I once watched a volleyball tournament of young women battling for a state championship. The contest was brutal; each set seemed to last forever. The scores stayed close, right to the end. When the last ball was lobbed, the player dove and missed, and the ball flew out of bounds, the winning team leaped and cheered as their supporters erupted. Then almost immediately, due to some great coaching I suspect, those players dove under the net, grabbed their opponents’ hands, shook them, and cheered for them.
It was the finest example of sportsmanship I’ve ever witnessed. It comes back to me now as we arrive at this election day, when the noise is past, votes are cast and a winner emerges. I’d like to envision jubilant cheering, followed by sincere congratulations. We can hope, yes? Winning isn’t everything if it reveals the ugly side of a person — or party. Losing isn’t the end all if it reveals the gracious side of a person — or party.
America is bruised right now. We’ve collectively suffered through too many divisive displays, harsh haranguing and cruel crowing. What we need now is an unprecedented demonstration of unity. It’s past due.
Some helpful, historical insight is revealed in some of our past presidential concession speeches, delivered by losing candidates who showed, in their moment of defeat, predominant love for this country. Most contain a commitment of support for the new president, gratitude to their supporters, and a call for unity. In 1984, Walter Mondale said of Ronald Reagan, “We honor him tonight. He is our president. ... (T)onight we rejoice in our democracy, we rejoice in the freedom of a wonderful people and we accept their verdict.”
In 1992, George H. W. Bush, defeated by Bill Clinton, eloquently stated, “The people have spoken, and we respect the majesty of the democratic system. ... There is important work to be done, and America must come first.”
And in 2000, Al Gore mindfully conceded to George W. Bush with, “I say to president-elect Bush that what remains a partisan rancor must now be put aside and may God bless his stewardship of this country.”
While the loser is not obligated to concede (and if a vote is close or suspect, the apparent loser is wise to wait, fending off a demanding media looking for some scrap to scoop), the question to ask ourselves is how do we, as Americans, respond. I can’t answer for anyone else. But if my candidates win, I plan to be gracious. Be understanding. Acknowledge the loser’s backers’ sincere support for their candidate. Listen patiently to any references of voter stupidity or ignorance.
And if my candidates lose, I plan to be gracious. Be understanding. Acknowledge the winner’s backers’ sincere support for their candidate. Listen patiently to any references of voter superiority or intelligence.
Decent citizens who love this country will adjust. They know how to peacefully, actively support the things they believe make this nation great, and oppose the things that tear it down.
Abraham Lincoln, one of the most profound presidents to ever lead this country, said in 1858, “A house divided against itself cannot stand.” An Illinois senator at the time, Lincoln would render years of public service, ultimately giving his life to the cause of uniting this country. He knew, as we should, that the strength of a nation lies in the unity of its people.
We can take a cue from America’s first nationally televised concession speech, given in 1952, by Adlai Stevenson to Dwight D. Eisenhower, who taught, “The people have rendered their verdict and I gladly accept it. It is traditionally American to fight hard before an election. It is equally traditional to close ranks as soon as the people have spoken.”