Trump’s dangerous talk on election result

The Republican candidate has left open the possibility that he may reject the choice made by voters, undermining the basic principles of a democratic system

PUBLISHED : Friday, 21 October, 2016, 1:24am
UPDATED : Friday, 21 October, 2016, 1:24am

Having commented on the two previous American presidential election television debates between Republican candidate Donald Trump and Democrat Hillary Clinton, we needed a good reason to do so on the third and last one. Trump has provided it with his stunning failure to give an assurance that he would respect the outcome of the election.

Asked by debate moderator Chris Wallace of Fox News if he would accept the results, Trump said: “I will look at it at the time. I will keep you in suspense.” Understandably, the audience gasped at the more scary possible interpretations and Wallace reflected on the US tradition of peaceful transition of power.

‘I’ll keep you in suspense’: Donald Trump invites backlash by refusing to promise he’ll respect election result

Admittedly, the words are open to relatively benign interpretation, such as being an ungracious loser, and they were a complete reversal of what he pledged in the first debate when he said: “I want to make America great again but if she [Clinton] wins I will absolutely support her.” So Trump is entitled to the benefit of the doubt. Nonetheless, given his line that the election is “rigged” against him by an alliance of Democrats and Republicans, and corporate and media interests , and dire warnings from Trump insiders about victory being “stolen”, any ambivalence about a basic principle of democratic system of government, majority rule by consent based on a free vote, is worrying. Indeed, a fundamental strength of the American system of government is peaceful transition of power back and forth between the major political parties. In a campaign in which character assassination, insult and abuse has debased American political debate, Trump faces questions about his fitness for high office. He needs to put one to rest now by making it clear he will accept the people’s verdict, and address the others by focusing on issues and not personalities.

Disappointingly, the final debate failed to break the cycle of personal attacks with enough meaningful exchanges on substantive issues. Trump showed more discipline than before, but a few missteps has likely done little to help him bridge the gap Clinton has opened up in the opinion polls.