And now for the acceptance and concession speeches after the U.S. Presidential Election. It’s a chance to see Trump v Clinton, one last time. What will the President-elect and the losing candidate each say about the experience of the campaign and the path forward? What will President Obama say about the results? And what will Speaker Paul Ryan say on the subject?
Each of these leaders bears an enormous responsibility. The reason is something that we in the United States have all too often taken for granted, but could no longer once candidate Trump threatened not to accept the results of the election: that is, the peaceful, democratic transfer of power.
It’s a democratic institution not enjoyed by huge swaths of the people on our planet, and it’s something that needs to be reaffirmed. History seems inevitable in hindsight, but it never is. We can’t take delightful things like progress, the rule of law, or the survival of democratic governments for granted. They are an accident of history, not a result of it. We have to work to ensure them. Never forget that.
And so it’s important to understand that what these leaders say now are not just words. Rather, they will begin – or impede – the peaceful transition of power and the continuation of democracy in the largest such country on the globe. Their words are powerful political acts.
Will these various officials live up to their offices, rise above petty politics, and do their best to govern for all the people and ensure the country totters forward?
Briefly, the news is good. Trump was subdued, and gracious. His body language was consistent with past performances – open and dominant. Clinton was strong and gracious through her obvious pain. Ryan was the least distinguished of the group, focused on praising Trump. He has a lot of making up to do. And President Obama gave the best speech of the four leaders.
First, Hillary Clinton, who choked up a bit and stayed commendably strong despite her pain:
Last night I congratulated Donald Trump and offered to work with him on behalf of our country.
I hope that he will be a successful president for all Americans. This is not the outcome we wanted or we worked so hard for, and I’m sorry we did not win this election for the values we share and the vision we hold for our country.
Our campaign was never about one person, or even one election. It was about the country we love and building an America that is hopeful, inclusive, and big-hearted. We have seen that our nation is more deeply divided than we thought. But I still believe in America, and I always will. And if you do, then we must accept this result and then look to the future. Donald Trump is going to be our president. We owe him an open mind and the chance to lead. Our constitutional democracy enshrines the peaceful transfer of power.
We don’t just respect that. We cherish it.
Next, Donald Trump, who seemed to be burying the hatchet and looking forward with a new tone of conciliation. He lacks rhetorical elegance, but his sentiment was right:
I’ve just received a call from Secretary Clinton. She congratulated us. It’s about us. On our victory, and I congratulated her and her family on a very, very hard-fought campaign.
I mean, she fought very hard. Hillary has worked very long and very hard over a long period of time, and we owe her a major debt of gratitude for her service to our country.
I mean that very sincerely. Now it is time for America to bind the wounds of division, have to get together. To all Republicans and Democrats and independents across this nation, I say it is time for us to come together as one united people.
It is time. I pledge to every citizen of our land that I will be President for all of Americans, and this is so important to me.
And finally, President Obama, whose speech was, perhaps unsurprisingly, the most relaxed and elegant of the three:
We are all now rooting for his (Mr. Trump’s) success. . . . We’re not Democrats first, we’re not Republicans first, we are Americans first. We are patriots first. . . . We lick our wounds, we brush ourselves off and we all go forward. . . . That presumption of good faith is essential to a vibrant and functioning democracy.
Amen. That’s precisely the point, and the good news. These three leaders lived up to their responsibilities, accepted their various burdens, and did their part to ensure that our accidental democracy can continue.
Of course, one of the three has an awesome job ahead of him. The other two will now cede the limelight. How will Mr. Trump live up to the challenge?