Voters may agree with the former president’s plans for further tax cuts, restrictions on abortions or strict limits on immigration. That’s politics, and the divisions among Americans over these issues will persist regardless of the outcome of this election. But electing Mr. Trump to four more years in the White House is a unique danger. Because what remains, what still binds Americans together as a nation, is the commitment to a process, a constitutional system for making decisions and moving forward even when Americans do not agree about the destination. That system guarantees the freedoms Americans enjoy, the foundation of the nation’s prosperity and of its security.
Mr. Trump’s record of contempt for the Constitution — and his willingness to corrupt people, systems and processes to his advantage — puts all of it at risk.
Upholding the Constitution means accepting the results of elections. Unsuccessful presidential candidates have shouldered the burden of conceding because the integrity of the process is ultimately more important than the identity of the president. “The people have spoken, and we respect the majesty of the democratic system,” George H.W. Bush, the last president before Mr. Trump to lose a bid for re-election, said on the night of his defeat in 1992. When Mr. Trump lost the 2020 presidential election, he sought to retain power by fomenting a violent insurrection against the government of the United States.
It also means accepting that the power of the victors is limited. When the Supreme Court delivered a sharp setback to President George W. Bush in 2008, ruling that foreign terrorism suspects held at Guantánamo Bay had the right to challenge their detention in federal court, the Bush administration accepted the ruling. Senator John McCain, then the Republican Party’s presidential nominee, said that he disagreed with the court, “but it is a decision the Supreme Court has made, and now we need to move forward.”
By contrast, as president, Mr. Trump repeatedly attacked the integrity of other government officials, including members of Congress, Federal Reserve governors, public health authorities and federal judges, and disregarded their authority. When the court ruled that the Trump administration could not add a citizenship question to the 2020 census, for example, Mr. Trump announced that he intended to ignore the court’s ruling. After leaving the White House, Mr. Trump refused repeated demands, including a grand jury subpoena, to return classified materials to the government. As the government investigated, Mr. Trump called on Congress to defund the F.B.I. and the Department of Justice “until they come to their senses.”