- - Wednesday, November 11, 2020

In the wake of any electoral defeat, it is tempting for those who voted for the loser — or non-winner if you want to be gentle — to spiral a bit into depression and despair.

They should not.

As one who has worked in both winning and losing campaigns, I would note that the simplest and most enduring rule of elections in the United States is that the winners are usually disappointed and the losers are usually pleasantly surprised. The winners — and losers — are always quite certain that the victory will bring significant and enduring changes to the nation.

Over time, the winners realize that the system is specifically designed to prevent significant changes from being made over just one election cycle. They are, consequently, disappointed. The losers also realize this and are pleasantly surprised that the changes they feared might occur are less egregious and enduring than initially anticipated.

John Steinbeck once wrote: “Somewhere in the world there is a defeat for everyone. Some are destroyed by defeat, and some made small and mean by victory. Greatness lives in one who triumphs equally over defeat and victory.”



It is important to recognize what politics and elections are and what they are not. They are not about the soul of the nation. They are not about healing anything. They are not about some grand statement about the arc of justice or whatever.

All of that is what religion, philosophy, poetry, literature and art are about.

Politics and elections are simply about how we as a society decide who gets to use the coercive power of the state to encourage some activities and discourage or outlaw other activities. That’s it.

There are or should be many more important things in everyone’s life. Loving your family and neighbors. Doing well in school or on the job. Having (or not having) children. Pets. Choosing where to work and live. Achieving salvation.

All of those things, and more, are much more likely to determine one’s happiness than anything that can happen in politics.

Obviously, there are occasionally legitimate challenges to the foundational features to national government that are too important to allow anyone to alter. In this cycle, the packing of the Supreme Court is one of those, and it has appropriately drawn intense opposition, even within the Democratic Party.

For the most part, however, federal policies change within a fairly narrow range. For example, presumptive President-elect Joseph R. Biden’s signature policy change appears to center on a tax increase. That seems like a bad idea, but he won the popular vote and at least some voters were aware of this preference. Will he pursue a tax increase? Maybe. Is it a good idea? Absolutely not. Can the next president and Congress change it back or in another direction? They can.

British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher captured this iterative nature of politics perfectly when she noted: “You may have to fight a battle more than once to win it.”

Those who lost on Nov. 3 will have to fight this battle again, as will the winners. That is as it should be. Each election is sold as the “most important election in the history of the republic/our lives/etc.” Obviously, all of them cannot be and almost all are not.

Political defeats are temporary; so are political victories. It is unwise to treat them as anything else.

• Michael McKenna, a columnist for The Washington Times, is the president of MWR Strategies. He was most recently a deputy assistant to the president and deputy director of the Office of Legislative Affairs at the White House.

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