Editorial

 

FROM its historical perch as the world’s exemplar of democracy, the United States is presently in throes of a messy election that holds not only Americans but the global community in suspense over its official outcome. Conventional sources like media networks and pundits with time-honoured record of accuracy have called the November 3 vote as won by Democratic candidate and former Vice-President Joe Biden, who should be taking office as the 46th US president on  January 20, 2021. But Republican candidate and incumbent President Donald Trump has refused to accept that verdict and filed multiple lawsuits to demand vote recount in battlegrounds. Consequently, he has refused to make the traditional concession of defeat: another time-honoured feature of American elections.

Returns in American presidential polls never get made centrally soon after voting because unlike the centralised election management system we have in Nigeria, the US has a decentralised system by which each of its 50 states has peculiar laws governing its peculiar processes and timelines for vote counting. Besides, US presidents are not directly elected by popular votes because when voters cast their ballot for president, they effectively vote for a college of electors whose respective number per state has been statutorily apportioned based on population. It is these electors who formally vote the president at a later date, but they conventionally vote strictly in line with the trend of the popular vote. In other words, a contender who wins the majority of popular votes in a state is expected to automatically receive the electoral votes for that state. By law, a candidate must poll a minimum of 270 electoral votes to win the presidency.

Historically, US elections are informally called on the heels of voting based on projections of electoral votes receivable by candidates. It is based on such projections that losers concede defeat and readily place congratulatory calls to projected winners. Soon after that, an arrangement for smooth transition of power is instituted. As at last weekend, vote counting was yet under way in some states while a few others like Georgia were looking ahead to a recount; still, Biden had overreached the 270 mark to net 306 electoral votes whereas Trump had 237. But the historical conventions aren’t playing out this time because not only has Trump refused to accept the obvious verdict, he has also barred state institutions from cooperating in a transition to Biden. More than two weeks after the vote, the Trump camp is without proof plying allegations of malpractices by which it hopes to upturn Biden’s touted edge. Meanwhile, besides the electoral votes, Biden is as well ahead in popular votes at 75 million and counting, compared with Trump’s 70 million votes.

We consider it a sad commentary that the United States – the world’s leading light of electoral democracy – is now hobbled by the bad loser syndrome that is the bane of less advanced democracies. In America’s present state, Nigeria has superior morals to teach, and it is apparently in that line that former President Goodluck Jonathan was recently reported advising political leaders worldwide to choose honour above power. “It is better to gain honour at the cost of losing power than to gain power at the cost of losing honour,” Jonathan said in a Facebook post. It was likewise ironic that US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, who typically warns other countries against monkey business in elections, apparently lived in denial of his own country’s reality last week when he told journalists in Washington there would be smooth transition to a second Trump term. Prodded by a reporter whether that was not undermining his message abroad, Pompeo responded with pique, saying: “That’s ridiculous. And you know it’s ridiculous, and you asked because it’s ridiculous.”

Considering his famous nationalist biases, that there were 70 million Americans who voted Trump showed the underbelly of that country as still largely racist. But that does not detract from the guide offered by national history for doing the right thing: concede defeat gallantly and let go of power.