After having seen multiple leaders of African nations fail to leave office after their terms ended, a Sudanese-born businessman, in 2007, began awarding $5 million to former African heads of state who served only their elected terms. Mo Ibrahim, who made his fortune bringing the cellphone to sub-Saharan Africans, wanted to encourage democratic leadership in a region of far too many dictators and demagogues, and to motivate leaders to honor the peaceful transfer of power that defines democracy.
The history of the world is littered with authoritarian leaders who rose to power through democratic elections: from Julius Caesar to Adolf Hitler to Robert Mugabe. But that’s never happened in the United States in its 244-year history, at least not yet. Our country has been a democracy since its founding — a republic not a monarchy — and will remain so if, to paraphrase Benjamin Franklin, we can keep it.
It’s now clear that Donald Trump will lose the Electoral College, that archaic system established in the Constitution, by an ample margin to Joe Biden. He’s also lost the popular vote by roughly 4 million votes in the latest tally. The historic win for Joe Biden, who has earned more Americans’ support than any previous presidential candidate, happened through a credible process carried out diligently by election officials across the 50 states, red and blue. Bipartisan teams tallied state results, and monitors from abroad observed our electoral process. Both parties were granted access to observe the counts in the closest swing states as they tallied votes over the last several days.
While the Trump campaign is entitled to ask for a recount in states with razor-thin margins, like Wisconsin, and Georgia has already announced a recount, those have nearly no chance of validly changing the outcome. In the meantime, his failure to concede will take a toll on the American psyche. Contrary to the president’s torrent of lies and propaganda from Thursday night, the slow counts in several key states were by the book — owed mainly to various states’ rules about when the unprecedented volume of mail-in ballots could be counted — not an attempt to steal the election. If Trump voters have any doubt, they need only look to the count in Arizona and pending recount in Georgia, where Republican officials have overseen the tallying of votes. In Arizona, the days of extra counting actually favored Trump, even though he did not eke out an edge over Biden in that state.
Trump has never been good at accepting reality. Just as he did as a “reality” TV star, the president concocts a reality that reinforces his power and then sells it to his audience. But in this case, his concocted reality is poisoning the public’s trust in democracy, preventing the electoral process from functioning as it should in a free country: as a reflection of the will of the people and a signal of when to begin a transfer of power.
For months, as he prepared to discredit an election outcome not in his favor, Trump has distorted the public’s perception of the fairness of the election process, spreading lies about fraud in mail-in voting while neglecting to mention that he and his family members have mailed in ballots in multiple elections. The president and his party have also made blatant efforts to suppress the vote of urban voters and people of color across the country. Donald Trump never wanted a fair fight or a free election. He wanted to cling to power as a dictator would, to hell with democracy.
The Globe editorial board recognizes that the president is unlikely to heed our call for him to step aside now that the voters have spoken. But even a strongman can be exposed for his weakness. If enough leaders in his own party, campaign, and Cabinet demand that he concede, Trump might be forced to face the reality that he has lost the election, even if he never accepts it. If they would like to be remembered as patriots and not authoritarian sympathizers, it’s time for all Republicans — from Vice President Mike Pence to Senate majority leader Mitch McConnell to Governor Charlie Baker of Massachusetts — to tell Trump that this is over and that he must let the will of the American people prevail. It’s not enough to privately kvetch, or simply to condemn the president’s statements or behavior. Every leader should be crying for the president to bow out.
History will judge harshly those who put political survival above the ideals that have made America a beacon, that have served for centuries as an inspiration for democratic movements and a model for free societies around the world.
Call Joe Biden to concede, Mr. Trump. This reality TV show has been canceled, and our democracy is starting a new season.
Editorials represent the views of the Boston Globe Editorial Board. Follow us on Twitter at @GlobeOpinion.