The Democratic, Peaceful Transfer of Power
By Bryan Ashkettle
At present, our U.S. Democracy seems more fragile than ever. Perhaps now is a suitable time for government teachers to remind our students of what was once, and still can be, our greatest tradition, the peaceful transfer of power. My fear is that the nightmare of January 6th and the false accusations of voter fraud, might cause our students to have doubts about the health of our Republic. Voter fraud incident rates, including the presidential election of 2020, consistently come in around .0003% – .0025% of the time. (Brennan Center for Justice Debunking the Voter Fraud Myth, 2017). This means of the many pressing issues our country faces, voter fraud is not one of them. In the wake of the midterm elections, I took a one-day lesson to remind my students, not of the glory of winning, but instead how to accept defeat with dignity. Although I am not normally a big proponent of moral or character education, it is important for high school students to learn how to lose graciously, and how this humble act is a corner stone to any democracy.
The Lesson’s Objective – Students will appreciate the link between conceding defeat and a democratic, peaceful transfer of power.
- There are plenty of examples of our politicians losing with grace, but my favorite is President George Herbert Walker Bush’s letter to incoming President Bill Clinton. The letter was waiting for Clinton in the Oval Office on Inauguration Day, after the contentious election of 1992. The decency of this letter shows our students how losing with dignity, can cement a legacy. The genuine nature of President George H.W. Bush’s words is the perfect example of country before self or party. I had the students read President Bush’s letter aloud (a digital facsimile and link below).
- I put students in groups and to research various politicians’ concession speeches from the recent midterm election. Since the Senate races were followed nationally, that tended to be their focus. Their task was to find one clip of one speech that they would share with the rest of the class. I would then use my computer and projector so that the other groups could view the concession speech.
- Each group was asked why this speech embodied the ideals of democracy along with the dignity of losing graciously. I told the class that the clips should be no more than 5 – 6 minutes including the explanation on why they feel the speech matches the ideals of a peaceful transfer of power.
The speech that several the groups chose was Congressman Tim Ryan’s concession speech after losing the Ohio Senate race to JD Vance. This was in part, because our school is outside of Cleveland, and they were very familiar with the race. Tim Ryan noted how democratically important it is to concede when you lose an election. The speech got nationwide attention including an article in the Washington Post entitled. The Art of the Concession Speech.
Beyond the health of any democracy and the peaceful transfer of power, it is important that students learn the life lesson of losing. Tom Brady does not win every Sunday and even LeBron James misses a layup every now and then. Accepting the loss, getting back up, and trying all over again is not unique to American Democracy, but it is something we have done better than most. We can be that country again.
“[Note from President George H. W. Bush to President Bill Clinton],” Clinton Digital Library, accessed November 27, 2022, https://clinton.presidentiallibraries.us/items/show/101724.
Debunking the voter fraud myth. Brennan Center for Justice. (2017, January 31). Retrieved November 27, 2022, from https://www.brennancenter.org/our-work/research-reports/debunking-voter-fraud-myth
Staff, W. P. (2022, November 13). Opinion | the art of the concession speech: ‘you respect the will of the people.’. The Washington Post. Retrieved November 27, 2022, from https://www.washingtonpost.com/opinions/2022/11/11/tim-ryan-mehmet-oz-trudy-dixon-concession-speech-integrity/
WKYC Channel 3. (2022, November 8). Tim Ryan gives concession speech after losing to JD Vance. Youtube. Retrieved November 27, 2022, from https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GoutQNfTrsc.
Dr. Bryan Ashkettle is an AP US Government Teacher at Solon High School, Solon, Ohio. A College Board and Ursuline College consultant, he lives in Chagrin Falls with wife Stefanie (also a teacher), daughter Julia, daughter Frankie, and niece Jayla. He is (sadly), a Cleveland sports fan.