The post-Trump recovery: Why we must convert norms into law

American democracy is obviously very flawed. The electoral college forces the voting system to be partially based on land rather than totally on population. In addition to this unequal voting process, there is a very deep lack of representation between state populations. California has two senators representing the state and the Dakotas have four, despite the fact that California’s total population is 24 times greater than that of the Dakotas combined. Politicians continue to place restrictions on voting, which often disproportionately impact communities of color and the poor. Today especially, we are witnessing a direct threat towards our democracy right from the executive branch of our government, the presidency. 

I argue that it should not only be enshrined in Constitutional law for a president to concede and begin the transition process when the election has been decided and verified to be absent of fraud by the proper bureaus with the Department of Homeland Security, but it should also be strictly required that the president publicly swear to the American people to unconditionally concede to the opponent in the event of a loss. The presidential transition of power should be governed by a symbolic law rather than a general norm, and it should be the centerpiece of further legislation passed to limit presidential authority for the sake of the people. We need stricter regulations against the expression of authoritarian language and behavior by a president, especially during a transition, even though I cannot know exactly how everything should be done. There is a multifaceted set of dangers behind an unnecessarily delayed transition, but first it is important to understand why our country has allowed this presidency to reach the seemingly apocalyptic-like behavior that it seems to be undergoing.

An overwhelming problem with our democracy is the loose nature of norms, and our lack of preparation for a rogue president. Donald Trump is a prime example of why we need to codify the necessary laws to protect against this possibility. Without any official political experience prior to the presidency, he was voted into office with the expectation that, even with an unconventional and controversial agenda, he would uphold democratic principles and maintain at least some degree of reverence towards the responsibilities of his powerful position. He has done the opposite. Trump continues to aggressively staff bureaus with loyalists, as well as the Pentagon, shaking Americans to their core in fear of a “slow-moving coup.” The FBI has concluded that his campaign had ties to Russia, people in his inner circles continue to face massive suspicions of corruption and he himself has failed to pay massive amounts in taxes and has potentially committed other offenses, which could be further brought to light once he leaves office. Now, worst of all, after the election that Joe Biden has decisively won, with the backing of the Department of Homeland Security’s Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency claiming that this was the “most secure election in American history,” Trump is vehemently refusing to concede. The president maintains an enormous degree of executive immunity, and that is exactly the problem. 

“We hold these truths to be self-evident…” the Declaration of Independence says. Unfortunately, “self-evident” applies to only conventional standards of our political system, and these are only held up in a system that is based more so on norms rather than laws. If the sitting president was required to publicly concede in case of a loss once the election’s security has been verified by the Department of Homeland Security, as it has been now, more people might stay away from conspiracy theories and malicious patterns of disinformation. Trump desperately wants to stay in power, and his dangerous insistence is dividing the country further. Trump never once clearly claimed that he would concede in case of a loss. That is also why he has repeatedly said that the only way Democrats could win was if the election was rigged. This kind of conspiratorial language, baseless lying and childish behavior should be made outright illegal for an American president to express publicly. Why? Because the president doesn’t choose who wins, but they do have a significant amount of leverage over the fate of tens of millions of Americans’ beliefs. As thankful as we should be for the checks and balances that have kept our government from turning into a totalitarian regime, they simply aren’t enough. 

News anchors, editors and politicians have called out Donald Trump for not “doing the right thing” and not “gracefully” conceding to his opponent. Though why should any of this be expected from a president who is a rogue outlier from the kind of standards that we have always deemed “self-evident?” Yes, Joe Biden will be the 46th president of the United States starting on Jan. 20, 2021, whether Trump concedes earlier or if he has to be forcibly removed as an afternoon trespasser. Biden and his transition team are doing what they can to prepare for the coming four years, but they are doing so without the cooperation of the current White House occupants, and it is dangerous. The transition of power typically includes the passage of “operational and logistical support” from the lame duck to the incoming administration, and according to George W. Bush’s Chief of Staff Andy Card, a slow transition can drastically compromise national security. 

“The 9/11 Commission had said if there had been a longer transition and there had been cooperation, there might have been a better response, or maybe not even any attack. This is very serious, so we’re calling on the president to open up the transition office, give the money out, let people start transitioning, and get ready to take the baton at January 20th at noontime, even if we don’t know the full results,” Card claims.

Now, in the midst of a climate crisis, public health crisis, economic crisis, an environment of intense political hatred and an election secured and decided over a week ago, there is no reason other than corruption or ideological selfishness for the Trump administration to delay the transition. But he will likely never do that of his own accord, and so it’s a failure of the American system not to prevent such behavior. 

Sure, presidents have acted out in previous years. Take Richard Nixon and the Watergate scandal. However, Trump’s attacks on democracy have characterized his entire term, and hopefully the Biden administration and potentially Democrat-controlled legislature can learn from the mistakes of what is about to be history, and advance legislation that strengthens our checks and balances to limit presidential immunity. This is something grassroots activists should push for along with current progressive agendas. We can only imagine the darker place our country would be in right now if the current authority of the executive branch was only a little bit stronger than it is now. 

2 Comments

  1. The process works.

    “We need stricter regulations against the expression of authoritarian language and behavior by a president, ” – Next the AIPAC crowd will demand such laws against those who criticize say apartheid in Israel. Thank God for the First Amendment

    “he would uphold democratic principles” – That’s why America has a constitution and laws. If you think Donald Trump is the only character who made such attempts you may want to look at Cuomo and other Democratic politicians who supported openly unconstitutional laws like their BDS laws.

    ” If the sitting president was required to publicly concede in case of a loss once the election’s security has been verified by the Department of Homeland Security” – There’s a well established constitutional process. It doesn’t matter what Trump thinks.

    “Russia” – Sure Donnie went about seeking dirt on Hillary from Russia. That may be nasty, but do you think politicians like Cuomo are made out of sugar ? It’s not against the law to look for dirt. Don’t American politicians collude with Israeli politicians ?

  2. Division between opinion and knowledge has been an ethical struggle dating back to ancient Greek philosophers not limited to Vassar students brainwashed by the left wing media.
    Why was the counting stopped in key battleground states , election workers sent home and told the counting was stopped only to learn 2 hours later that the count had in fact been continued and Biden was way ahead in battleground states. How was this credible?
    Why did other states keep counting but the shutdown only was seen in the key battleground states with a subsequent flip from red to blue that defies math and probability? Don’t you have even an intellectual curiosity if not an ethical one in this? How can ballots orphaned from signatures be retraced for authenticity?
    As recently as 20 years ago during the media coverage of the Bush v. Gore election there was a distinction in journalism between opinion and fact but this boundary has been eliminated.
    Gore did not concede for over a month after the election which was then decided by the Supreme Court and settled on December 12.
    I am sorry but the alumni contributions are going to continue to be on hold pending evidence of better thinking at Vassar.

    Janet C. Stiles, M.D.

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