An Exceptional Election

With the apparent victory of Joe Biden in the 2020 presidential election, all eyes turn to Donald Trump. His concession is being eagerly watched for, both because it signals the end of a dangerous experiment in American democracy as well as the continuation of the single most important part of American history.

The democratic process in the United States works mostly because Americans have faith in it. There is no functional aspect of it that is, in the twenty-first century, particularly notable in a world filled with groundbreaking and unique means for conducting elections. The United States doesn’t have ranked-choice voting, or proportional representation, or even a national popular vote for its chief executive. What makes American elections so unique is the unerring faith placed in these events for over 200 years, through worldwide conflagrations, economic crashes, and even civil wars.

It is this long, unbroken series of elections, each of which resulted in the peaceful transition of power, that is the core of America’s strength and power on the world stage. This is what defines the country and its people more than any other factor.

This is what makes the United States truly unique among the players on the world stage. Certainly, the economic and military power of the United States is without peer. Yet, the dustbin of history is full of other such powers over time. Where are the Roman or Byzantine military juggernauts? Where are the Dutch trading monopolies? What fate befell the empires of South Asia? Mighty, each and every one, they fell or imploded with naught to show but stories of battles won or temporary gains in treasure.

What makes the United States so unique among the military and economic titans of history is that it has accomplished these feats while also having the single longest experience of popular mandates, each resulting in a peaceful transfer of power. This is such an anomaly in world history that explaining it without superlatives is nearly impossible. Elections, and the acquiescence to the results by candidates, is what has allowed the United States to grow, prosper and hold a moral high ground on the world stage unlike any other nation in existence.

This is precisely why Donald Trump’s refusal to admit defeat is so troubling.

The irony of this moment, the denouement of the Trump administration, is that so much of his rhetoric rested on a populist appeal to American exceptionalism. This has been the crux of almost all of his policies, from trade to foreign policy to unilateral defense postures that upend decades of practice. America first, now, and forever. The clarion call could not have been missed these last four years, as it was simple, loud, and repeated. It was the bedrock of Trump’s agenda.

Yet now, Donald Trump refuses to abide by the one thing above all else that makes the United States truly unique in the world.

At best, this is cognitive dissonance at the highest levels of power. More, it proves that Donald Trump never truly believed any of the lines he spat at his followers. His lines about American exceptionalism and the need to restore America to greatness were just vehicles through which he could assume power. If Donald Trump truly believed in American exceptionalism, if he truly understood the country he has led for the last four years, he would acknowledge the will of the people and act accordingly.