capitol locked down lawmakers and took steps to ensure the security of electoral documents. Congress stopped operating for most of a day while law enforcement restored order.
This is an orderly transition? Sounds more like a dangerous and terrifying shitshow to me. When armed rioters invade the capitol building, the word that first comes to mind is not “orderly.”
Within a week of election night, there was never any doubt who won. Every action that Trump has taken since then has not only been futile, but obviously and predictably futile. There was no chance of changing the outcome.
After votes are counted in America, we know who has won the election. The role of courts is to determine if legitimate, evidence-based challenges might change the outcome — and they are reluctant to do so. We recount votes where states are close, to make sure the result is accurate. Secretaries of state in individual states don’t make unilateral decisions, they just preside over vote counts. State legislatures have no role except to certify the outcomes in their states. And the vice president stands at the podium in the Congress and counts the electoral votes on January 6 — an event that should be a formality.
We must restore this order or lose the qualities that make our republic operate at all.
In America, the only people who have a decisive role are voters. The only job of everyone else is to accurately count what the voters voted on.
And the job of the losing candidate, whether or not he is the president running for reelection, is to hand power over to the winner of the election — and smile while doing it.
Democracy is a more important value than loyalty. The orderly transition is crucial to democracy. Losers must turn over power gracefully to winners. Our system depends on it.
Forgive me if, after all that has happened in the last two months, I don’t believe President Trump is now committed to an orderly transfer of power. He’s shown us how he behaves. To trust him now would be willfully naive.