It says something, I am not quite sure what, about our deteriorating political culture that the two poorest losers in American Presidential election history were the last two losing candidates, and whoever third place belongs to—Aaron Burr maybe? John Adams? Adlai Stevenson made some ungracious comments after his second defeat by Eisenhower suggesting that Ike’s weak heart would make Nixon President—is too far from them to be seen with the Mt. Palomar telescope.
Hillary Clinton had the title wrapped up, I assumed for all time, after her four-year whine-fest following her defeat by Donald Trump. She announced herself a member of “the resistance,” blamed everyone and everything imaginable except the real culprit (herself), and encouraged surrogates and the news media to attempt various dishonest arguments to cast suspicion on Trump’s victory. Was her refusal to make the traditional statement wishing the new President well and pledging to do what she could in the interest of unity and the national interest the catalyst for the Democrats’ villainous effort to undermine Trump’s Presidency by false accusations, contrived impeachment and ad hominem slurs? Whether it was or not, Clinton openly fumed and seethed about her loss, trapped in the anger stage of grief and never moving on to acceptance.
Donald Trump, of course, passed her in the Bad Loser race like she was standing still once the 2020 election night showed Joe Biden was a winner. Not only did Trump refuse to concede, he continued to insist that the election was rigged and even that he had won…in fact, won by a landslide. He encouraged public protests and employed lawyers who over-promised, made intemperate claims, and either came close to the line of unethical advocacy or crossed it.
Trump’s mitigating factor, something that Hillary did not have in her favor, was (and is) that there were substantive reasons for him to feel that the deck had been stacked against him, by the false Russian narrative, by the contrived first impeachment, and by the degree to which he had been denied all of the institutional respect and deference every other President of the United States enjoyed—not just enjoyed, but benefited from. Most of all, the news media often—usually? always?—had been determined to present him, his words and his policies in a negative light whether they deserved such treatment or not. Just because you’re paranoid, the saying goes, doesn’t mean they aren’t out to get you.
It doesn’t matter, however. Our democracy depends upon our leaders accepting the results of elections, unless the results are genuinely in doubt. One cannot criticize Al Gore for pursuing recounts in 2000 when his popular vote victory was going to be cancelled out by the Electoral College based on a few hundred ambiguous votes in Florida, but when it was over, courtesy of the Supreme Court, he gave a gracious speech and mostly kept his bitterness under wraps except for a few outbursts. Nevertheless, the tradition of accepting the biggest loss in American politics with grace and patriotic affirmation is an important one, and for it to remain strong requires consistent adherence even under the most infuriating and frustrating circumstances. It sets an important standard for lesser elections, as everything Presidents and their opponents do set standards going forward. We would not have Stacey Abrams still claiming she was robbed of being elected Georgia governor had not Hillary cleared the path.
Being a poor loser is especially unethical and damaging in the context of Presidential elections, but it has always been recognized as unethical conduct and evidence of flawed character. In sports, in business, in love and war, “sore loser” behavior is understood to include blaming others for the loss, not accepting responsibility for choices and actions that contributed to the defeat, reacting to the loss in an immature or uncivil fashion, making excuses, and blaming bad luck and tangential factors for the defeat. In terms of ethical values, poor losing conduct includes a lack of grace, proportion and humility; failure to accept responsibility and accountability; dishonesty, hypocrisy, disrespect and bad citizenship. Obviously it also represents a rejection of the Golden Rule.
Using these measurements, Donald Trump, against all odds, seemed to have beaten Hillary Clinton once again in an upset, this time achieving a far less enviable achievement, winning the title of All-Time Bad Presidential Loser.
But Hillary wasn’t through.
As a featured guest on NBC’s new Masterclass streaming platform, which supposedly features lessons from “luminaries from all walks of life,” Clinton decided that it was appropriate to recite what she said was the speech she would have given on election night had she won the Presidency as she expected.
“In this lesson, I’m going to face one of my most public defeats head-on by sharing with you the speech I had hoped to deliver if I had won the 2016 election,” Clinton says in the video. “I’ve never shared this with anybody. I’ve never read this out loud. But it helps to encapsulate who I am, what I believe in, and what my hopes were for the kind of country that I want for my grandchildren, and that I want for the world, that I believe in that is America at its best.’ Then she reads the speech. If you want to know what she said, go here.
Personally, I don’t care what is in the speech: reciting it is evidence enough of an inability to accept defeat. She even breaks down during the video—way to show women make strong leaders, there, Hill! Doing this sure does show “who she is,” a bitter, petty, angry person who lacks the character to move on from disappointment. No previous candidate for any office has ever before performed such bathos in public. No Oscar losers have either, or expectant Nobel Prize nominees who failed to get the prize. Why? Because its pathetic, weak and narcissistic, that’s why, and every other loser of a high profile contest understood that offering an alternate reality that never was is as weird as it is cringe-worthy.
Add to this the fact it is highly dubious Clinton had such a speech at the ready in 2016. I don’t believe it: for one thing, prepared victory speeches by winning Presidential candidates are extremely rare—frankly, I can’t think of one—because they reek of arrogance. Supporters at election night victory parties want spontaneity, not scripted platitudes. Even if Hillary had such a speech prepared, who believes that she wouldn’t have had an aide or four check it for phrases and sentiments that would grate five years later? i don’t, not for a moment.
This stunt, the action of someone in the throes of pathologically acute bad loser syndrome, is unprecedented. So is it enough to reclaim the ugly crown from Donald Trump?
Not quite. Clinton loses to Trump again. Despite an extraordinary attempt at a comeback, he’s still the Worst Loser.
Pointer: Other Bill