Bankole: America needs post-election healing

Bankole Thompson
The Detroit News

Whether Democrat Hillary Clinton or Republican Donald Trump wins the presidency on Nov. 8, the nation will be in need of serious reconciliation as a panacea to the ultra-high tension of the 2016 campaign. The divisive rhetoric that has been the hallmark of the campaign will have to be replaced with calls for allegiance to the country first and nothing else.

That is why Trump’s refusal to commit to accepting the legitimacy of the outcome of the election during the last presidential debate is not only a cause for concern, but also underscores the urgency for leaders of both parties to move with all deliberate speed toward reconciliation the day after the election.

Doing so will require both the winner and the loser to lead and help people move beyond the wounds of losing and speak the language of peace. That is called statesmanship.

Also, Trump’s repeated assertions that the elections are rigged against him as a basis for not promising to accept the outcome is troubling and takes away the United States’ moral capital as a voice that pushes for free and fair elections around the world.

A precedent for reconciliation was already set when Clinton won the nomination against her fierce primary rival Bernie Sanders. Some of his supporters were visibly angry, especially after emails revealed the party strategy that was designed to deny Sanders the nomination. But Sanders came out like a statesman and urged his supporters to respect the outcome of the primary battle and subsequently implored them to support Clinton.

It took a lot of courage and political maturity on the part of Sanders. His supporters listened. They did not take to the streets in violence.

The peaceful transition of power for more than two centuries has been the crowning jewel of this nation’s system of governance, because the fight begins and ends at the ballot box.

Many nations look to the United States as a paragon of democracy. For example, the Carter Center in Atlanta, founded by former President Jimmy Carter, is one the foremost election monitoring institutions in the world. The center has made it its mission to ensure that free and fair elections are conducted in other nations around the world that are experimenting with democracy.

“It is candidly shocking to have a presidential candidate in the U.S. even suggest that he might not accept the results of the election. This not only sends a dangerous signal to his supporters and frankly all Americans, but also the world,” said Ronald Slye, a law professor at Seattle University who was a consultant to South Africa’s Truth and Reconciliation Commission.

“The message is that our democracy is corrupt and not a model for others to emulate. While our democracy, including our electoral system, is by no means perfect, it is quite good. Even more so is the acceptance that we all as Americans have at (at some point) accepted changes in power even if we disagree with the result.”

Slye cited the election between former President George W. Bush and then-Vice President Al Gore, stating that it “was one of the hardest fought and most complex electoral disputes in our modern history, and yet at the end of the day we all accepted the result even if some of us did not like or even agree with the result.”

Slye said other nations have chosen reconciliation after bitter elections for the good of their people.

“In South Africa, reconciliation was chosen in part because Nelson Mandela chose it and then took on the political and moral task of convincing the rest of the country to adopt it,” Slye said. “He did those both in symbolic ways which where incredibly important as well as in many of his policies.”

Trump, according to Slye, has an obligation to the nation.

“I do think Trump has the power to sway the reaction of either way after the election. He could clearly continue or even escalate the rhetoric in which case we may experience a level of violence that we have rarely if ever seen since the end of the Civil War,” Slye said.

“Trump can turn this around in a second when after the election, if he loses he immediately says something gracious about President Clinton. There will still be some of his supporters who will not heed his call, but if he consistently and clearly declares his acceptance of the result after the election, the damage he has threatened to our democracy will be minimal.”

Yascha Mounk, a lecturer at Harvard University, said Trump is willing to challenge basic democratic traditions because people are less interested in the political system.

“It’s long been obvious that American citizens are unhappy with the performance of political elites: They have grown less and less satisfied with particular governments, less and less trusting of major institutions like Congress, and less and less likely to say that politicians mostly try to do the right thing,” Mounk writes in an essay for Politico.

Bankole Thompson is the host of “Redline with Bankole Thompson” on Super Station 910 AM weekdays at noon. His column appears Mondays and Thursdays.