US Elections 2016, the day after: A nation still divided

Obama leads calls for national unity

US President Barack Obama (right) meets with President-elect Donald Trump to discuss transition plans in the White House Oval Office in Washington, on Nov 10, 2016.
US President Barack Obama (right) meets with President-elect Donald Trump to discuss transition plans in the White House Oval Office in Washington, on Nov 10, 2016.PHOTO: REUTERS

WASHINGTON • President Barack Obama has taken the lead as US politicians cut across party lines to call for unity in the United States following a bitter presidential election campaign that has resulted in sharp divisions between supporters of President-elect Donald Trump and his defeated rival Hillary Clinton.

"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," Mr Obama told disconsolate staff in the White House Rose Garden on Wednesday, a day ahead of a planned meeting with Mr Trump at the White House for talks on executing a smooth transition of power.

"Sometimes you lose an argument," he said, adding that all Americans would now be "rooting" for Mr Trump's success.

"We are Americans first. We're patriots first. We all want what's best for this country," said Mr Obama.

The President's appeal came as anger over Mr Trump's election win spilled out onto the streets of US cities late on Wednesday as chanting protesters lit bonfires and snarled traffic. The public displays of disappointment occurred despite a similar call by Mrs Clinton in her concession speech after the election to give Mr Trump a chance.

"We owe him an open mind and the chance to lead," she had said. "Our constitutional democracy enshrines the peaceful transfer of power, and we don't just respect that. We cherish it."

Mr Trump had also sounded a tone of reconciliation in his victory speech in New York, saying "it is time for America to bind the wounds of division" and pledging to work with Democrats in office.

Massachusetts Senator Elizabeth Warren - who waged a bitter personal war of words against Mr Trump during the campaign - said on Wednesday that she was "intensely frustrated" by his victory, but she too offered an olive branch.

"President-elect Trump promised to rebuild our economy for working people, and I offer to put aside our differences and work with him on that task," she said.

 

House Speaker Paul Ryan, a Republican who had distanced himself from Mr Trump in the final month of his campaign, pledged to "hit the ground running" and work with him on conservative legislation. But Mr Ryan also called for healing, saying the bitterly contested race must be followed by a period "of redemption, not a time of recrimination".

Even Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders, who galvanised young Americans during the Democratic primary race, said on Wednesday that he was ready to work with President-elect Trump if he wants to "improve the lives of working families".

But like Mrs Clinton, who had urged her supporters to "never stop believing that fighting for what's right is worth it", Mr Sanders also issued a warning to Mr Trump: "To the degree that he pursues racist, sexist, xenophobic and anti-environment policies, we will vigorously oppose him."

AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on November 11, 2016, with the headline 'Obama leads calls for national unity'. Print Edition | Subscribe