Tradition of transitions
Tuesday’s presidential debate has us thinking about peaceful transitions of power and accepting the results of an election.
As painful as it is to lose, the script is practically boilerplate across America. The vanquished candidate puts on a stiff upper lip and goes out to face the cameras. They thank their families and supporters for the faith they showed. The campaign staff is recognized for all its hard work.
Then comes the most important part. The politician pledges to work with their former opponent to do the best for the community, state or nation. If an incumbent has been ousted, they swallow the bile in their throat and promise to help bring their replacement up to speed so they may hit the ground running when they take office.
It is tried and true, one of the foundations of United States democracy. It also separates America from countries known for their coups and sham elections.
Two hotly contested races for the office of Maui County mayor provide examples of doing it the right way. In 2006, Charmaine Tavares, unseated incumbent Mayor Alan Arakawa. Four years later, in 2010, Arakawa upset Tavares to win back the job.
In 2006, Arakawa made the short walk between the two campaign headquarters to shake hands with Tavares and pledge his support. In 2010, Tavares took the same Kahului Shopping Center walk and made the same pledge. They kept those promises by meeting prior to leaving office to ensure smooth transitions.
“You don’t like to lose, but at the same time it is the public’s will, so you go with it,” Arakawa said. “The reality is we’re elected to represent the community. It’s not a fight between personalities. We both want the same things, to help the community.”
Tavares credits Hawaii’s electoral traditions.
“I think this happens all the time in Hawaii,” Tavares said. “We believe that the voters chose and no amount of yelling and screaming and biting our nails is going to change that.
“I’m so glad that I live in Hawaii. We’re the shining example for the world. We’ve got to get along or we’re going to extinguish ourselves.”
President Trump’s refusal to endorse a peaceful transfer of power is a disturbing watershed moment in American history. Earlier in the day, the House of Representatives voted, 397-5, to adopt a measure affirming a peaceful transition. The Senate unanimously passed a similar measure last week.
Let us hope cooler heads prevail if the results do not go Trump’s way.
As former Mayor Tavares says, “In order to run for office, you have to have an active ego, you have to believe that you are the one for the position, but that doesn’t give you a right to be a dictator.”