I had an opportunity to ask the president of the United States a question only once in the six weeks prior to the November general election—when, on September 23, I asked him if he would support a peaceful transfer of power following the election “win, lose or draw.”
His answer was explosively controversial at the time: “We’ll see what happens.”
Well, we have seen.
We have seen the president lose the election—by more than 5 million popular votes and by 306-232 in the Electoral College. In 2016, when Trump won the Electoral College by that same margin but lost the popular vote, he called it a landslide. Now he calls Biden’s victory a hoax.
We have seen the president disparage and dispute the orderly and secure conduct of American democracy.
We have seen the president take to Twitter to blast inflammatory accusations—“tens of thousands of votes were stolen from us”; “VOTER FRAUD ALL OVER THE COUNTRY”; “this was a rigged election”; “an open and shut case of voter fraud”—with no evidence, and in fact, despite evidence to the contrary.
We have seen the president’s minions fly to talk radio, Fox News, conservative websites, and social media to lie and to share one another’s lies and laugh at the truth.
We have seen indeed.
Although the president hasn’t taken questions from reporters since the election, I have lobbed a few at him.
When he appeared in the Brady Briefing Room two days after the election, the race hadn’t yet been called by the networks, although the handwriting was on the wall. As he finished his remarks, I asked him: “Why do you continue lying to the American people? Why are you so delusional?” He staggered out of the room clutching onto a fake column behind the briefing room stage to steady himself as he left.
Eight days later Trump held another of his pep rallies pretending to be press conferences. Joined by some of his favorite sycophants—Vice President Mike Pence and HHS Secretary Alex Azar—as well as two of the leaders of the Operation Warp Speed vaccine program, the president once again refused to permit questions from any of the gathered journalists.
So I made a statement at the end and asked a question: “Mr. President you lost the election,” I said—six words spoken from the diaphragm from about 20 feet away. Then: “When will you admit you lost the election, sir?” Nine words. Short. To the point. It was not complicated. He heard it. He understood it. He didn’t answer.
Trump lost. Whether he admits it or doesn’t is of no matter. On January 20, 2021, there will be a new president. I see no value in caring whether Donald Trump accepts his loss or what he does after he leaves the White House. He wants attention I will no longer give him. I’ve had to cover every damn insane, divisive, ridiculous lie he’s spewed since he walked into the Oval Office. He will tease and hint a 2024 run, and will push every p.r. lever he knows to try to stay relevant. But he won’t have the power of the presidency. What he says won’t matter so much anymore.
What matters are the immense challenges we face as a country—including the pandemic, with a death toll of quarter of a million and now surging again, and the terrible economic fallout. Another of our systemic ailments, our extreme polarization built upon a foundation of political and racial problems we’ve refused to face for arguably 155 years, has been exacerbated by the current administration and by the president’s post-election antics.
How are we supposed to hold the country together when people are so divided?
Why are tens of millions of Americans willing to believe the worst of their fellow citizens?
How can we handle those who endorse—via their vote and via their media-consuming habits—“alternate facts” that are detached from reality?
One modest suggestion: We should learn from the example of Daryl Davis.
You may have heard of Davis; his story has been widely reported in the press, and he has even been the subject of an award-winning documentary. He is a big guy, a 62-year-old African-American pianist who has played backup for Chuck Berry and Jerry Lee Lewis as well as blues icons Muddy Waters and B.B. King.
But Davis’s main claim to fame—and the hope he gives us all—is in his work as a civil rights activist.
The son of a foreign service officer, Davis grew up in Europe. He told me that when his family moved back to the United States, he was genuinely surprised at the amount of racism here. Eventually, through his music, he got to meet people he’d never likely encounter otherwise.
That led Davis to a multitude of conversations with members of the Ku Klux Klan. For three decades he has sought them out, to get to know them so they could get to know him. He’s even gone to KKK rallies to talk to Klansmen. He often begins his initial conversations saying, “Why do you hate me when you don’t even know me?”
He’s talked several Klansmen, including high-ranking members, out of their robes. The Grand Wizard of the Maryland KKK gave Davis his robes and even invited him to be his daughter’s godfather.
Davis recently spoke with me about his experiences. Listen to him on this episode of my “Just Ask the Question” podcast and decide for yourself if he makes sense.
Now, if that kind of transformation is possible in the United States, then it is still possible to hold country together. To put Donald Trump and his wailing banshees behind us. To get along again. In the words of a song Davis once played with Chuck Berry:
Hail, hail rock-n’-roll. Deliver me from the days of old.
That lyric was a subtle way, Davis explains, to talk about white kids and black kids getting together and enjoying each other’s company even as uptight parents fought against that type of bonding.
What was once old is new again.