The peaceful transition of power is a great American institution. It was 220 years ago when John Adams became President of the United States, succeeding the legendary George Washington. Periodically ever since, we have watched as one man after another put his hands on a Bible – sadly, it has always been a man and it has always been a Christian Bible – and agreed to assume the massive responsibilities of the American Presidency. Every time that’s happened, the public and the military have supported the new President as the legitimate leader of our government. Such legitimacy has been established by winning a majority of the electoral votes cast pursuant to an arrangement set forth in our Constitution.
Lately, there has been talk about the 45th President to be, Donald J. Trump, being “illegitimate” because the Russian Government, in an effort to help Trump defeat his opposition, tampered with our electoral process. Nobody has produced evidence that Trump himself was involved in the Russian misconduct, but that hasn’t stopped renowned statesmen and prominent op-ed columnists from questioning his legitimacy. Their arguments have purportedly been buttressed by the fact that Trump received nearly 3 million total votes fewer than his opponent.
Let me be clear on this point. I think it is B.S. to question the legitimacy of Donald Trump to become the President of the United States. Not only does it sound like sour grapes, but it reflects poorly on our appreciation of what has made this country great. No, we don’t have a perfect track record in the way we have handled minority groups or women. As a Jew, I am acutely aware of why the United States is never to be trusted always to treat an ethnic minority with equal justice, for the history books are replete with the primitive ways in which we have treated blacks, women, Japanese, Native Americans .... But the fact is that long before the rest of the “developed” world awoke to the benefits of liberal democracy, the United States was a voice in the wilderness in favor of republican government and against monarchy. At the heart of our Republic is a Constitution, which proclaims a process for selecting leaders based on a vote of the citizenry. We held that vote, applied that process, found no evidence that the votes were not accurately counted, identified no wrongdoing that can be attributed to the winner, and now have the privilege of installing him as the 45th President of the United States. Whether you voted for him, or – as I did –against him, you should honor the process and accept its results.
For me, this day and even this weekend belong to Donald J. Trump and to the nearly 63 million Americans who voted for him. Many of those voters were crying out for change. Who am I to denigrate their desperation to steer a new course, even though the course they selected is different than what I would have chosen.
Here in Washington D.C., more of the locals are likely to turn out for tomorrow’s protest than for today’s inauguration. But I will not be among the protesters. Believe me, I am reassured that progressives intend to fight President-Elect Trump if he insists on pushing through many of the proposals on which he campaigned. And I will feel privileged to take to the streets myself and demonstrate against any course of conduct that would appear to me to be deleterious to the public interest, whether it involves depriving poor women of necessary health services, further degrading our environment, exacerbating an already inequitable distribution of income and wealth, or depriving certain ethnic or religious groups of equal treatment. But I will not take to the streets this weekend. Instead, I will show respect to those who voted to take this country in a different direction and I will pray that the incoming Administration will succeed in finding as many areas as possible in which all Americans can rejoice at the prospects of reform.