It’s time to make America’s careful march back to normalcy, beginning with national leadership. A nation wracked by a pandemic and riven by political polarization needs clear, calm guidance to begin to heal its deep wounds.
That should start with President Donald Trump while he’s in office, even though he built his candidacy and administered his presidency on norm-shattering populism. As the nation’s chief executive, he swore to “preserve, protect and defend the Constitution.” But this year, he continually challenged the legitimacy of the election before a vote was cast. Now that he appears to be losing his grip on the office as vote counts wind down, his amplified baseless attacks on election integrity threaten to further provoke instability and harm America.
Enough. He must walk back from this precipice, which he spent years stoking divisions to help create, while dragging the Republican Party with him.
As Joe Biden inched ahead Friday in vote counts in Pennsylvania and Georgia, the presidential election reached an inflection point. Trump has a right to continue contesting the process. Multiple legitimate mechanisms exist for him to do so. State recounts are one pathway. Court challenges are another. Demagoguery is not.
Absent strong, documented evidence that the process has failed, Trump’s sworn duty is to defend the Constitution — not undermine faith in American democracy. Yet telling the American people there are “horror stories” in state election offices, calling himself the victor before votes are tallied and demanding, repeatedly, to “stop the count” harm the nation. People listen. Some of them loudly protest the vote counting. In Philadelphia, two armed men arrested near the vote counting center are being investigated for potential elections violations, prosecutors said.
“This is exactly what our foreign adversaries want to happen,” Washington Secretary of State Kim Wyman, who is a Republican, told the editorial board. “Russia, China, North Korea and Iran, what they want is they want people to lose confidence in our democratic institutions. They want people to believe our election wasn’t fair.
“They want to undermine our representative form of democracy. They want to undermine our republic. They want the discord, because when people lose faith in our elections, they don’t believe that the elected leaders are legitimate. And that undermines democracy at its core foundation.”
The Constitution and state elections laws map the way. Votes must be counted and certified, then the Electoral College must pick the president. That process does need national reform, as this editorial page has outlined previously. But the laws must be followed, and Trump and Biden are as subject to them as every voter in every state.
Trump might not have it within himself to stop lying, or to accept an honest loss. His determination to fight every battle as long and hard as he can is a big reason why tens of millions of Americans have stuck with him through constant turmoil, much of it self-created. But America is bigger than Trump, and so are the institutions he swore to preserve and protect, including the office of the presidency. Faithful public service is the job he signed up to do. That requires working to help every vote be counted — and helping the American people accept that a legitimate process can produce results not everyone likes.
Biden became a formidable challenger to Trump by pledging to represent all Americans, not just his base. Every American who followed state law in casting a ballot deserves to have it counted and deserves full transparency from elections offices about how that worked.
Yes, the process needs improvement. States that aren’t as practiced as Washington at handling millions of mail ballots should hone their infrastructure to work smoothly and quickly. King County has 1.4 million registered voters and counted more than 1 million ballots election night. Philadelphia County, with 1.1 million registered voters, counted only about 186,000 mail ballots that same night, out of 350,000 in hand. And the sinister preelection postal deficiencies that threatened ballot delivery must never be repeated.
Biden’s apparent victory does not change the national interest in seeing the process through. For all the noise and disruptiveness Trump brought to office, his quest for reelection must not provide further traction for an assault upon American democracy. Trump owes it to every American to preserve, protect and defend the system he took an oath to uphold.