Why Biden gives Trump some space

The president-elect as well as many Republican leaders rely on qualities like truth and patience to ease Mr. Trump out of office and persuade his supporters to accept the election result.

Boxes of ballots in Dane County, Wis., await a recount Nov. 20. The art renderings on plywood boards formerly protected local businesses during the summer's civil unrest.

Since the U.S. election on Nov. 3, presidential scholars and former administration officials have warned that President Donald Trump is harming American democracy by refusing to accept that he lost his bid for a second term. Meanwhile, President-elect Joe Biden has mainly focused on preparing to govern. He has criticized Mr. Trump’s stonewalling as embarrassing and called him one of the “most irresponsible presidents in American history." Yet whether deliberately or not, his reluctance to speak out both frequently and forcefully reflects the wisdom in the proverb that “a soft answer turneth away wrath.” Direct engagement with Trump or his spokespeople might evoke even stronger anger. 

And they have made room for deeper qualities – patience, integrity, truth – to prevail as more people realize the election was fair, honest, and proven. “The challenge is to give people space to step back from the binary, tribal thinking in which you are either a friend or an enemy,” writes Robert Kuttner, co-editor of The American Prospect and a professor at Brandeis University.

In such tense situations, the wise appeal to conscience. During one of Mr. Trump’s legal challenges to election procedures, a judge in Pennsylvania posed the question to Mr. Trump’s counsel: “I ask you as a member of this court whether there were Republican observers in the vote counting room?” The president’s lawyers quietly backed down. When Michigan’s top two state Republican legislators met with Mr. Trump last week, they said afterward that the “simple truths” of a “deliberate process free from threats and intimidation” would restore confidence in the election process.

As more states certify the results of their counts and recounts, officials on the front line cite what motivates their work. 

“Working as an engineer throughout my life, I live by the motto that numbers don’t lie,” said Georgia Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger, a Republican. In Arizona, Clint Hickman, a Republican on the Maricopa County Board of Supervisors, said, “I’m not going to violate the law or deviate from my own moral compass as some have pushed me to do.”

Statements like that from the heart, especially from Republican leaders, are necessary to bring around the majority of GOP voters who still believe the false assertions of conspiracy and illegality. When those working on these elections model integrity and grace, their actions speak with a compelling moral authority.

Nine presidents have faced defeat for a second term. Only one has refused to accept the voters’ verdict. The transition of power on Jan. 20 is inevitable but will benefit from a gentle, wise, and conciliatory approach. Mr. Biden sets an example by insisting Americans stop treating opponents as an enemy. “The Bible tells us that to everything there is a season – a time to build, a time to reap, a time to sow. And a time to heal,” he said after the election. “This is the time to heal in America.” Leaders in both parties are starting to show how.

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