Donald Trump is a sore loser, man. And he’s training a generation of Republicans to be sore losers, too.
Just look to Saturday’s Million MAGA March, which the Washington Post describes as “Demonstrations in support of President Trump’s refusal to accept the results of the presidential election”—an event that Trump himself said Friday he may make an appearance at.
The conservatives following Trump’s example have flipped not just on policy preferences but also on the importance of virtues like integrity, courage, empathy, playing fair and, yes, even accepting defeat.
To be sure, these all-American attributes were never the sole property of Republicans. But as a lifelong conservative, I can tell you they were instilled in us. We learned good sportsmanship from our parents, from our baseball coaches, from our Scout troops, and even from our pulpits. Winning was great, but the real test was how you played the game—the respect you showed for your teammates and your competitors.
Indeed, graciously accepting defeat was the kind of cliched, traditional American trope associated with Ward Cleaver instructing Wally and the Beaver—or Sheriff Andy Taylor lecturing Opie. It was modeled by our heroes on the baseball diamond, just as we were taught to disdain the temperamental athletes who sulked. Wanting to conserve these fundamental cultural values was once a part of the overarching umbrella we might call conservative values. No more. Not since Trump came to town.
The fact that Trump won’t accept defeat in the 2020 election isn’t terribly surprising. There have always been jerks. The difference is that they were ridiculed and shunned—not excused or even celebrated.
This is a total reversal from everything conservatives have stood for. I grew up hearing about how JFK stole the 1960 election, and how Richard Nixon let it go so that it wouldn’t tear the country apart. During the 2000 recount, after Al Gore conceded and then withdrew his concession, Republicans started referring to Gore-Lieberman as “Sore-Loserman.” As recently as four years ago, Republicans were falling all over themselves calling Democrats “sore losers” for not accepting Trump’s legitimacy—despite the fact that Hillary Clinton conceded the election (something Donald Trump may never do).
I’ve seen several 2016 montage videos that illustrate the hypocrisy, but my favorite was shown on Morning Joe. It includes lobbyist and Trump fan Matt Schlapp saying of Clinton, “you know what she needs to do? She needs to get over it. She lost. Get out of the way, and let Donald Trump be president” and Kellyanne Conway telling Democrats to decide if they’re going to be a bunch of “crybabies and sore losers about an election they can’t turn around.”
Another traditional element of sportsmanship, of course, is manliness. That gendered term has fallen out of favor, along with values that conservatives once passed on their sons and daughters by modeling things like sacrifice and compassion. Those are for suckers and losers now, along with accepting defeat in a gracious manner.
Trump’s behavior defies the advice many of us, including his supporters, bestow upon their children in the hopes that they will grow up to be more than carnal barbarians.
As a “guide to sportsmanship” on a site called Art of Manliness explained:
“In any sport, there will be winners and losers. And sometimes you’re going to be on the losing side of the equation. The sooner you accept this fact, the easier it will be to handle a loss. When you lose, don’t sulk, throw a temper tantrum, or cry like a little boy. Be a man and give the other team a congratulatory handshake. Also, don’t blame your other teammates or the officiating, either.”
Donald Trump, who casts himself as the ultimate macho man, never got that message (blame Fred Trump). He won’t accept reality, let alone do the right thing and sacrifice his personal self-interest for the good of the country. He won’t be a man about it.
A question for his supporters: Is this really the model you want to set for your own children?