The Trump administration has, at last, formally allowed the start of the transition of power to President-elect Joe Biden. This eases the dangers to national security and pandemic response that were looming because of President Donald Trump's intransigence. But there's another element that, while not required by law, is crucial to the health of democracy: Trump must acknowledge that Biden legitimately won this election. He must concede, as every major defeated presidential candidate in modern American history has done. Without that, the nation could face years of the same kind of turmoil seen these past three weeks.
Since George Washington handed the presidency over to John Adams in 1797, the peaceful transfer of power has been an American hallmark, though the process hasn't always been seamless. For example, it was postponed for weeks in 2000 by the contentious Florida recount in that razor-thin election. But even that showdown was part of a good-faith process that ultimately, peacefully handed power to the winner.
This isn't 2000. This year's election wasn't close — Biden won by 6 million votes and a solid Electoral College majority. Unlike the genuine ballot issues of 2000 (remember "hanging chads"?), Trump's claims of mass voter fraud were whole-cloth fabrications, dangerous slander against America's entire electoral system. After Trump's attempt in plain view to pressure local election officials to simply ignore the will of the voters and hand him states he didn't come close to winning, the words "good faith" now ring hollow.
Trump's capitulation on Monday, allowing the General Services Administration to finally start a transition that should have started weeks ago, was less about respect for the process than the dawning recognition of reality. Even congressional Republicans were starting to agitate about the real dangers to national security, the economy and the pandemic that were growing because of Trump's refusal to allow the next president to properly prepare.
America should breathe easier now that Biden and his crew are getting their security briefings and pandemic updates in advance of taking the helm on Jan. 20. What's still missing is the unofficial but crucially cathartic tradition of a concession.
Without acknowledgement from Trump that Biden won, millions of Trump's supporters could permanently nurse the delusion that far-reaching conspiracies stole the presidency from them. The poisoned politics of the Trump era would continue to fester at a time when the nation's leaders need to come together and get us through this pandemic and other challenges.
Even as he has allowed the transition process to start, Trump continues trying to overturn results with lies and spurious legal challenges. Many believe he will never concede. Republicans must convince him that if he refuses to perform this one simple, patriotic service, he risks going down in history as something worse than a loser: a sore loser.
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