In this post, I’m going to discuss a simple yet critical concept. Please understand that there’s so much more that I could venture into but I’d like to keep most focus narrow today. As Americans, we really need to grasp the beauty and rarity of what we have in this country. If we don’,t we’re going to lose it.
Peaceful Transition of Power
Here in America we enjoy peaceful transition of power.
Have you ever thought about how we handle the transition of power here in America? About how amazingly blessed we are to have peaceful transitions of power? How, when it’s time for one president to leave, he merely walks out of the White House and a new president walks in? AND that’s it, that’s the extent of the drama. The incumbent president and the newly elected president don’t meet each other on the edge of the White House with their standing armies, ready to fight for their claim to power. Nope, they just switch off as if that’s how it always has been and ought to be. It’s expected that once a president loses, his time in office is done—-no matter how much the public likes or dislikes him.
And perhaps more remarkable is that the citizens support this transition and expect this transition. Citizens may hate the new president, but they suck it up. By this, I mean, even if we really dislike a newly elected president, we deal with it. We don’t rally thousands of Americans to go storm the White House or Capital steps to oust the new president. No, we suck it up and try to make it through four years with the hope that in the next election, our candidate will win, fair and square.
But, why do we do this? Why do we just hunker down during the 4-8 years a president holds office if we don’t like him? Ultimately, it’s because we respect the election process and, therefore, we respect the position. We’ve collectively bought into the legitimacy of our electoral system. If the president won the election, no matter how badly we hate him or fear him, he won, fair and square. So, we deal with losing and hope for better next time.
Do you realize just how rare this type of response is? Do you realize how many countries haven’t been able to transition between one leader to another without violence? Do you realize that most countries are accustomed to unrest and violence against a newly “elected” leader, especially, when the citizenry feels that the election process was done unfairly? If the citizenry feels that the way their leaders are elected is illegitimate, they feel justified in forcibly and violently removing that illigitimate leader from his position because—well, he didn’t belong there in the first place.
Just look at some English and French history. Do they have peaceful transitions of power? This is a long list but I couldn’t bring myself to cut it so if you don’t want to read it all, at least skim to get the point. Pay attention to how many wars, revolutions, revolts and civil wars there are. It is fascinating to read.
(1096) The Crusades began (lasted 150 years)
(1100) King William II killed; brother Henry I became King
(1106) King Henry I conquered Normandy
(1154) Henry II crowned King, first in Plantagenet line
(1170) Thomas Becket (Archbishop of Canterbury) murdered after quarrel with Henry II
(1189) King Henry II ousted; Richard the Lionheart (Richard I) crowned King
(1199) King Richard I died in battle; John new King
(1377) King Edward III died; Richard II (age 10) crowned King; Poll tax introduced
(1381) Peasant’s Revolt against poll tax occurred
(1399) King Richard II forced to resign; Henry IV crowned King
(1404) Welsh hero, Owain Glyndwr, gained control of Wales; declared himself Prince of Wales
(1409) Welsh surrendered to England
(1413) King Henry IV died; Henry V new king
(1415) English defeated French at Battle of Agincourt
(1419) Henry V took control of Normandy, France
(1422) Henry V died; Son Henry VI (aged nine months) succeeded; council established to rule England
(1453) Final battle of Hundred Years’ War occurred at Chatillon; War ended; England ousted from France
(1455) War of the Roses began between parties of Plantagenets and Lancastrians
(1471) Edward IV reclaimed crown from King Henry VI; Henry VI died
(1483) King Edward IV died; dispute occurred about rightful king; Richard III crowned King
(1485) Henry Tudor, descendent of Edward III, fought to take over English throne; King Richard III died during battle, Henry Tudor crowned King Henry VII; War of the Roses ended at Battle of Bosworth
(1492) Kings Henry VII of England and Charles VII of France negotiated Treaty of Etaples;
(1509) King Henry VII died; King Henry VIII crowned
(1513) English defeated Scots and French invasion at Battle of Flodden Field
(1533) King Henry VIII divorced Catherine of Aragon; married Anne Boleyn; Pope excommunicated Henry VIII from church
(1534) King Henry VIII formed Church of England
(1536) Anne Boleyn executed; Henry VIII married Jane Seymour
(1542) Scottish forces attacked England at Battle of Solway; King James V of Scotland died; daughter Mary crowned Queen of Scots
(1547) King Henry VIII died; Edward VI (age nine) became King
(1553) King Edward VI died; Lady Jane Grey declared Queen of England for nine days; Mary I crowned Queen
(1558) French retook Calais; Queen Mary I died; Elizabeth I crowned Queen
(1559) Mary, Queen of Scots, claimed her royal right to the English throne
(1567) Mary, Queen of Scots, abdicated, son James declared King
(1587) Queen Elizabeth I ordered execution of Mary, Queen of Scots, for treason
(1588) Spanish Armada sent to attack England; the English overwhelmingly defeated the Spanish fleet
(1603) Queen Elizabeth I died; James VI of Scotland became James I of England, first Stuart king
(1604) Kings James I of England and Philip III of Spain signed Treaty of London, war ended
(1605) Plan to blow up Parliament, the Gunpowder Plot, failed
(1614) Parliament called Addled Parliament for not passing one act during sitting; James I dissolved Parliament
(1621) Thirty Years War began (Protestants against Catholics)
(1625) King James I died; son Charles I crowned
(1640) Long Parliament sat (until 1660)
(1642) English Civil War began
(1645) Civil War ended, Charles I defeated
(1648) Second Civil War occurred
(1649) King Charles I tried for levying war; found guilty and was executed; son Charles II declared himself King
(1653 – 1658) Lord Cromwell ruled as Lord Protector
(1654) England declared war on Spain
(1660) Monarchy restored with King Charles II
(1685) King Charles II died; brother James, Duke of York, crowned King James II
(1688 – 1689) Glorious Revolution took place, King James II deposed by Parliament
(1689) William III and Mary II jointly crowned King and Queen of England
(1690) Battle of the Boyce occurred, King William III defeated armies of James II
(1691) King William III took control of Ireland
(1694) Queen Mary II died; Bank of England established
(1702) King William III died; Anne, daughter of James II, crowned Queen
(1707) Act of Union passed – united England and Scotland as Great Britain
(1714) Queen Anne died; George Ludwig, great grandson of James I became King George I, the first German-speaking monarch
(1721) Whig politician, Robert Walpole, became first Prime Minister of Great Britain
(1727) King George I died; son, George II crowned new king
(1745) French defeated Great Britain and Austria at Battle of Fontenoy; Bonnie Prince Charlie, claimant to throne, defeated by King George II supporters
(1756) Seven Years’ War began
(1760) King George II died; George III new King
(1610-1715) Reign of Louis XIII followed by absolute monarchy of Louis XIV
(1756-63) Seven Years War; France lost all colonial possessions and Canada
(1789) French Revolution ended rule of monarchy
(1792) Louis XVI overthrown, First Republic created
(1804) Napoleon crowned Emperor of France
(1815) Napoleon was defeated at Waterloo; monarchy reestablished
(1830) The French Revolution (or July Revolution) middle class revolt, King Charles X forced out.
(1848) Founding of Second Republic
(1851) Coup d’etat instigated by Louis Napoleon
(1852) Louis Napoleon III crowned Emperor
(1870-71) Alsace-Lorraine regions lost to Germany; Napoleon III overthrown
(1875) Third Republic began
This is pretty remarkable isn’t it? We’re accustomed to how America handles elections, and we’re spoiled. Can you imagine living in a world where there is very literally no stability?
Do you notice the trend? One King takes the throne, he’s then ousted or beheaded or killed and then there’s turmoil, unrest and chaos until another King takes the throne and the same thing starts all over again. History is littered with violent transitions of power in countries around the world. These are just a few examples.
Transitioning between one government leader to another is one of the most dangerous and tenuous periods for a country, especially a newly established country. Anytime one leader, perhaps one that has been loved and respected by the citizens, steps down or dies, the country faces a crisis: what to do about the next leader. (Communist or despotic government deal with the same problem but they are able to quell rebellions more easily. Citizens may also be less likely to rebel in a system where they have no say in who their leaders are, therefore, they cannot complain about the legitimacy of how the person made it into power to begin with.)
This is critical y’all. I know it’s not earth shattering or mind-blowing, but it something that we all take for granted and it is something that is very much in jeopardy right now. Consider our American history. For over 250 years we have elected a president, the president has served a term or two, and peaceably left. What’s even more staggering is the fact that until the mid 1900s there was no term limit on the president. Get that? This means, from 1789 until 1933, every president that was elected for a second term, decided on his own volition, to step away. I cannot emphasize to you the immensity and rarity of something like happening not once but thirty-some times!
George Washington set a precedent by stepping away after eight years in office. And this is despite the fact that if it were left to the American public, he could have been president for life. But he knew better and stepped away. So, all the subsequent presidents followed in his footsteps. Really, that’s the reason that, until Franklin Roosevelt, no president stayed in longer than two terms.
It is remarkable for a man, when given such power, to choose to relinquish that power simply because of his respect of tradition. And yet, that is what 30 some presidents, over the course of over 200 years, did here in the United States. And the citizenry accepted it.
The Founders’ Fear
We live in a society today that loves the idea of being radical, of revolting against the status quo and trying to stick it to the man. Our citizens take to the streets, protest and march and attempt to make their views heard. This is all well and good—in moderation.
You see, the citizens don’t know best. In fact, as I will explain in a subsequent post, the founders were very wary of the citizens having too much power or influence. Citizens can be irrational and emotional. Citizens can demand that other citizens be killed or harmed—for the greater good. The government is supposed to limit this.
Glance back up at the English and French timelines. Notice how some of the worst and most chaotic periods were the result of the citizenry rebelling against the government, questioning the legitimacy of those in power and believing that whoever was in power did not belong. This is what the U.S. founders feared. They feared that Americans would, like most humans, question, disobey and rebel against the power of those in authority—specifically, the president. And the founders knew, that if the citizens did not have confidence in the method of electing the president, they would by no means have confidence in or respect for the president once he held his position. (If you want to learn more about why it’s critical to have a moderately strong government, read my theory posts about why we have government.)
Why wouldn’t the founders worry about how to set up the electoral process so that the transition of power was peaceful? They came from England where peaceful transition of power was a mere fantasy. Not only were the founders concerned about this, they were more concerned about building a solid and respected electoral process for the president than they were in the position of the president itself.
It comes down to this: if the people did not have confidence in the election of the president, they would never respect the power of the president. Am I making sense here?
Over half of Article II of the Constitution is devoted to establishing the method of electing the president, followed by a few smaller sections devoted to the powers of the president. Crazy, right? In American today, we tend to think highly of the president and his powers, as if they are vast and grand, and yet his position was given hardly any thought in the Constitution. More time was spent on spelling out how the president would become president than on the nature of the presidency itself.
Why This Matters Today
Have you noticed that the media, the democrats and the population at large seem to increasingly question, critique and argue about this very subject? Specifically about how we elect our president? Now, I can get into why we elect the president like we do at an other time. And if you want to learn more about how it actually works, you can read my post on the electoral college. BUT neither of these topics are relevant if we don’t first understand the critical importance of peaceful transition of power.
What happens when the citizenry begins to question the legitimacy of the election process? What happens when the media or politicians try to stir up anger and strife in the citizenry by telling them that their newly elected president does not belong in his position because of the flawed electoral process? Have you not noticed the escalation of violence this past election?
There were some peaceful protests against the election of Trump, but then there were riots and there was unrest. And riots lead to more riots and unrest to more unrest. What caused these riots?
It was this little itch in the back of people’s heads that said that their newly elected president didn’t belong, because he didn’t win fair and square. I’ll rephrase. Their confidence in and respect for the election process was shaken, meaning that their confidence in and respect for the president was also shaken. If Trump was not legitimately elected then they shouldn’t grin and bear his presidency for four years. They’d have the right to rebel—violently if need be—-because the president isn’t actually their president. How did this start? It started with media and with Trump’s opponents. They planted the little seed of doubt by attempted to invalidate the electoral college and promote popular election.
So, this little itch stirred social media movements like #NotMyPresident. People staunchly argued that Trump was not their president because he was not popularly elected. Today, the media manipulates and twists their narrative, slyly critiquing and belittling the electoral college while lying to their viewers and telling them that, since America is a “democracy” (it is not) and the people should have all the say, the electoral college is immoral and illegitimate. Virginia is attempting to validate these dangerous rumbles by changing their electoral college votes to popular vote.
Guys, everyone that is stirring up this angst and unrest knows what they are doing and they are playing with fire. Here in the United States we have been overwhelmingly blessed with centuries of peaceful transitions between presidents, where the citizenry respects and complies. This means that it is not the electoral college that is being threatened right now (that can be changed lawfully and Constitutionally if the states desire). Peaceful transition of power is what is being threatened.
Look back at the timelines I laid out and then consider this. Clearly, the angst that is being stirred up is not one of reason or rational thought. What is the end goal here? To lawfully and reasonably consider a Constitutional change, or is to encourage a violent revolt? If the people are stirred to a point of such rage and irrationality that they do try to violently remove the current president, will the next government, next president, next method of electing be good enough?
I can guarantee you this: once the respect and confidence for the current system is ruined, no new system will satiate the rage that eliminated that confidence in the first place. History has proven this true. Irrational and emotional mobs are never satisfied. The irrational mobs of the were never satisfied. They hated their monarchy so they killed them and established an Emperor of a Republic, only to oust his a few years later. The French Revolution only made things much worse for the French and every new leader they put into power was never good enough.
If we want to change anything in American today about our election process, we need to know why and know why the new method is better. Even the way we elect our leaders is based in theory and theoretically, there are some very real and important reasons justifying the electoral college. The irrational, angry calls to irradicate the electoral college have no real justification for saying so other than complaining that Hillary won the popular vote and was robbed.
Well, that argument would work if the point of the election was to win the popular vote, but it is not, and there is a reason that it is not. Have they stopped to consider that reason? Are they willing to engage in a rational discussion working through the pros and cons of a popularly elected president and one elected by the electoral college? If not, then their opinion is moot. There has to be rational thought involved before making any major changes. Otherwise, we’re just begging to jump into the vicious cycle of violence and chaos that England and France had to endure for centuries.
I’m dying to explain more about why we do have an electoral college, but for now, digest the importance of respecting the system we have. It’s ok to debate and consider improvements without trying to invalidate the system and eliminate the legitimacy of the current president altogether.
If there is to be a change in the way we elect our presidents, this must be done through reasonable and legitimate means— a Constitutional Amendment—-otherwise, we are jepordizing peaceful transition of power (as I said, violent and irrational moves never end well and are never satisfied). This is important. If there is a legitimate concern and we legitimately want to change the way we elect the president, so be it. However, what we are seeing today is not legitimate, not reasoned and not rational. It appears to be an intentional attempt, by the media and politicians, to undermine the legitimacy of the current president by stirring up questions and doubts in the citizenry against the legitimacy of the election process. Questioning our electoral system without offering a legitimate solution—via the Constitution (the law)—is unhealthy, dangerous and pointless. Without considering a legitimate solution, Americans are playing with fire and asking to lose one critical blessing that has made America stand out from other nations—peaceful transition of power.
The Liberty Belle