Peaceful transitions of power

One of the United States’ most sterling contributions to civilization is our honored tradition of a peaceful transition of power from one presidential administration to the next.
This week’s election comes in the midst of a milieu of polarization that has roiled our body politic. So, it’s worthwhile to take a few moments and to consider, carefully, America’s history of peaceful transitions of presidential power that signify our nation as a progressive democracy.
The tradition of a peaceful transition of power from one presidential administration to another may be traced back to America’s first president, George Washington, the only president in our nation’s history to be elected twice without opposition. George Washington was immensely popular with his countrymen. When Washington’s vice president, John Adams, succeeded him in 1797, a lengthy interval was part of the structure of government. Adams was elected by the Election College in December, 1796, and his inauguration took place on March 4, 1797.
More recently, President George H.W. Bush, our nation’s 41st president, suffered a bitter loss to Bill Clinton in the 1992 election. Yet, despite the understandable hurt that the late President Bush endured, he ordered his entire administration to cooperate with Clinton and his transition team to ensure a peaceful transfer of power. Both President Bush and Barbara Bush graciously opened the White House to Bill and Hillary Clinton in keeping with America’s best tradition. The Bushes understood that America, as a nation, is far greater than any single occupant of the White House and seeking unity is imbued in our traditions. It is no accident that the Latin phrase E Pluribus Unum — or Out of Many, One — is engraved on the Great Seal of the United States.
Like his father, President George W. Bush worked closely with President-elect Barack Obama to ease his path to becoming America’s chief executive. And, President Obama afforded President-elect Donald Trump and his transition staff the access to the workings of his administration.
In Judaism, there is a wonderful familial tradition of shalom bayit, or peace at home, that calls for domestic harmony within a household and in relations between husband and wife. America is like a complicated and diverse family. Families, including husbands and wives, do not always agree, but a family’s welfare is often dependent upon domestic tranquility. This is also true of the welfare of the nation.
This week’s election has now taken place. But, it is up to each of us, as citizens, to practice the kind of harmony typified by our nation’s presidents who have peacefully transferred power to their successors. Just as there may be spirited discussions within a family and differing viewpoints between family members, the welfare and preservation of the family, like America as a nation, depends upon civility between its citizens.
So, let us hope that should former Vice President Biden be declared the winner of this week’s election, that President Trump will follow the example of his predecessors and embark on a peaceful transition of power. May political differences give way to our common love of country and common interest in civility amongst us.
Though the election is now behind us, the outcome must be formalized. There may be serious litigation over the results as there was in 2000. Yet, let us remember that former Vice President Al Gore graciously conceded his loss of the election to then–Governor George W. Bush after the Supreme Court ruled in Bush v. Gore, urging all Americans to unite behind President-elect Bush.
Whether the victor of this week’s election is President Trump or former Vice President Biden, it is time for our nation to come together. And, if Biden is the victor, for the sake of the country, President Trump should cooperate with a peaceful transfer of power and instruct all in his administration to aid incoming members of the new government. If President Trump is re-elected, all Americans must work at finding common values and causes that unite us.
As Senator Stephen Douglas said to Abraham Lincoln, who beat him in the election of 1860, “Partisan feeling must yield to patriotism.”
Patriotism means realizing that our nation is greater than any one of us and greater than any political party or movement. Patriotism means cooperating to overcome challenges like the scourge of the coronavirus that is killing thousands of Americans. Patriotism means comprehending that America, on a grand scale, is like a big, noisy family that will prosper best in the spirit of shalom bayit — a peaceful transition and continuity of government.

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