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Ungracious in defeat

human foibles

As hard it may be to believe, it has been a whole month since the 2016 general election wrapped up. By now, you have probably read dozens upon dozens of articles and columns discussing the impact of said election. What major changes will it bring about in the United States and around the world? Has it altered the way we think about or do things? The election has certainly given rise to many new movements, but one major one seems to have gone largely unnoticed: that of the sore loser.

Yes, as sad as it may seem, it appears as if this election will be remembered not only for who won, but also for who refused to lose with dignity. There are many prominent examples of politicians who stubbornly refused to concede defeat and embarrassed themselves by doing so. We begin with Bernie Sanders, who for months continued to claim that he could overcome Hillary Clinton’s lead in the Democratic primary, despite overwhelming evidence to the contrary. Meanwhile, he also issued forth a multitude of fraud allegations, some of them more subtle than others, but none backed up by any convincing evidence.

The end of Sanders’ campaign, however, was when the fun truly began. After making it clear that the California primary would be his last stand, he decided after losing to delay his inevitable concession until after the Washington, D.C. primary. After that was over, he promptly released a video…with no concession. In fact, it would be another month until it finally happened, by which time most people had already moved on, rendering the event relatively meaningless.

Admittedly, Sanders’ situation was a little different in that there did eventually turn up some evidence that the odds were stacked against him. Nevertheless, none of it explains why voter fraud only seemed to occur in states that he lost or why he insisted on prolonging the race after his opponent had clinched the nomination. Even his fellow second-place finisher, Ted Cruz, seemed to understand the concept of bowing out when the writing was on the wall.

We next take a visit to the other side of the aisle. Donald Trump famously said during a campaign stop that he would only accept the results of the presidential election if he won, implying that there was no possible way he could lose the election fair and square. Of course, part of this can be chalked up to Trump’s ego and his refusal to lose graciously. In fact, even after winning the election, he insisted that he had not actually lost the popular vote because of “millions of people who voted illegally,” despite having no evidence to support his claim. It seems that winning the Electoral College just isn’t enough for some people.

While Trump was busy making absurd claims on Twitter, Jill Stein joined the race to become the election season’s biggest sore loser when she raised money for recounts in several states, despite publicly saying, “We do not have a smoking gun.” Her efforts attracted one notable supporter—Hillary Clinton, whose campaign joined the recount efforts, despite the candidate herself conceding the election several weeks earlier. So much for good sportsmanship.

Not to be outdone, North Carolina governor Pat McCrory launched his own campaign to discredit the results of an election after losing his re-election bid to N.C. attorney general Roy Cooper. McCrory’s campaign embarked on a ludicrous series of allegations, claiming that “dead people and felons” had cost the governor his job. Even when many of these claims were proven false, the North Carolina GOP refused to apologize. It took a month of failed challenges and recount efforts before McCrory finally admitted defeat.

Many people will likely not see any of these incidents as being a big deal. “What’s the matter with you? Let them whine and complain all they want! Why do you care?” The answer lies in a disturbing trend. More than ever, people seem incapable of accepting defeat. Your favorite sports team lost? Well, it must have been due to the referees rigging the game and not your team simply not showing up to play. Didn’t get that job you wanted? Well, it probably was because people were conspiring against you, not because the other applicants were more qualified. Such allegations are not merely bogus; they distract from the real issues at hand. Defeats expose one’s weaknesses and highlight issues to be corrected. Acknowledging that one has lost requires people to accept the fact that they are flawed—perhaps that is why it doesn’t seem to happen anymore.

It is time to reverse this trend. We can no longer sit back and let people continue to be sore losers. This is especially true for those in the public eye, as like it or not, their actions influence the behavior of millions of people. We must not allow people to blame anyone and anything but themselves for their defeats, even though it may be easier for them to do so. For example, we must call out Hillary Clinton supporters who have accused everyone from FBI director James Comey to Russian hackers to Jill Stein of costing their candidate the presidency. Maybe what really did Hillary in was the white working class or the Obama coalition? No, that would be too reasonable.

Perhaps all of us could use a lesson from Kelly Ayotte, who despite probably having more rights to a recount than anyone this election cycle, conceded her Senate race to Maggie Hassan just twenty-four hours after Election Day. Ayotte’s gracious behavior reminds us that losing is not the end of the world—it is an important step in one’s growing process. Instead of viewing defeats as evidence of a rigged system, we should see them as opportunities to improve ourselves and do better next time. Yes, sometimes foul play is at work, but those cases are far and few between. Aerosmith once sang that “you got to lose to know how to win.” Now, more than ever, is the time to stop and listen.

Ben Zhang is a Trinity senior. His column, “human foibles,” runs on alternate Thursdays.


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