Peaceful Transfer of Power: A Staple in American Democracy

Joe Barbieri ’23

Opinions Editor

This past Tuesday, Americans all across the country eagerly watched the long awaited debate between President Donald Trump and former Vice President Joe Biden. 

After watching the ninety-minute debate, the reaction of most Americans can best be summarized in the words of CNN Chief Washington Correspondent Jake Tapper, who called the debate, “a hot mess inside a dumpster fire inside a train wreck”.

However, aside from the president’s personal attacks on the Biden family and his refusal to condemn white supremacy, the president also reiterated a troubling, yet overlooked topic: the peaceful transfer of power from one administration to the next. 

As a matter of fact, President Trump has a rather complicated history on this issue. In both the 2016 and 2020 debates, the president refused to acknowledge that he will accept the results of the presidential election. 

While this may seem like a minor, off the cuff assertion, the peaceful transfer of power in American politics is one of the most democratic norms in our country that without a doubt separates America from other countries. 

By not committing to a peaceful transfer of power, President Trump is putting his desire to stay in power over his obligation to serve and obey the will of the American people. To put it bluntly, President Trump needs to stop being a sore loser and accept the results of this election, no matter the outcome. 

For more on the history of a peaceful transfer of power, it is imperative that one examines the words and actions of past presidents. 

In his inauguration speech, President Ronald Reagan called this peaceful transition of power “nothing less than a miracle” while also thanking his predecessor President Carter for showing the “watching world that we are a united people pledged to maintaining a political system which guarantees individual liberty to a greater degree than any other”. 

I think it is important to reflect on President Reagan’s words. This peaceful transfer of power really is a miracle, one that is often taken advantage of. Other countries in the world simply do not have this guarantee. Such is the case of Belarus, as the contested election of leader Alexander Lukashenko for his sixth term in office has been met with hundreds of protests breaking out throughout the country. As a matter of fact, Republican Senator Mitt Romney touched upon this in a recent tweet, asserting that “fundamental to democracy is the peaceful transition of power; without that, there is Belarus.” 

Another example was seen with the election of 1992, when President George H.W. Bush lost his reelection bid to President Bill Clinton. Instead of complaining about the results of the election and demanding a recount, President Bush did what any good president would do: he pledged to give his full support to the incoming administration. 

A note written by President Bush to incoming President Clinton shows us the amount of grace, civility, and love that Bush truly had for the American system of governance. In the note, he wrote “You will be our President when you read this note. I wish you well. I wish your family well.” and “Your success now is our country’s success. I am rooting hard for you.”

While the two were bitter rivals, they eventually came together for the American people and affirmed that while we may be of different parties, we all belong to the American system of governance. 

This type of behavior from President Trump sets a truly dangerous precedent. While some may argue that his statements on a peaceful transfer of power are just a spur of the moment answer, as president, words truly do matter. 

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