Grace in Defeat

One of the finest examples of courage and class in the face of crushing disappointment is the example of George H.W. Bush in 1992. He was a popular vice-president under Ronald Reagan and sailed to victory in the battle for the White House at the end of Reagan’s eight-year term. But in his bid for a second term, he was bested by a little known (at the time) Democrat from Arkansas, Bill Clinton.

It’s tough to lose. Especially when you are a senior statesman with pedigree, experience, and endorsement. But lose he did to a much younger man who didn’t share his background but carried his own impressive track record of making himself into something from humble roots.

On the day Clinton entered his new place of work—the oval office—he found a letter addressed to him on his desk. Bush had handwritten a note of congratulations and encouragement to the nation’s new president, underscoring the fact that Clinton was the nation’s leader, not just for his party. Bush threw his support behind his successor wholeheartedly, wishing him well, praying for him, and saying he’d be rooting for him.

Later on, in the many biographies and documentaries that emerged on H.W., it was revealed the loss was a brutal one—a deep wound that took a great while to heal. No, Bush wasn’t over it by mid-January 1993. But here’s where the class enters in. He put his feelings aside for the good of the country he loved. For Bush, it was going to be country over party all the way. And he wasn’t going to offer a terse “congratulations, best of you luck to you,” message to Bill Clinton. No, he dug deep into his well of decency and courage to reflect everything good about America. He chose to buoy the man who beat him to do his best for the country with the knowledge that his powerful predecessor had his back.

Thus began one of the sweetest and most empathetic traditions in American politics—personal notes to incoming leaders from outgoing ones ( Bush to Clinton, Clinton to Bush, Bush to Obama, Obama to Trump.

But now we stand at a point in American history where class and dignity inherent in a peaceful transfer of power have vanished.

Official concessions are more of a tradition than an actual mandate. So as long as Biden’s victory keeps checking out in all the rechecks, certifications, and validations that are customary in all American presidential elections, the results will not change.

And just to offer clarification, the Associated Press reports the following: “The Homeland Security Department’s Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency has slapped down rumor after unfounded rumor about voting malfeasance and joined with state election officials in a statement declaring the election to have been the ‘most secure in American history.’ By secure, they meant there was no evidence that any voting system deleted or lost votes, changes votes “or was in any compromised.” That was a clear repudiation of Trump’s unfounded accusations.” (

Two days after Trump won the 2016 election, he and Melania were guests of the Obamas at the White House. Michelle graciously toured Melania around her new home, while Barack and Donald had their convo. The Bush’s did the same for the Obamas, and so forth.

Will such a thing happen now? It doesn’t look likely, though things can always turn on a dime. Would it be a nice gesture? Absolutely. But it isn’t needed. Because for the Bidens, there is no love lost. After all, they’ve already been in the White House—many, many, many times. Does Jill need Melania to show her around? Not when Michelle already has.

And does Trump need to talk to Joe Biden about the gravity of the presidency? Rhetorical question.

In the meantime, teach your children well—buck up and accept your losses when they happen. Extend sincere congratulations to winners. Realize we can’t win all the time but rising above disappointment with dignity always puts you in a position of strength. And if you’ve had problems with this as an adult, it’s never too late to try the “take the high road,” course of action.

A little note to the president: refusal to accept defeat with grace makes you a bigger loser than you already are.

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