By Jonathan C. Rothermel
The results of the 2020 presidential election were not an indictment of Trumpism. In fact, as Republican political strategist Karl Rove recently stated in a Wall Street Journal op-Ed, the gains made by Republicans despite losing the presidential election were impressive.
Although Democrats did not lose their majority in the House, they suffered a disappointing net-loss of eight to 13 seats. The so-called Blue Wave was more like a ripple as it failed to shift the Senate decisively into Democratic hands (pending the results of two run-off elections in Georgia).
But the longer elected Republicans humor President Donald Trump and his supporters with the notion that the election was ‘stolen,’ the more it undermines the credibility of both American democracy and the Republican party.
One of the toughest lessons parents teach their children is how not to be a sore loser. Parents cringe when they see their son or daughter throw their bat after a called third strike or confront an official over a call that did not go their way. Later, parents will likely pull them aside and explain why it is important to lose gracefully.
They will tell them that respect for the rules and the officials who are working earnestly is fundamental to the game. They will also explain that losing gracefully builds character, humility, and teamwork.
Yet, two weeks after the presidential election, Trump and many of his supporters continue to model the bad behavior that most parents would not tolerate from their children.
His insistence without credible evidence that the election was stolen is accompanied by ALL CAPS tweets that loudly undermine the electoral process.
Encouraging rather than discouraging a MAGA rally in Washington, D.C. last weekend as the pandemic spreads virtually unchecked at the national level is outright irresponsible. Not to mention, it reveals his total disregard for the safety of his most hardcore supporters.
Of course, his actions do not come as a surprise to many. Even his supporters have criticized his tone in the past and have admitted that the president acts childish at times.
In his book, The Toddler-in-Chief: What Donald Trump Tells Us About the Modern President, political scientist Daniel W. Drezner, gathered evidence from the president’s staff, subordinates, and allies to reveal how unhinged and irrational the president can be. Drezner maintains a Twitter thread of over 2,100 #ToddlerinChief tweets.
While the president is obviously not a toddler, he is, with all due respect, throwing quite the temper tantrum. Four years ago, Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton lost by a vote margin among the three battleground states (Michigan, Pennsylvania, and Wisconsin) much smaller than Trump.
Of course, her supporters were stunned and outraged, yet she conceded Trump’s victory the day after the election. She and her supporters took their lumps, despite winning the overall popular vote.
Fox News, which is regularly criticized by liberals for being the mouthpiece of Trump, should be commended for not shirking its basic journalistic responsibilities in their electoral reporting.
While Fox News still covers Trump’s attempts to pursue legal recourse, they make it clear that the network (unlike its primetime news personalities) have called the election for Biden and have found no credible evidence of widespread electoral fraud.
Reportedly, Fox News viewers are abandoning the network in search of news sources providing ‘alternative facts’ (NewsMax and One America News Network have benefited).
But now it is time for elected Republicans to acknowledge the outcome of the 2020 presidential election and reach out to the Biden camp to assist with the transition.
While many theories abound about why elected Republicans refuse to speak out, Republicans need to reclaim their party by sorting through Trumpism. They should salvage the aspects of it that attract people to the core conservative values of the Republican Party (economic growth, fiscal responsibility, family values, law and order) and throw out the garbage (racism, xenophobia, and bullying) that has allowed fringe groups to infiltrate a mainstream party.
By failing to speak up, elected Republicans risk undermining the democratic institutions that are critical to a free and functioning democratic system.
If the process cannot be trusted, governments lose legitimacy, and without legitimacy, democracy is lost. Furthermore, it emboldens the unsavory elements of Trumpism who have hijacked the Republican agenda for their own nefarious purposes and perpetuates the president’s outlandish claims.
A venerable list of Republican Never-Trumpers nervously watch their beloved party traverse a perilous juncture.
On the other side, while it may be tempting for Democrats to revel in their victory, they should heed the same parental advice dispensed to children who are boastful in victory.
The son or daughter who celebrates excessively or fails to acknowledge the efforts of their opponent are often chastised by their parents and advised of the virtues of sportsmanship. If character was on the ballot – as Joe Biden insisted – then Democrats should demonstrate character by seeking to find ways to reach out to those who are disappointed by the outcome.
Democrats should also listen to people who voted for Trump despite his more intolerable positions and behaviors. Trivializing or ridiculing their legitimate concerns about the economy, immigration, gun rights, or abortion only serves to alienate them, pushing them toward more extremist outlets. Constructive and open dialogue on these issues may reveal common ground.
Currently, Americans are flailing as the pandemic spreads rapidly across the country. Now is not the time for ugly losers or ugly winners. We need our political leadership to lead by example. It is time for leaders of both parties to be the adults in the room.
Jonathan C. Rothermel is an associate professor of political science at Mansfield University of Pennsylvania. His work appears occasionally on the Capital-Star’s Commentary Page. Readers may follow him on Twitter @ProfJCR.