Mark Bennett: America can only imagine how beneficial a smooth transition would've been

Mark Bennett

Wednesday and the previous 62 days could’ve turned out a lot different.

America would’ve benefited.

Imagine that President Donald Trump had gracefully conceded his loss in the Nov. 3 election to former Vice President Joe Biden by a margin that amounted to 7,059,741 votes by Americans, according to certified results from all 50 states as reported by The Associated Press. Imagine the president accepting the certifications of the vote totals by both Republican and Democratic election officials in every state — both those he carried and those he didn’t.

Such a reaction wouldn’t have just been an uncharacteristically magnanimous gesture. It would’ve helped pull together a nation in the throes of a pandemic that has claimed 361,123 American lives in less than year, and allow an undistracted, all-hands-on-deck response to delivering lifesaving vaccines. It would’ve unleashed a sea change of unity, just when this country needs it most.

And it would’ve prevented Wednesday’s disgraceful, hideous attack on the U.S. Capitol by rioters as the president’s supporters rallied against Congress’ certification of Biden’s win.

The uprising left four people dead, 14 police officers injured and the halls of democracy vandalized, according to The AP. The assault failed, though, to prevent members of Congress from carrying out its constitutional role of certifying Electoral College votes that gave Biden a wide 306-to-232 victory. They did so after evacuating the Capitol complex.

“To those who wreaked havoc in our Capitol today, you did not win,” Vice President Mike Pence said.

Pence presided over the Senate certification process and weathered the president’s criticisms that his ever-loyal vice president “lacked the courage to do what should have been done.” Trump aired those criticisms via Twitter after also inciting the crowd at the rally prior to the storming of the Capitol.

Pence had earlier correctly determined that his constitutional role prevented him from abiding by the president’s wishes that Pence — as the president of the Senate — reject certified results from states that the president has disputed through his relentless, unfounded claims of widespread voter fraud.

The vice president upheld the Constitution, at what turned out to be great personal risk. 

Former President George W. Bush aptly summarized the dark mess.

“I am appalled by the reckless behavior of some political leaders since the election and by the lack of respect shown today for our institutions, our traditions, and our law enforcement,” President Bush said Wednesday. “The violent assault on the Capitol — and disruption of a Constitutionally-mandated meeting of Congress — was undertaken by people whose passions have been inflamed by falsehoods and false hopes.”

<\z186667>It didn’t have to be this way. It shouldn’t have been this way.

<\z186667>People around the world envy the United States’ peaceful transitions of power. They’re used to enduring in their own countries the violence and chaos that erupted in Washington on Wednesday. The example they’ve seen set here — through the past 232 years since the first presidential election, multiple wars, the Great Depression, and the 9/11 era — is that Americans carry out rigorous but nonviolent political campaigns, exhale, accept and then move on.

<\z186667>That tradition was never more needed than during this winter of 2020-21.

<\z186667>Just as the Capitol building was being terrorized, the nation experienced its highest single-day death toll from the COVID-19 coronavirus as 3,865 Americans passed from it. Hospitalizations peaked too, at 132,476 for the day, according to Johns Hopkins University. More than 360,000 Americans have died since the pandemic began.

<\z186667>The amazing development of effective vaccines by various companies is beginning to inoculate health-care workers, first-responders and the elderly, with more segments of the population to follow. But the delivery of the vaccines into people’s arms hasn’t been as rapid as projected by the Trump administration’s Operation Warp Speed. Unnecessary doubt lingers.

<\z186667>Given the dire circumstances, a smoothly coordinated effort involving both the president’s team and the incoming Biden administration could’ve given this nation of 328 million people a greater sense of calm and confidence. Such cooperation would’ve required the president to put aside the stark political and personal differences between him and President-elect Biden, and to resist roadblocking the new leader. That’s never easy for any outbound president. Yet, with hospitals stretched to capacity in many states, a newly discovered variant coronavirus spreading faster than the first, and the economy battered, America needed a gracious concession and an orderly transition.

Instead, the weary country can only imagine what that would’ve been like.

Mark Bennett can be reached at 812-231-4377 or mark.bennett@tribstar.com.

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Mark Bennett has reported and analyzed news from the Wabash Valley and beyond since Larry Bird wore Sycamore blue. That role with the Tribune-Star has taken him from Rome to Alaska and many points in between, but Terre Haute suits him best.

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