The Pain of Defeat

Knowing When It’s Time to Move On

There’s was no place to hide in the crowded auditorium. There was over a hundred people crammed in the Jot Travis Student Union waiting for the results of the student election. The air was electric—there’s nothing quite like the atmospheric taste of political ozone—as candidates and supporters waited for the announcement.

For the last two weeks, I did everything in my power to put myself into the spotlight. My hat was thrown into the ring for Associate Student of the University of Nevada (ASUN) president. Even though I survived a brutal primary, I knew I had only a snowball’s chance in Hell of winning.

My campaign was equal parts Lincoln/Douglas and Ken Kesey’s Merry Pranksters. I decimated my opponent, Glenn Booth, in the debate but I also decided to dress up like Moses and bring fainting sheep to campus. For every battle I won, I blundered into another fiasco. He was part of the Greek system and I was not. Being a member of a fraternity had weight at Nevada and I was a vocal opponent of the system both in the student newspaper and in spirit.

I painted used mattresses “Keeping Askin’ for Raskin” and left them throughout the campus. My goats ate the wooden stand of a commemorative plaque placed in honor for longtime UNR secretary. My campaign pledges ranged from the grandiose (free beer) to the practical (security boxes and improved campus lighting). It was ironic for the two weeks I ran for office I did not attend class, something not lost upon my professors or my grades.

I gave it my all: handed out pamphlets, introduced myself, gave stump speeches. “Kissing hands and shaking babies” was my marching orders. Everything was left on the playing field, but in those final moments, patiently waiting for the election results, I wish I could have disappeared into the crowd.

Glenn Booth won.

I was prepared for defeat but the moment was crushing. There was a cheer for Glenn as his friends dogpiled him. The air was sucked completely out of my lungs. I was devastated. Waves of emotions flooded my exhausted body: embarrassment, disappointment, self-doubt. Countless people were gracious as I left the room, but nobody more so than Glenn.

He stopped me as I was leaving and congratulated me on a hard ran campaign. Glenn mentioned the goats and was genuinely surprised he won. It was a very kind moment, and while it didn’t erase the pain, it made the loss digestible.

Fast Forward One Year

ASUN Senate put out a call for an election board chairman. I was in my senior year and I wanted to do something of substance before leaving school. And once again, there were two candidates looking for the appointment: me and Glenn Booth.

Standing in front of the Senate, I made my case why I should be selected. I cited the years of campaigns I participated in and the astronomical amount of fines I’ve paid. I used a different tactic than I did for ASUN President, I just talked plainly. There were no platitudes. I was a political science major and I wanted to administer a fair election for the school.

To my surprise, Glenn agreed with me. In a gesture I have never forgotten, Glenn said something to the effect that I was the better person to be election board chair. He brought up those damn goats and told the Senate nobody would work harder than me. Because of his endorsement, I earned the position and did my very best to conduct a successful election.

That’s how politics should work. And when decent people do the proper thing at the right time for the correct reason, good things happen. By Glenn stepping away, he illuminated a path I followed to the best of my ability. I was motivated to do an outstanding job because I knew I owed Glenn.

Stepping Aside

Donald Trump lost the 2020 election. Not only has he lost the Electoral College, he lost the popular vote by over six million votes. Setting aside everything boorish about the man, the fact that he is unable to recognize Joe Biden as the winner is absolutely stunning. It’s been over three weeks since the election was called with Pennsylvania falling into the Biden camp and we’re still waiting the peaceful transfer of power.

There have been 58 presidential elections in the history of this country. Each election was hard-fought with certain elections being harder to call than others. The 2000 election between George W. Bush and Al Gore were settled by 537 votes in Florida. The 1876 election between Samuel J. Tilden and Rutherford B. Hayes was settled by the egregious Compromise of 1877 which allowed Hayes to become president in exchange for the end of Reconstruction.

JFK beat Nixon in 1960 by 120,000 total votes. James Garfield defeated Winfeld Scott Hancock in 1880 by 7,368 popular votes. And in 2020, Joe Biden defeated Trump by six million votes. It’s over. Time to step aside. Country over politics. Want another shot at the title? Trump can run in 2024 because his tenure as president is over.

I think the saddest part about Trump not graciously moving aside is his self-imposed exclusion for the world’s most exclusive club. There are four living former presidents—Carter, Clinton, Bush, and Obama—and Trump never be welcome into this group. He’s crass, brutish, banana dictator behavior exempts Trump from yet another circle of society he’s not welcome.

The Man in the Arena

Somebody who knows about winning and losing is my favorite president, Teddy Roosevelt. He became the 26th president after McKinley’s assassination in 1901. He won reelection in 1904, didn’t stand for election in 1908, and lost in 1912.

The one thing Teddy and I know is losing a presidential election hurts. But we both moved on. We didn’t threaten violence or declare voter fraud. The process and how one deals with the results are just as important as the outcome. Honor means something. Decency has value. And belief in something bigger than yourself is dearly important.

A line from Roosevelt’s famous 1910 speech:

It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs, who comes short again and again, because there is no effort without error and shortcoming; but who does actually strive to do the deeds; who knows great enthusiasms, the great devotions; who spends himself in a worthy cause; who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who neither know victory nor defeat.

Losing hurts. In the short-term, it’s reflection of your performance. But, in the long-term, it can be a bracing moment. The pain of defeat can be galvanizing. It can be a proud scar from stepping into the arena and fighting. Real men accept defeat as yet another lesson of life and a chance to right the ship.

The longer Trump choses to not accept his fate, the harder his fall will be. And to those who prop up this flawed man, shame on you as well. Trump neither dared greatly or marred his face in dust or sweat. History is never kind to co-conspirators. It’s time for Trump to step aside and let the next chapter of America to be written.

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