- The Washington Times - Wednesday, January 21, 2009


Around 130 million Americans voted on Nov. 4. Our presidential races differ from elections elsewhere on the planet in at least two ways. First, ours acquire more global attention than those of any other country. The media aside, many people in other nations know that major U.S. elections occur every fourth November. Conversely, few Americans know the election cycles of any other nation - whether of our greatest enemies or our closest neighbors or allies.

A grander phenomenon is this: Compared to much of the rest of the world, U.S. transfers of power are stunningly peaceful and agreeable to our citizenry. A worldwide case study of the last 60 years will highlight many other nations’ power changes and contrast them with ours. Whether your man won or lost this year, perhaps we can remain calm and recall how blessed we are in this relatively safe country.

Since 1948, the United States has experienced 16 presidential elections and 12 presidents (including Barack Obama). Only one entered power as a result of the assassination of his predecessor, for which the successor bore no blame. No candidates for the presidency have been killed. Similarly, none of our nation’s executive leaders have sustained oppressive regimes, silenced all opposition, stayed in office beyond their legal limit, or retained power by changing the law.

How do other countries boast on these issues? On assassinations, some 20 Asian countries have seen 43 of their prime ministers, kings, presidents, queens, first-ladies, vice-presidents, and leading candidates murdered since 1948. In Africa 25 top leaders in 17 countries have been assassinated. And 16 similar deaths have rocked 11 nations elsewhere in the world in the same time period.

Political oppression may be defined as the use of violence and other illegal tactics against one’s own people as means to retain or increase power indefinitely. In the last six decades, 37 or more African rulers have led such administrations. These autocrats have reigned an average of 19 years, with many still in power today. Latin America has had at least 27 authoritarians, averaging 10 years apiece. Asians have endured 32-plus despots, each lasting roughly 17 years. Europe: 13 leaders, 16-year average. Overall since 1948, the world has witnessed over 1,700 combined years of around 110 national rulers repressing their own citizens!

Another thing worth noting is the prolonged strength of our political establishment. We have the longest unchanging governmental system in the history of the world. Regardless of how tense a given election has been, we have never overhauled our constitution. We have never changed from a republic to an oligarchy or a communist country. Furthermore, we have had but one explosive, gruesome division of our nation. It lasted four years and cost about 600,000 lives, and it occurred generations ago.

In contrast, the global scene looks bleak. Of the roughly 195 countries in the world today, over 100 have been created since 1948. Moreover, 35-40 nations - some younger, some older - have changed or dumped their constitutions in the same era. Worst of all, around 60 states have suffered all-out civil wars or genocides in nearly as many years. These desolations have lasted an average of 10 years each, and conservative death tolls of merely half of these disasters far exceeds 20 million persons.

In summary, the United States has one of the best records in the world regarding safe, fair, free, and voluntary shifts in our federal leadership and political thresholds. Voters and candidates alike enjoy mutual security and assurance of legitimate results and the right to vie for change in a few years if they so choose. So let us continue to stand up for what and who we believe is right.

However, let us not forget that we are all Americans, and therefore we are privileged and blessed. Nov. 4, 2008, which led to the Inauguration of Jan. 20, 2009, was a day saturated in freedom. America is still in many ways the envy of the world, and the way America observes and honors the changing of the guard peacefully and honorably in the White House is one of the biggest reasons for that global perception.

Nikolas Grosfield is a writer and editor living in Bozeman, Mont.

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