He didn't get my vote. (Neither did she.) But he's about to be my president and until his official conduct demands otherwise, I intend to afford him the dignity and respect befitting someone who assumes the highest office in the land. That's what I promised when, three weeks before the election, I wrote here that I was very concerned about what would follow the campaign. I said that regardless of the victor, the outcome would require "forbearance."
Had Hillary Clinton won, I argued that we'd need to end the fixation with Benghazi, stop repeating FBI Director James Comey's words that she was "extremely careless" with her private email servers, and cease blaming the rise of ISIS on her stewardship at the State Department. A Donald Trump victory, I wrote, would mean not judging him based on his comments about Mexico sending us its rapists, or mocking a New York Times reporter with a disability, and statements evidencing misogyny. At the time, her election seemed a certainty.
That Trump was victorious doesn't change my premise. I'm willing to give the president-elect a fresh start in the name of national unity. That doesn't mean I'll soon forget the past, but that from this moment forward it will be his actions as president that will determine his reception, at least from me.
However remote, there is the prospect of him surprising us and governing in a manner different from how he campaigned. The Trump who accepted victory in the wee hours of Wednesday morning was not the candidate who stood on stage and belittled "Little Marco" or "Lyin' Ted." Instead, in his acceptance speech he noted that:
"Hillary has worked very long and very hard over a long period of time, and we owe her a major debt of gratitude for her service to our country. I mean that very sincerely. Now it is time for America to bind the wounds of division, have to get together. To all Republicans and Democrats and independents across this nation, I say it is time for us to come together as one united people."
The following morning, Clinton, draped in nonpartisan purple and accompanied by former President Bill Clinton wearing a tie of the same shade, struck a similar chord:
"We have seen that our nation is more deeply divided than we thought. But I still believe in America and I always will. And if you do, then we must accept this result and then look to the future. Donald Trump is going to be our president. We owe him an open mind and the chance to lead. Our constitutional democracy enshrines the peaceful transfer of power and we don't just respect that, we cherish it."
Then President Obama echoed the conciliatory words of the combatants when he said: ". . . the day after, we have to remember that we're actually all on one team. This is an intramural scrimmage. We're not Democrats first. We're not Republicans first. We are Americans first. We're patriots first. We all want what's best for this country. That's what I heard in Mr. Trump's remarks last night. That's what I heard when I spoke to him directly. And I was heartened by that. That's what the country needs - a sense of unity; a sense of inclusion; a respect for our institutions, our way of life, rule of law; and a respect for each other. I hope that he maintains that spirit throughout this transition, and I certainly hope that's how his presidency has a chance to begin."
Trump, Clinton, and Obama are providing leadership desperately needed by the nation. Now their message needs to be followed by other politicians and the public. It's time to elevate the debate, return civility to governance, and end partisan gridlock. This is not a time for paybacks.
Last week, when Clinton's election seemed inevitable, Republicans were speaking openly about holding congressional hearings on her private email server, further investigating Benghazi, and leaving the Antonin Scalia seat on the Supreme Court open in perpetuity. Some even raised the specter of her impeachment before her election. All of that would have been a disservice, a continuation of the type of obstructionism placed in the path of Obama ever since Mitch McConnell rallied Republicans around the idea that the "single most important thing we want to achieve is for President Obama to be a one-term president."
Don't misunderstand. Partisan competition is healthy - democracy depends on it. I'm not advocating that Trump be given a policy blank check. But McConnell's comments ushered in an ugly era of vitriol and obstructionism that went far beyond trying to defeat someone at the ballot box. Perhaps it's naïve to think Trump is capable of better given the way in which he campaigned with such vengeance toward "crooked Hillary." But he gave me cause for hope when in primary season he cited "Two Corinthians."
I'm not crediting him for quoting Scripture - to the contrary, his awkward reference to the New Testament during a campaign appearance at Liberty University evidenced a lack of devotion to beliefs that certain of his supporters hold dear. Some saw a shallow attempt to ingratiate - I'd like to think I heard words from a man who wasn't a true believer, but is a dealmaker, a pragmatist who knows how to sell and close a deal. This former Democrat who once contributed to the candidate he just defeated never showed an ideological commitment to any extreme before becoming a candidate.
Maybe that's what we'll get in the White House: a compromiser in chief. One can hope.
Michael Smerconish can be heard from 9 a.m. to noon on SiriusXM's POTUS Channel 124 and seen hosting "Smerconish" at 9 a.m. Saturdays on CNN.