Dr. Brian Klaas explains how the next US president can heal a divided electorate after today’s results.
Dr. Brian Klaas studies fractured societies. He is an expert in global democracy, political violence, and political volatility. His work is usually needed in countries emerging from deeply divisive conflicts, but he believes the United States is going to need a post-election reconciliation plan after this election day.
Tomorrow, between 55 to 70 million Americans will wake up absolutely horrified at the results of the elections, whether its President Clinton or President Trump, they may be unwilling to accept the results.
US politics are not alright. A recent poll by Politico and Morning Consult showed 41% of American voters believe the election could be “stolen.” Trump himself suggested the election has been rigged and said he wouldn’t recognize Clinton’s possible win. Also, former Illinois Rep. Joe Walsh implied that he would lead an armed revolt if Clinton won.
Even if it remains low, the risk that electoral violence follows the results has surged. Not only peaceful manifestations turned violent but there was a normalization of violent rhetoric in the US political discourse. This was amplified by Trump’s campaign which mainstreamed racism, xenophobia and religious intolerance.
For Klaas, the risk is sufficient to justify the need for a reconciliation plan.
If Hilary Clinton becomes President she will have a dual problem: quelling the risk of political violence from people who believe she won a rigged election and try to find a way to position herself as the president of all Americans, including those who voted for Trump.
For Trump, if he is to be the next president he has to find a way to win over groups that find him revolting, either because he insulted or peddled racist tropes about them (Muslims, African-Americans, and Latinos) or boasted about sexually assaulting them (women).
In his experience, Klaas believes there are two cases are relevant to US democracy: Tunisia and Côte d’Ivoire.
The first because of its reconciliation process after the post-Arab Spring transition to democracy was remarkably peaceful. It gave those with unsavory views a reason to buy in the new order and kept reactionary views out of the country’s future.
The second, because it fell into a cycle of political violence after its 2010 presidential election. Although the US is not headed towards a civil war, Trump saying the system is rigged sends a destabilizing signal to the citizens.
So, the first step to reconciliation is simple. Recognition. Should Trump lose, the Republicans must immediately congratulate Clinton and accept the results, even if Trump does not. Democrats must do the same if Trump wins. The concession speech of the losing candidate is crucial because it legitimates the election.
Tunisian experience also highlights a lesson, extending an olive branch to partisan rivals with even the most absurd views is crucial to not only peace but the long-term vitality of democracy.
The US needs to learn this, even if only the winner takes office. Both Clinton and Trump need to improve the lives of the electoral losers because the aftermath of a divisive ballot if often the most volatile period.
Klaas suggests appointing Republicans in key posts if Clinton wins, as well as asking Trump’s supporters for ideas, and listening. Listening can often be an effective pillar that can turn alienation into popular engagement in post conflict reconciliation.
Whoever wins tonight will preside over the most divided electorate in modern US history. Before America’s Civil War, Abraham Lincoln warned that a “house divided against itself cannot stand.” The US is not on the brink of a civil war but, the house is clearly divided and the repairs need to come from the next government and fast.