I’ve been trying hard not to write about politics. We’re two weeks from the presidential election, and it’s almost impossible to escape. The birds outside my window are unusually chirpy, and I’m sure they’re going at it over Trump’s taxes or Biden’s Supreme Court plans.
Eventually, one of those guys will lose. This will not go down easily. As Trump often reminds us, he never loses at anything, and is 1 for 1 in politics. Biden has been running for something since 1970, and has won a Delaware county council race, seven US Senate elections, and two terms as Vice President. Neither Trump nor Biden has ever delivered a concession speech.
That in itself is a fine art. The best concession speeches are done with grace, humility, and respect.
Many years ago, in a small Southern town, a longtime mayor was upset in his bid for re-election. The mayor apparently believed he was destined to serve for life. When the results were announced, the winning candidate said all the right things. He thanked the outgoing mayor for his decades of service, and asked for unity.
Unfortunately, the loser was not so gracious. I was stunned when I read his brief “concession speech” in the newspaper. “Lord, please forgive the voters, for they know not what they do,” he whined. The voters took note, and he never won another election.
I recall another election in which an incumbent county commissioner was facing opposition from a lesser-known “good ol’ boy” who was well liked, but not well educated. Throughout the campaign, the incumbent would loudly criticize his opponent. “He can’t even read,” he told voters. “Why would anyone vote for a guy who can’t read?” Apparently, that rubbed some folks the wrong way, and you guessed it, he lost. I’m not saying the newly elected commissioner was a poor winner, but he put this sign on his pickup truck: “READ THIS: YOU LOST!”
So what can we expect when the results are official (whatever that means) in 2020? Will we get a unifying victory speech and a gracious concession speech? Is it even possible to get both? Is that too much to ask?
I think back to some hard-fought presidential elections. Carter vs. Reagan in 1980. Bush 41 vs. Clinton in 1992. Bush 43 vs. Gore in 2000. There were landslide wins, incumbents voted out, and one race that was so close, Congress and the Supreme Court had to sort it out over a number of weeks. But when it was time to declare a winner, we celebrated (or sulked) for a day or two, and we went back to watching football, raking leaves, and our other daily activities.
What’s different this year? Everything. Let’s start with social media. In 1980, and in 2000, I didn’t know if my neighbor was a “lib” or a “rightie.” That guy I used to work with when I was in my 20s? I didn’t know who he voted for, or if he even voted. Furthermore, I didn’t care. But now, we’re Facebook “friends” and I can’t avoid the political stench. What was once a fun website to see your out-of-town cousin’s new baby, cute pets, or colorful garden is now as classy as a cockfighting ring.
Despite the fact that absolutely no one changes their mind after reading Aunt Esmerelda’s political rants, that doesn’t stop her. And we can’t unfriend her. How will we know when her parakeet has a cold?
But since we cannot count on the candidates to be civil, we have to do it ourselves. If you would like to be among those who are part of the solution, not the problem, please take The Post-Election Pledge. Hats off, hand over your heart, repeat after me:
“I, (state your name), do solemnly swear, that when this election is over, I will still love the United States of America. I recognize that we are a diverse nation of many backgrounds and beliefs, but first and foremost, we are united. I will put aside any partisan differences, and support the winner, whoever it may be. I will do so because if the president succeeds, we all succeed. I will ignore the angry voices who thrive on spreading fear and hatred. I will ask forgiveness, and I will forgive. I will lift up America, and I will encourage my family and friends to do the same.”
Clip or print that paragraph, say it out loud to a witness, sign it and save it. Share it with others. Frame it, hang it on the wall. If we can’t make this commitment, the noise and the division will only get worse.
Will most people take the pledge? Maybe not. But if you and I agree to make our world a better place, that’s a start.
David Carroll, a Chattanooga news anchor and author. You may contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.