From Nixon in '60 to Hillary in '16, Grace Notes of Concession that We'll Never Hear from Trump
Updated: Nov 25, 2020
Sixteen days after Joe Biden's victory became clear, Donald Trump's government finally faced reality on Monday -- even as its leader persisted in disgracefully putting his personal and political interests ahead of the nation's.
"Our case STRONGLY continues," Trump tweeted, shortly after General Services Administrator Emily Murphy finally issued the formal "ascertainment" of Biden's victory, a formal procedural step that belatedly allows the president-elect's transition to begin.
As Trump's lawyers prepared to further push his foredoomed legal effort to overturn the election results, he refused to acknowledge his defeat, continuing to undermine the legitimacy of the election by telling his supporters, "we will keep up the good fight and I believe we will prevail!"
"Will never concede to fake ballots & 'Dominion,'" he added on Twitter, doubling down on several of the false conspiracy theories that have underpinned his campaign's litigation, which has been rejected by judge after judge in state after state for more than two weeks, as ongoing ballot certifications in key battlegrounds have cemented his substantial loss.
Trump's refusal to concede, with characteristic indifference to the damage it inflicts upon the country, subverts an American political tradition that dates at least to 1896, when Democrat William Jennings Bryan graciously committed to a peaceful transfer of power in a telegram to the victorious Republican William McKinley.
"I hasten to extend my congratulations," Bryan wrote, two days after the election. "We have submitted the issue to the American people and their will is law."
In nearly every presidential election since, the loser has sustained the tradition with a high-profile public concession, not only promptly pledging cooperation in the transfer of power but also committing, at least rhetorically, to the over-arching importance of the democratic process and of unifying the country behind the new president.
"I have great faith that our people, Republicans, Democrats alike, will unite behind our next president," Richard Nixon said, in congratulating John Kennedy, foregoing advice from campaign strategists to challenge the vote in one of the closest elections in history.
"Our constitutional democracy enshrines the peaceful transfer of power. We don't just respect that," Hillary Clinton said in conceding to Donald Trump the day after the election four years ago. "We cherish it."
As Donald Trump continues to salt the earth in a bid to delegitimize and sabotage Biden's presidency, it appears he will destroy this 120-year ritual of civility, magnanimity and patriotism, like so much else he wrecked and damaged in our national life.
As a reminder of how ethical behavior, mutual respect and common decency was expressed in the long-ago world Before Trump, here is a 10-minute compilation from the AP of class act concession remarks, from defeated one-term presidents, challengers and open seat contenders alike, from Nixon to Clinton. If you're reading on the blog, you can watch via YouTube below or if you receive the newsletter, by clicking through this link.
P.S. UCSB's splendid American Presidency Project has a complete archive of concession speeches (except for Trump's, which is currently marked "TBD," ho-ho), dating back to the aforementioned Bryan, which you can access here.
Lead image: Defeated candidates Clinton, McCain, Carter, Nixon (thegreatcelebrity.com).