HERE is an excerpt from Hillary Clinton’s concession speech to Donald Trump after the 2016 US presidential polls: “Last night, I congratulated Donald Trump and offered to work with him on behalf of our country. I hope that he will be a successful president for all Americans … Donald Trump is going to be our president. We owe him an open mind and the chance to lead.”

Here’s another one from Al Gore’s concession speech in 2000. “Almost a century and a half ago, senator Stephen Douglas told Abraham Lincoln, who had just defeated him for the presidency, ‘Partisan feeling must yield to patriotism. I’m with you, Mr President, and God bless you.’

“Well, in that same spirit, I say to President-elect Bush that what remains of partisan rancour must now be put aside, and may God bless his stewardship of this country.”

These speeches came at the end of months’ long presidential campaigns in the US. The poise expressed by the losing candidates in these speeches reflects the very character of America’s political tradition displayed in its ultimate contest. More than that, these speeches serve as striking examples of how politicians should address and interact with their supporters, in particular, and the overall electorate, in general. They underscore what it means to be a genuine leader of the people, especially in the very moment of losing a hard-fought political battle.

Losing gracefully makes for mature politics.

These words and tenor of concession speeches at the end of US presidential polls are similar, regardless of the losing margin or the intensity of the campaign. Hillary Clinton, for instance, contested one of the most followed campaigns of the modern era. Political pundits had predicted a victory for her well before the first votes were cast. But the results were different. It was incumbent on her to uphold the tradition of her predecessors for centuries and concede gracefully. She did it with poise and carried on with the tradition.

The reason these speeches are expected to be similar is that they characterise the maturity of a developed democracy. They manifest the collective desire of a society and nation to move forward seamlessly from one administration to another. Clinton, like her predecessors, reminded everyone that the other candidate was the elected president who should be supported unconditionally and that everyone should respect the outcome. These are profound gestures by someone who was in a fierce battle with her opponent only a few hours ago and now expressed respect for his victory.

Eventually, these speeches served another implied purpose. They exuded respect — such words go a long way in bringing civility to political processes. This keeps the path of bipartisanship and political dialogue open, especially at critical junctures. These contestants of political campaigns meet in rivalry several times throughout their careers. With the same frequency, their paths also cross when they are part of parliamentary debates and serve on committees and other decision-making forums.

Here’s another fine example of a graceful concession speech by a magnanimous leader of American politics, senator John McCain, after he lost to Barack Obama in 2008. “A little while ago, I had the honour of calling senator Barack Obama — to congratulate him on being elected the next president of the country that we both love. … Senator Obama and I have had and argued our differences, and he has prevailed. No doubt many of those differences remain. These are difficult times for our country, and I pledge to him tonight to do all in my power to help him lead us through the many challenges we face.”

Ten years later, Obama’s eulogy for McCain at his funeral was equally dignified: “And, in fact, on the surface, John and I could not have been more different. … But for all our differences, for all of the times we sparred, I never tried to hide — and I think John came to understand — the long-standing admiration that I had for him. … We didn’t advertise it, but every so often … John would come over to the White House and we’d just sit and talk in the Oval Office, just the two of us. … And our disagreements didn’t go away during these private conversations. … [W]e learned from each other and we never doubted the other man’s sincerity. Or the other patriotism. … We never doubted we were on the same team.”

Just like the concession speeches, this beautifully worded eulogy expressed not only mutual respect but celebrated thoughtful engagements amid intense public rivalry of the two rival political giants.

Countries become nations neither accidentally nor automatically. Leadership and statecraft exhibited by the political leadership drive countries in their course of becoming nations. Expressions of mutual respect are much needed in the political arenas of burgeoning democracies like ours. The poise is particularly much needed in conceding a lost election. There is a lot to learn from these gracious concessions.

The writer is a faculty member at IBA Karachi.

talhasalam@gmail.com

Published in Dawn, July 7th, 2022

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