That’s all that separates us from the day after the most contentious election in modern history. Circle it, Nov. 9. The only certainty is that some Americans will wake up in a funk. And according to polls, even many who voted for the winning candidate will have done so reluctantly. Our collective reaction the day after — and that of both the winning and the losing candidates — will set the course for the next four years. So here’s my hair-of-the-dog tonic for both the public and the candidates.
First, from the citizenry: Forbearance.
It’ll be extremely difficult, but come Nov. 9, let’s not judge Donald Trump based on his comments about Mexico sending us its rapists, his mocking of a New York Times reporter with a disability or his history of misogyny. And if Hillary Clinton is elected the nation’s first female president, we must end the fixation with Benghazi, stop repeating FBI Director James Comey’s assessment that she was “extremely careless” with her private email servers and stop blaming the rise of the Islamic State on her stewardship at the State Department.
It’s too much to ask that their pasts will all be forgotten, but reasonable to request that we move on in the name of national unity. For far too long, the largest number of us have allowed our voices to be muted by the loudest voices. It’s important we not let them take us down that road for another four years. Hopefully, the candidates can provide leadership that heals.
If Trump wins, he needs to appear magnanimous toward Clinton and he can begin by retiring his Twitter account and banishing “Crooked Hillary” from his lexicon. His first appointment to the cabinet should be a Hispanic and his senior staff should include women and people of color.
“He should make clear that some of his most extreme statements in the campaign he does not intend to act on and instead, he will listen. He’ll listen to the generals, he’ll listen to the members of the Congress, he’ll listen to the general public,” offered Sen. Chris Coons, D-Del., when I asked him for suggestions.
Coons, who led a bipartisan congressional delegation to Morocco and Eastern Europe last summer, also thinks it important that Trump visit NATO, “sit down with our allies and say, ‘It’s a treaty. We stand by our treaties, you can trust us as an ally. If Russia invades you, we will defend you. That’s what the NATO treaty means.’”
If Trump is the loser, he must accept the legitimacy of his fate with grace, a tall order for him. Unfortunately, he has already planted seeds for questioning the election’s validity. Last week in Pennsylvania, he warned an overwhelmingly white crowd that their votes were at risk of being stolen from people in “other communities.” A week prior, he similarly warned that the only way he could be beaten was “if in certain sections of the state they cheat.” That sort of unfounded thinking is destructive and must end.
Additionally, the nation can ill afford another confab where Sen. Mitch McConnell implores his fellow Republican leaders that the “single most important thing we want to achieve is for President Obama to be a one-term president.” It’s healthy for one party to wish to defeat another, but the nation cannot sustain the type of attacks on Obama now being redirected toward Clinton.
If she wins, she should immediately reach across the aisle. She should request that the Senate confirm Merrick Garland to the Supreme Court — a centrist with impeccable credentials who happens to be a Democrat. Coons, a member of the Judiciary Committee, concurs.
“Many in my party on the left are urging her to withdraw his nomination or to not renominate him and to instead nominate someone 15 years younger and much more left,” he told me. “And I certainly understand how that appeals to a progressive agenda. … There are some critics of Garland’s centrism. But I think getting the country back, our Congress back, to working with each other begins with confirming a confirmable justice.”
Coons would also advise Clinton to put together a “bold infrastructure plan,” noting that it’s a rare area of agreement between such disparate interests as the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and organized labor.
“We have huge problems in terms of rail, road and ports,” Coons said. “I commute to Washington on Amtrak almost every day. I go through a tunnel that was built in the 1870s. I go over two bridges that were built more than 100 years ago. If you go to our competitor countries like China, South Korea, and Japan, they have world-class, state-of-the-art airport, rail, ports. That’s why they’re succeeding and competing with us in infrastructure.”
The self-described “radical centrist” who represents Delaware and holds the seat formerly held by Vice President Biden hopes a President Clinton would “seize a moment here to put forward a balanced centrist agenda, encourage Republicans to work with her across the aisle, not try and make big sort of strikes to the left, and instead say we need to work together because there are a lot of people in the middle who have been completely turned off by the last several campaign cycles.”
Should she lose, she must be gracious in defeat, accept the outcome, and give Trump the opportunity to show that actions speak louder than words. That’ll be tough, given the invective she’s incurred, but there is historical precedent for a losing presidential candidate putting the nation first. Richard Nixon accepted a controversial defeat in 1960 and Al Gore did likewise in 2000.
Whoever the victor, come Nov. 9, we need to put this election behind us.
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Michael Smerconish writes for The Philadelphia Inquirer, and is host of “Smerconish” on CNN. Readers may contact him at www.smerconish.com