A Peaceful Transition of Power

By Dr. David J. Childs, Ph.D.
Northern Kentucky University

In the United States of America as I write this article, we have come to the close of a tumultuous Donald Trump presidency that has been characterized by right wing populism, a cult-like fan base, impeachment, undying support of the President by white evangelicals, America first doctrine and lastly unsubstantiated accusations of widespread voter fraud. As a result of a contested election there have been some concerns that Trump will refuse to step down. Historically the United States of America has had what is known as a peaceful transition of power from one president to another. 

But the coming weeks will tell us whether this long held tradition will be upheld as Trump leaves and Biden takes up the helm. “A peaceful transition of power has historically been the norm in United States presidential transitions. It is institutionalized through symbolic acts like the United States presidential inauguration. During the 2020 elections, a number of experts described a risk of democratic backsliding. US President Donald Trump, during his 2020 presidential campaign, raised doubts about the role of a peaceful transition, while other elected officials, such as the U.S. Senate, put out public statements in support of the institution and process, seeing it as significant in US democracy. The Financial Times reported that business leaders, including the US Chamber of Commerce and Business Roundtable, made statements calling for a peaceful transfer. After weeks of questioning, Trump stated on 15 November 2020 that he would accept a peaceful transfer, while at the same time, without giving evidence, he questioned the validity of the results of the 2020 United States presidential election.”

As has been our custom with these blog posts here is a lesson plan that helps students understand the various constitutional mechanisms in place to ensure a peaceful transition. This lesson is entitled Contentious Elections and the Peaceful Transition of Power.

Discussion Questions for Teachers, Students and the General Public:

1. What are the dangers of a president not voluntarily leaving office at the end of their term? What impact might this have on Democracy?
2. Do some research on why we still have the electoral college in the US. Do you think the electoral college has lost its usefulness in the US?
3. Do you think voter fraud impacted the 2020 election results? If so, do you think there is evidence of this? What would be valid sources for that?


  1. I didn’t know that the previous president had to have a peaceful transition of power. If the president does not voluntarily leave during the end of their term, it will threaten the rights given to the people in a democracy. I do to an extent, believe that the electoral college had lost its usefulness. This article is great and very useful.

  2. If a president refused to leave the office after their term was over then this country could no longer be considered a democratic country. People would start to retaliate and become rebellious.

  3. Although this post is already a year old, it is vital to highlight that all power transitions before former President Donald Trump left office were peaceful. What continues to astonish me is that Donald Trump essentially instigated a riot  where Trump supporters attended with the intention of hurting Joe Biden.

  4. When people lose power they will either be babies about it or mature. Those who throw a fit and refuse to lose the power that they had shows just how irresponsible they are and should be ashamed and embarrassed of their actions. It seems that recently no one should have power because they aren’t mature and need babysitters.

  5. The election between Trump and Biden was one of the most publicized and anxiety-wrenching elections I have experienced thus far. I do not think that there was a peaceful moment during this entire time because of the stress encompassed with all the other COVID-19 uncertainties in the mix of it. It was interesting to see the media during this election and how “rowdy” some people got over the results.

  6. It was a wild ride watching this past election between Donald Trump and Joe Biden. There was never a moment of peace, it felt as if everyone was on their toes, just waiting for the big news. This is a great article to look at for just a brief overview of the end of the presidency and has great discussion questions below that no doubt can lead to great answers.

  7. This article is now a year old but it is important to note that all transitions of power have been peaceful before former President Donald Trump left office. What still amazes me to this day is that Donald Trump basically incited a riot on the Capitol which Trump voters went to with the idea of killing now President Joe Biden. While many news sources had left out something crazy about that day, it is important to note that there are images and videos of Trump supporters erecting a gallows in front of the capitol and were yelling to bring Biden out.

  8. Just a refusal to commit to a peaceful transition of power weeks and weeks ago has caused myself, and I’m sure nearly everyone with sense, a great deal of stress and worry. Donald Trump’s presidency will go down as a historic one for sure, no matter how you feel about him. I am still flabbergasted that a reality-tv show host with a clear history of criminal business fraud who is on camera saying that if he ever ran for president he would run Republican because they would be stupid enough to vote for him not only won in 2016 but has inspired such a deep, as you say, cultish following. It’s frightening to say the least. It’s especially scary when it’s people we’ve known our entire lives who suddenly take his every word as scripture, and see him as a martyr for the American people.
    Unfortunately, it took a siege at the capitol building to wake some people up to their senses. I am still afraid that there will be more domestic terroristic attacks like the one we saw, but I think members of the GOP are beginning to realize what he has done to their image. So the movement to remove themselves from his ideas has begun.
    It’s interesting that in the weeks since this article was published, the insurrection occurred, Trump has been impeached for a historic second time, and social media platforms are banning the president and others like him whose words directly led to violence. I wish that it had not taken this much to get to this point, but in the long run, I’m still hopeful for the democracy of this nation. We are literally an experiment, and all experiments have unexpected results as times. However, I think people who have been taught to think critically and independently still have faith in our democracy. I think Trump was able to win in the first place because of his “drain the swamp” mantra. And even though I disagree Trump on nearly everything he’s done, I do see the separation of our politicians from what life is actually like for real Americans. I am just hopeful that American democracy and leadership still has room for genuine people who care. We shall continue staying informed and educated in the meantime.

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