“I urge all Americans who supported me to join me in not just congratulating him, but offering our next president our good will and earnest effort to find ways to come together and find the necessary compromises to bridge our differences and help restore our prosperity. … Whatever our differences, we are fellow Americans and please believe me when I say no association has ever meant more to me than that.”
– John McCain
From his 2008 concession speech to President Obama
In sports, much has been made about the historic speeches delivered by coaches and they all had one thing in common.
They came from coaches who won.
Whether motivational words before players took a field or a poignant statement in the moments after a victory, some of the rich history in sports involves the coaches who brought some bit of perspective to a competition or achievement.
But nobody would have cared about the story of winning one for the Gipper if, well, the Irish hadn’t won one for the Gipper. Team USA Hockey Coach Herb Brooks was immortalized for his inspirational words before a hockey match against the Soviet Union in the 1980 Olympics, but it took a ‘Miracle’ for them to mean anything.
In politics, it’s a little different.
Dating all the way back to 1896 when William Jennings Bryant, who is credited with initiating the American tradition of concession speeches, the losers of America’s presidential elections play a key role in an even more important tradition … the peaceful transition of power that sets the United States apart in the world.
It’s not just an opportunity to be a patriot, but an opportunity to help the nation heal and unite. Equally important is for the loser to wish the winner well because that is what is in the best interests of all American citizens.
Equally important is a recognition to all the people who worked to support the losing candidate during the campaign and those citizens who offered their loyalties.
President Trump has so far lost the moment. He lost the ability to stand in front of America, take credit for his historic political rise that will be analyzed for generations, graciously bring an end to his tenure by congratulating Joe Biden, and thanking all the people who either battled with him during the campaign or fiercely defended him with vigor in towns from coast to coast.
There are adjectives to describe what the president is now doing. Damaging. Desperate. Calculating. Dividing. And others.
I choose to describe it as disrespectful.
It is not only disrespectful to the mighty office that he holds, and the new president-elect, it is disrespectful to the millions of people who support him. They deserve their moment, too, to be recognized as players in a political movement that was – and continues to be – one of the most powerful in American history.
But for them to have their moment in the sun, to be recognized for their contributions, for them to feel like the political process was finally working for them, there has to be a recognition that a smooth transition from one administration to the next is what has always been expected from all Americans.
The ridiculous notion that the election was stolen or somehow illegitimate is nothing more than political theater aimed at the most gullible and naïve among us. It’s also a premeditated action to position the president’s machine for the next chapter, whatever that may be.
For there to be another chapter in the Trump story – and there surely will be – its success will likely rest on whether Americans have confidence that President Trump truly does care about the nation and its people. Because if he does, there is one path forward, and one alone.
It’s time to shut it down.
It’s time for him to do his duty. It’s time for him to recognize that the quality of the transition from the Trump presidency to the Biden presidency will be a direct reflection on him and the team he has assembled. The responsibility of a smooth transition rests with President Trump and a clumsy one – which would be damaging to the nation – would be his to own.
It’s not too late to ensure a smooth transition, not too late for him to have his moment in the sun, not too late to congratulate Joe Biden, not too late to give his team members and followers the credit they desire.
Anything less is not only a stain on the president’s legacy and brand, but is a disrespectful exit that is beneath the office and beneath the expectations of the American people.