At the heart of the line is the idea of patriotism. Remember that Donald Trump ran for president in 2016 expressly on the idea of putting “America first.” The idea that animated both his campaign and his four years in the White House was that the United States was exceptional in the world and that, for too long, American leaders had been afraid to loudly and proudly proclaim that fact, choosing instead to make America subservient to lesser countries around the world.
What makes America so special? Nothing differentiates us from the other world powers — China, Russia — more than our commitment to the peaceful transition of power every four years.
The idea that whether your preferred candidate wins that you a) accept the results of a presidential election as free and fair and b) recognize the winner as the president sits at the core of who we are as Americans.
You only need to go back to the 2000 election to understand the power — and uniqueness — of America and its commitment to the peaceful transition of power.
That he conceded was important. How he conceded mattered even more.
Gore also cited the words of Stephen Douglas following a loss in the 1860 presidential race to Abraham Lincoln: “Partisan feeling must yield to patriotism. I’m with you, Mr. President, and God bless you.”
What Gore (and Douglas) understood was that this wasn’t all about them. Of course they would have rather won. Of course they thought they would make a better president than their opponent. But they also understood that patriotism and loyalty to the country meant shelving their personal feelings in favor of doing the right thing for the country.
“It’s not about me. It’s not about the vice president. It really isn’t. That’s the thing that bothers me most about the sort of attitude that seems to be emerging to some degree in American politics. … It’s not about me. It’s not about whether I’m president and she’s vice president. It’s about the system and somebody who tries to put himself above everything.”
Think of it in another way. True sportsmanship isn’t being gracious in victory. Anyone can do that. It’s being gracious in defeat. And not just anyone can do that.
The same goes for patriotism. It’s easy to love your country when they elect you. Or give you what you want. It’s a hell of a lot harder to love your country when you think they chose the wrong person or are headed down the wrong path.
True patriotism isn’t insisting you won even though there’s no evidence to back up those claims. True patriotism is working within the system to make the country as great as it can be — whether or not it feeds your personal interests.
Joe Biden gets that. Donald Trump never has.