Hours after Clinton delivered her remarks, President Obama joined his nominee in asking the same of the country – and my Democratic party. It was a moment of pride for many Americans. We could celebrate a peaceful transition of power, even if we didn’t like the result.
It’s now clear that Clinton’s speech wasn’t genuine. According to her campaign, they’ve had lawyers, data scientists and analysts combing over election results starting “the day after the election,” or the day of her otherwise thoughtful concession speech. Their goal: find evidence that would suggest a hacked result, despite the president – and my former colleagues in the intelligence community – stating clearly that there are no signs of foreign tampering at the ballot box.
As a Democrat, I am frustrated and ashamed. Unlike Hillary Clinton, I realize that America’s history was built not just on its gallant winners but also on its noble losers.
Why would Clinton do this? Some suggest it’s a vengeful ploy to make Trump look illegitimate in the eyes of the American people. But I suspect that this is the last, embarrassing gasp of a flailing politician, unable to accept defeat with grace.
As a Democrat, I am frustrated and ashamed. Unlike Clinton, I realize that America’s history was built not just on its gallant winners but also on its noble losers.
Clinton is not the first Democrat from New York to lose the presidency after winning the popular vote. That honor goes to Samuel Tilden during his disputed election of 1876. At the time, Tilden’s supporters were utterly convinced that his opponent – President-elect Rutherford B. Hayes – would bring about the end of the nation. As one voter put it: “Goodbye free government, free elections, free speech, and free press, as well as all civil liberties.”
The media response was no less breathless. Newspaper titan and fellow Democrat Joseph Pulitzer – of Pulitzer Prize fame – called for 100,000 armed Tilden supporters to storm Washington D.C.
Thankfully, cooler heads prevailed; Tilden was not one to foment a revolution. He gave a respectful concession speech and retired to New York.
Perhaps in the back of Tilden’s mind was another great American loser, General Robert E. Lee. Just before his surrender at Appomattox near the end of the Civil War, Lee’s chief of artillery – General Porter Alexander – proposed that the Southern army collapse into bands of guerilla fighters, continuing the war until an exhausted North finally conceded. Lee refused, eloquently summarizing why the South had to accept defeat.
“You and I as Christian men have no right to consider only how this would affect us. We must consider its effect on the country as a whole. Already it is demoralized by the four years of war. If I took your advice, the men…would be compelled to rob and steal in order to live. They would become mere bands of marauders… We would bring on a state of affairs [that] would take the country years to recover from.”
Lee surrendered the next day.
In politics and war, the lesson is clear: American patriots aren’t always the winners. Indeed, how we lose sets the example for what it means to win. Tilden could have led an army to D.C. – he won the popular vote. Lee could have opened the gates of hell and secured a Southern victory. But both men understood something of far greater consequence: the American republic is worth more than ego or ambition.
With Clinton’s embrace of an electoral recount, it is clear that she cannot accept defeat with grace, nor does she hold our nation in the same regard as Tilden or Lee. That means my fellow Americans – and especially my fellow Democrats – must stand up to her hubris. We must make clear that we offer no excuses for our loss. We will not chase the ghosts of foreign hackers. We won’t be fooled by FBI conspiracies, blame bad campaign staff, whine about false Facebook posts, or blame mobs of deplorables.
No, we realize that we lost because the nation wanted change and our candidate was too flawed and untrustworthy to carry that mantle.
And so we will work with President-elect Trump to make America great again. When his solutions make sense, he will have our vote. When he loses his way, we will hold him accountable. In short, we will be a faithful opposition; we will offer better solutions. That is how America works, even if it’s not the America that Hillary Clinton wants us to be.
Bryan Dean Wright is a former CIA ops officer and member of the Democratic Party. He contributes on issues of politics, national security, and the economy. Follow him on Twitter @BryanDeanWright.