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It’s the Dawn of a New Day: Some Thoughts About the Election

It is the dawn of a new day… and Donald J. Trump is now the President-Elect of the United States of America.   As everyone thinks about what this will mean for our country, I’m remembering another American president– one who was never elected to that office.   Perhaps you recall reading about the late Gerald Ford, who was our 38th president, from 1974 to 1977.  He had previously been the vice president, serving from 1973 until President Richard Nixon’s resignation in 1974.  Ford had an interesting path to the presidency: he was the first person appointed to the vice presidency under the terms of the 25th Amendment, following the resignation of Vice President Spiro T. Agnew in October 1973.  You could say he became the Vice President by default. He then became president upon Richard Nixon’s departure in August 1974, giving Gerald Ford the unique distinction of the first (and to date only) person to have served as both Vice President and President of the United States without being elected to either office.

As President, Ford inherited some challenges, some of which he handled well.  He signed the Helsinki Accords, which marked a move toward détente in the Cold War.  Domestically, he presided over the worst economy in the four decades since the Depression of the 1930s; there was growing inflation and a recession that he had to deal with.  But he is probably remembered for the controversial act of granting a presidential pardon to President Richard Nixon, who had resigned just before he was about to be impeached for his role in the Watergate scandal.  Many Americans felt Nixon did not deserve a pardon, but Ford saw it as a way of avoiding a long, drawn-out series of legal proceedings and putting the Nixon years behind us.  In the Republican presidential primary campaign of 1976, Ford defeated then-former California Governor Ronald Reagan for the Republican nomination, but then, he narrowly lost the presidential election to his Democratic challenger, former Georgia governor Jimmy Carter in November 1976.

The reason why Gerald R. Ford springs immediately to my mind is because of that presidential pardon.  It was a “full, free, and absolute pardon,” because the former President had not yet been charged with any crimes at the time he was pardoned; and the legality of that blanket pardon was often called into question in the years following.  (After this event, whenever the phrase ‘I beg your pardon’ was uttered in public, people would mockingly reply “I am sorry, but Richard Nixon got my pardon!”)  On a more serious note, some historians believe Ford’s controversial pardon of Nixon made him less popular as a candidate.

And that leads me to Hillary Clinton, who was not my choice for president.  For more than two years now, Republicans, including Donald Trump, have suggested that Mrs. Clinton has a criminal history going back some forty years, and that she is one of the most dishonest candidates ever to run for the office of President.  This is, of course, the subject of debate, and her supporters say it is entirely false. Most Democrats believe she has never committed a crime, and that she has been unfairly targeted by her political enemies for many years; but for Republicans, it is widely believed that she is dishonest, and that she has committed crimes which should be investigated.  In fact, at Trump rallies, his supporters have often chanted “Lock her up.”  Whether or not Mrs. Clinton has actually done anything criminal remains to be seen, but Republicans fear it may never be determined if the current president, Barack Obama, decides in his last 70 days in office to issue another blanket pardon, absolving her from any unindicted crimes, the way Ford did for Richard Nixon.  (Democrats would say a pardon is unnecessary, since she did nothing wrong.  But the fact that there are two completely different views about her is another example of why this was such a polarizing election, with both sides holding totally opposite viewpoints about each of the candidates.)

Meanwhile, regardless of whether you voted for Hillary Clinton or Donald Trump (or someone else), it is safe to assume that there are many people, especially on the Lesley campus, who are in a state of shock due to the results of this election.  I would like to point out that the future has not yet been written, and all Americans will need to see what the first hundred days of a Trump Presidency will look like.  We should not jump to conclusions and assume the worst.  Let’s not make the same mistake the Southern states made in 1860 by assuming that Abraham Lincoln would do (or not do) certain things that, in reality, were not within his power at all.  Donald J. Trump is just one man; even as he becomes the 45th President of the United States in the new year, it must be remembered our system of government has checks and balances built into it, limiting the powers of the president.  So, while you may be disappointed that your chosen candidate lost, the words of another great American president should serve to temper any feelings of insecurity.  Remember that even Donald Trump’s supporters cannot say for certain what he will or will not do as president, nor predict what a Trump administration will be like.  So, before you panic, think of the words of Franklin Delano Roosevelt, when he cautioned the nation: “We have nothing to fear but fear itself!”

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