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Dylan Morin of Howland is an English major at the University of Maine at Augusta in Bangor.
Presidential elections are often passionate, filled with back-and-forth debates, criticism and, at times, hate, but once a new president-elect is crowned the winner, a sort of pomp-and-circumstance follows to ease tensions and unite American voters. Will the tradition continue this year?
Ever since William Jennings Bryan sent a courtesy telegram to William McKinley after losing the presidential election in 1896, concessions of one form or another have marked an end to a presidential race and the beginning of a transitional period. Often, this period sees the sitting president and new president-elect meeting to discuss policy, plan agendas and prepare a smooth transfer of power and White House positions.
Aside from the politics and business formalities involved in a presidential transition, there is also a public display of unity. Though some past transitions of power saw some tension between the two parties ( 1932-1933, between Herbert Hoover and Franklin D. Roosevelt, and 2000-2001, between Bill Clinton and George W. Bush), they still managed to communicate, be photographed together and present some form of civility.
This public presentation of unity is integral at the end of an election as one political party ushers in a change of power. It shows American citizens that the country is one front, and a peaceful change of power is possible to put Americans at ease.
When Hilary Clinton gave her concession speech ending her campaign and beginning Donald Trump’s ascension to power, she said, “I still believe as deeply as I ever have that if we stand together and work together with respect for our differences, strength in our convictions and love for this nation, our best days are still ahead of us.” This statement comforts the American people by inspiring unity without tearing down the incoming administration.
Even though Barack Obama endorsed Clinton, he and Michelle Obama met Donald and Melania Trump with a warm greeting, showing them the White House and posing for pictures. The Obamas were able to put their political differences aside to show the American people that political beliefs shouldn’t affect civility.
As the current election came to a tight finish with Joe Biden becoming the president-elect, many Americans wonder if Donald Trump will concede and participate in the pomp-and-circumstance of presidential transition. If the current media is right, Trump has given Americans the impression that he will not go quietly.
If Trump refuses to concede to Biden, there will be no formal end to their political face-off, an unprecedented move. Furthermore, if Trump refuses to participate in the public transition of power, what does this say to the American people?
Would his actions further divide a country already battling with racial injustice, political unrest, and COVID-19? If Trump is unwilling to be part of a formality ingrained in American history, what does this say about people with political differences? The unwillingness to unite in the face of what the United States is experiencing could have unforeseen negative effects on the nation, dividing people further.
Only the coming weeks will show if Trump will take part in the peaceful traditions of the past. But one thing is certain, the country needs unity now more than ever.