By BRIAN A. HOWEY

INDIANAPOLIS – Two Hoosiers were on conspicuous national stages this month when they were asked what in just about any other era would be perceived as Chicago-style softball questions. 

Vice President Mike Pence was asked by debate moderator Susan Page, “President Trump has several times refused to commit himself to a peaceful transfer of power after the election. If Vice President Biden is declared the winner and President Trump refuses to accept a peaceful transfer of power, what would be your role and responsibility as vice president? What would you personally do?”

And U.S. Supreme Court nominee Amy Coney Barrett was asked by Sen. Dianne Feinstein at Monday’s Senate Judiciary Committee confirmation hearing, “Does the Constitution give the president of the United States the authority to unilaterally delay a general election under any circumstances? Does federal law?”

That these two questions would even have to be asked is a troubling sign of our times.

Why? 

Because President Trump has stoked the body politick into believing that he might not accept the results of the Nov. 3 election. Trump said he would “see what happens” when pressed about a peaceful transition of power during a Sept. 23 news conference. “There won’t be a transfer, frankly, there’ll be a continuation.”

In July, Fox News Sunday host Chris Wallace pressed Trump to “give a direct answer” on whether he would accept the Nov. 3 election results or not. “I have to see,” Trump responded. “Look, you — I have to see. No, I’m not going to just say ‘yes.’ I’m not going to say ‘no’ and I didn’t last time either.”

Trump has suggested on multiple occasions he should get a third term, after watching autocrats like Putin and Xi revamp their constitutions to create lifetime power.

Here’s how Vice President Pence answered Page’s question: “Well, Susan, first and foremost, I think we’re gonna win this election.” Turning to his opponent, Sen. Kamala Harris, Pence continued, “When you talk about accepting the outcome of the election, I must tell you, Senator, your party has spent the last three and a half years trying to overturn the results of the last election. It’s amazing. When Joe Biden was vice president of the United States, the FBI actually spied on President Trump and my campaign.” 

Pence continued, “So let me just say, I think we’re gonna win this election. President Trump and I are fighting every day in courthouses to prevent Joe Biden and Kamala Harris from changing the rules and creating this universal mail-in voting, they’ll create a massive opportunity for voter fraud. We have a free and fair election; we know we’re going to have confidence in it. And I believe in all my heart that President Donald Trump’s gonna be reelected for four more years.”

As for the vote fraud allegation, Secretary of State Connie Lawson told HPI last month there was “no evidence” of such a threat.

Judge Barrett answered her question this way: “Well, Senator, if that question ever came before me, I would need to hear arguments from the litigants and read briefs and consult with my law clerks and talk to my colleagues and go through the opinion-writing process.” She begged off becoming a “pundit” and promised to approach matters with “an open mind.”

The U.S. Constitution leaves no doubt on both matters. Article II, Section 1 states: “The Congress may determine the time of choosing the electors, and the day on which they shall give their votes; which day shall be the same throughout the United States.”

The 20th Amendment to the Constitution requires: “The terms of the President and the Vice President shall end at noon on the 20th day of January … and the terms of their successors shall then begin.” 

Title 3, Section 1, Chapter 1 of the U.S. Code specifies: “The electors of president and vice president shall be appointed, in each state, on the Tuesday next after the first Monday in November, in every fourth year succeeding every election of a president and vice president.”

In my six decades as a citizen of this great nation, I always believed in the “peaceful transfer of power,” even if that meant that two presidents, one departing, the other ready to take the reins, weren’t always in the best spirits. There have been a number of icy car rides down Pennsylvania Avenue between the White House and U.S. Capitol.

In modern times, we’ve actually witnessed former foes – Presidents George H.W. Bush who was defeated by Bill Clinton in 1992 – become good friends. We just didn’t think that anything other than a peaceful transfer of power would occur, even after the razor tight elections of 1960 and 2000.

As our nation endures a pandemic that could stretch into another year, and the reverberations that have severely impacted our economy and many other aspects of our lives, the words of reassurance from Vice President Pence and Judge Barrett would have been a tonic for a wary people.

Pence could have said, “We will follow the legacy of 240 years established by President George Washington and, subsequently, enshrined in our Constitution.”

For Judge Barrett, the wise answer would have been a simple “No.”

Their convoluted answers with Pence suggesting a payback is in order, while the judge was open for arguments on what should be proven law are troubling, because they seemed couched for that audience of one, President Trump – instead of E pluribus unum – Latin for “Out of many, one.”