The Peaceful Transition: An American Tradition

As he gave his farewell address in Chicago on January 10, President Barack Obama suggested the importance of public acceptance of President-elect Donald Trump.

“In ten days,” he said, “the world will witness a hallmark of our democracy.” At which point the audience, now upset, began to boo.

Obama’s reaction to this showed great character and demonstrated one of the most important American principles. He spoke firmly, saying: “No, no, no, no, no -- the peaceful transfer of power from one freely elected president to the next. I committed to President-elect Trump that my administration would ensure the smoothest possible transition, just like President Bush did for me.” Though it is a concept often overlooked by the media, a peaceful transition of power is of utmost importance to the American presidency.

The first such peaceful transition between political parties occurred following the election of 1800. Even though this election was turbulent and hard-fought, President John Adams willingly relinquished his title to a bitter enemy, Thomas Jefferson. One can assume that some who opposed Jefferson were unhappy about this, but the new president noted the possibility of an even worse kind of alienation in his inaugural address, stating: “We are all Republicans, we are all Federalists. If there be any among us who would wish to dissolve this Union or to change its republican form, let them stand undisturbed as monuments of the safety with which error of opinion may be tolerated where reason is left free to combat it.”

Making a point similar to the first part of Jefferson’s message, President-elect Trump recently said: “I pledge to every citizen in our land that I will be a president for all Americans.”

In addition, both he and Obama have commented favorably on their meetings regarding a peaceful White House transition. The most important part of such a transition, however, is not the people exchanging keys to the Oval Office but rather the American public.

Among the few elections that I have witnessed, this one appears to have drawn the most anger and the most protests from the losing side. Citizens are organizing and participating in marches to protest Trump’s inauguration, House members and other elected officials are refusing to attend the ceremony, and there are even rumors that some groups will try to disrupt the events by smoking marijuana or harassing inauguration viewers in an attempt to lower attendance.

If the inauguration is seriously interrupted by protest in its various forms, a “hallmark,” as President Obama has called it, of our nation will be disrupted as well. A peaceful transition represents more than just a passing of the torch from one president to another. It shows the American people that they should accept the election’s outcome whether they agree with it or not.

January 20th will mark a substantial change in America. There will be a new president for the first time in eight years, and in this case one who is strongly opposed to much of what the outgoing president has done and advocated. On this date, as on every Inauguration Day, it is important to remember Jefferson’s words. We may not be Federalists and Republicans anymore, but we are Democrats and Republicans who want to better the Union that we live in. Let January 20th be a day of peace, free from partisan divisions. Let Mr. Obama and Mr. Trump carry on a long-lasting tradition, and let them show the American people that the United States can still be united.