Dr. Alon Ben-Meir
On Wednesday Trump yet again refused to commit to a peaceful transfer of power following the election: “Well, we’re going to have to see what happens. You know that I’ve been complaining very strongly about the ballots and the ballots are a disaster.” Trump has demonstrated beyond any doubt that he has no respect for American democracy as such. His words should be seen as an assault on the very foundations of this country, which is first and foremost a nation that has always ensured and honored the smooth succession of executive authority. What the president said is nothing short of treasonous, and may well lead to open violence should he lose — a situation for which he is apparently prepared and fomenting his base. Trump has said and done much that was harmful during his time in office, but this statement may be the very worst and most dangerous things that has ever come out of his mouth.
Early Thursday morning Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell rebuked Trump’s statement in a tweet affirming that there will be a peaceful transition of power. That same evening, a resolution introduced by Senator Joe Manchin (D-WV) passed unanimously, which affirms “the Senate’s commitment to the orderly and peaceful transfer of power called for in the Constitution of the United States,” noting that a “disruption” in the transfer of executive power “could produce results detrimental to the safety and well-being of the United States.” However, such a resolution is largely figurative and may lack statuary power if Trump still refuses to recognize the result of the election.
Although the resolution sent a clear message that he is crossing a red line that even his supporters in the Senate will not accept, it is critical that every political body, institution, think tank, and media outlet that stands for democracy comes out immediately with a clear, decisive, and unambiguous statement condemning Trump’s assertion to send him a message that what he said is tantamount to treason and that he will face the direst consequences.
In fact, even during the presidential debates in 2016, Trump repeatedly stated that he would not accept the results of the election unless he won. There should be no reason at this point, now that he is president, not to take him at his word. The media in general should hammer this point day in and day out now until the transfer of power on January 20, 2021.
The House of Representatives must follow the Senate’s lead and pass immediately a resolution, warning Trump of the ominous consequences he and the country will face if he does not adhere to the constitutional process and vacate his office peacefully. Beyond Congress, every Republican in any official capacity must immediately issue a statement condemning in the strongest terms Trump’s clear refusal to commit to a peaceful transition of power should he lose in November. Such a statement must be unmistakable, and leave no room for any doubt.
Opinion writers who value the importance of a peaceful transition of power and the critical importance of free and fair elections and the adherence to their results should immediately write a column, whether for their media outlet or at a minimum on social media, condemning in the strongest words what Trump has said.
Vice President Biden should raise Trump’s refusal to commit to a peaceful transfer of power during next week’s debate. Biden must demand a clear and explicit commitment from Trump in front of the nearly 100 million Americans who will be watching that he will adhere to a peaceful transition of power and will not contest the results.
Gen. Mark Milley, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, should reiterate his statements from July and August that the military will not intervene under any circumstances in a political matter, whether protecting Trump from being removed from the White House should he lose and refuse to leave, or physically removing him in the same situation. For good reason, Trump’s physical removal from the White House should be left to US Marshals.
Every civil society organization ought to issue a warning that the American people will not stand for anything less than a peaceful transfer of power, and that they will promote nation-wide civil disobedience in the absence of such transition. In conjunction, many labor unions, such as the AFL-CIO, UAW, and American Federation of Teachers, should issue a similar statement that a nation-wide strike will occur.
Constitutional experts from all over the country should sign a joint letter to state that refusing a peaceful transfer of power is clearly in contrast to what the Constitution is all about, and condemn Trump’s words in the strongest terms.
Although he has already pledged to push through a hearing, if Mitch McConnell has an ounce of integrity left, he should now refuse to initiate a confirmation hearing of any Supreme Court nominee, which Trump vowed to submit within days. Trump, who has gone on a rampage to delegitimize the result of the election for months, made it clear that should he lose the Supreme Court will have to adjudicate and render the final decision.
This is why he is rushing to nominate another Republican Supreme Court Justice, hoping that he or she will vote in his favor. The Democrats should hammer home and remind McConnell of his actions in 2016, when he refused to even meet with Obama’s nominee Merrick Garland, let alone hold confirmation hearings. To continue with Trump’s plan will only demonstrate McConnell’s hypocrisy, which may destroy the Republican Party in the process.
Four years of political turmoil under Trump may well end with massive violence akin to a civil war. Trump is priming his base to act violently, and with over 390 million firearms in the hands of Americans, one can only imagine the calamitous consequences if violence is to erupt between his supporters and those who oppose him.
The Republican leadership in every state and every municipality are the prime body that can stop this potential calamity from occurring. Time is of the essence. Should the Republican Party as a whole fall short of taking a stand against Trump at this juncture, they will subject the nation to turmoil unseen since the Civil War. Not a single Republican leader will be able to claim that he or she were not warned.
Dr. Alon Ben-Meir, a regular contributor to Blitz is a professor of international relations at the Center for Global Affairs at NYU. He teaches courses on international negotiation and Middle Eastern studies.