The victory of Donald Trump in the US presidential election results has shocked many – including myself. It is dispiriting to see so many older white voters in the USA clearly energized by a campaign that tapped into some of the nastier undercurrents common in large parts of society including suspicion of immigrants, Muslims and the LGBT community.
However, amidst the disappointment, it is worth taking a minute to recognize the strength of the US political system which ensures regular elections every four years and, if the incumbent loses, then a peaceful transfer of power. Even if the incumbent wins, s/he has to vacate the office of Presidency after a maximum of eight years.
In her concession speech today, Hillary Clinton made reference to this precise point.
This is not the outcome we wanted or we worked so hard for and I’m sorry that we did not win this election for the values we share and the vision we hold for our country…
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 and we don’t just respect that, we cherish it. It also enshrines other things; the rule of law, the principle that we are all equal in rights and dignity, freedom of worship and expression. We respect and cherish these values too and we must defend them.
This peaceful transfer of power is a hugely important achievement of the American people. Contrast the eight-year limit on executive power with the condition of much of the Muslim world where we have so many autocratic Kings or Life Presidents who can only be shifted after they die – only to be replaced by a close relative – or are violently overthrown or killed. The result is constant mayhem and the development of society is held back by that chronically unstable political situation.
Even in the much-lauded time of the so-called “rightly-guided Caliphs”, we only saw a peaceful transfer of power once – and that was only because the first Caliph, Abu Bakr, died. The second Caliph Umar ibn al-Khattab was murdered as was his successor ‘Uthman ibn ‘Affan. The accession of ‘Ali ibn Abi Talib resulted in a civil war which ultimately led to his own killing.
So, the democratic institutions that have been built in the USA deserve our respect and admiration. Despite, or especially because of, the election of Donald Trump, we have to hope that the checks and balances that are built into those institutions are strong enough to ensure that his offensive and divisive campaign rhetoric is not translated into actual policies in office. And let us also hope that those who voted for Hillary Clinton will not lose heart but will stand up for their values in the coming four years.