President-elect Donald Trump is railing against the very system that will put him in the White House. Without any substantiation whatsoever, the man who will be president went on a Twitter rant this weekend, saying he would have "won the popular vote if you deduct the millions of people who voted illegally." This is a baseless assertion that undermines the faith that Americans should have in their system of free and fair elections. In fact, the Times' own PolitiFact.com rates the claim Pants on Fire.
Trump's daylong series of angry Twitter posts Sunday was precipitated by Jill Stein, the Green Party candidate, successfully seeking a recount in Wisconsin and potentially in Michigan and Pennsylvania as well. Trump leads in Wisconsin by 22,177 votes, in Michigan by 10,704 and in Pennsylvania by 68,695. Keep in mind that Hillary Clinton's campaign did not initiate any call for a recount, but to protect her interests and to honor the millions who voted for her, it has agreed to take part since one is under way. Even so, the Clinton campaign acknowledges reality and doesn't expect anything to change. The Clinton team's general counsel said her campaign has not discovered any "actionable evidence" of hacking or attempts to tamper with the vote.
In other words, they are appropriately participating in a lawful, fact-based process to confirm what they already expect to be true — that Trump won the Electoral College vote fair and square. What is not appropriate is for a president-elect to cast doubt — without a shred of evidence — on the integrity of the American system of electing its president. Trump went even further with a later tweet, another fact-free assertion of "Serious voter fraud in Virginia, New Hampshire and California — so why isn't the media reporting on this? Serious bias — big problem!"
Clinton currently leads Trump in the popular vote by 2,243,329 votes, but he will win the Electoral College by 306 votes to her 232. That is the way the U.S. Constitution mandates that Americans elect their president. (In a column on the facing page, Harvard law professor Lawrence Lessig makes an interesting historical argument for why the electors should pick Clinton rather than Trump, but he is wrong.)
In participating in a recount in Wisconsin, Clinton's campaign will merely confirm what is already known. She accepts the result. Why can't he? The president-elect needs to become more presidential. The chaotic candidate of change needs to become a more stable force — now. There is too much at stake not to be sober and serious. The challenges, to use the president-elect's phrase, are big-league.