During his winning campaign to capture the White House, Democrat Barack Obama was harshly critical of the White House record of his predecessor George W. Bush. But once in office, Obama — like nearly all presidents before him — heeded the sage advice of a great chief executive also from Illinois, Abraham Lincoln, who, when faulted for speaking kindly about the South during the Civil War, countered, "Madam, do I not destroy my enemies when I make them my friends?"
President Obama said about Bush: "To know the man is to like the man, because he's comfortable in his own skin. He knows who he is. ... He takes his job seriously, but he doesn't take himself too seriously. He is a good man."
Obama was a hard-hitting opponent, as a string of defeated Democratic and Republican opponents can attest, but when he was re-elected Nov. 6, 2012, he paid tribute to his opponent's father, a former governor of Michigan who supported civil rights, and to his opponent's mother, a popular Michigan first lady who ran as a moderate Republican nominee for U.S. Senate: "From George to Lenore to their son Mitt, the Romney family has chosen to give back to America through public service, and that is the legacy we honor and applaud tonight."
Of the man who won more popular votes than he did, only to end up on the short end of a 5-4 Supreme Court decision, President George W. Bush could quip in good humor later: "After he left office, Vice President Gore won an Oscar and the Nobel Peace Prize. Hey, I don't know, I might win a prize — Publishers Clearing House or something."
In so many instances, Donald Trump has stood as a dramatic exception to the presidential practice of offering an arm around the shoulder of or even a civil handshake to the person vanquished in a campaign. Time and again, when his White House has been confronted with bad news — for example, after his first national security adviser, former Lt. Gen. Michael Flynn, pleaded guilty to lying to the FBI — President Trump has switched the subject to the woman whom he defeated. He has tweeted, "Many people in our Country are asking what the 'Justice' Department is going to do about the fact that totally Crooked Hillary ... deleted and 'acid washed' 33,000 Emails." Since he was inaugurated, Trump has continued to allege that "Crooked Hillary Clinton is the worst (and biggest) loser of all time," asking after the indictment of his former campaign chairman Paul Manafort, "But why aren't Crooked Hillary and the Dems the focus?"
By lashing out (e.g., "After years of Comey, with the phony and dishonest Clinton investigation ... running the FBI, its reputation is in Tatters — worst in History!"), Trump seeks to distract the public from negative news coverage of his administration and appointees. While insisting that his relatively modest electoral vote victory (the 46th-smallest out of 58 Electoral College wins) was a "landslide," President Trump has officially questioned the legitimacy of the 2016 election — recall that Clinton won the popular vote by almost 3 million — by appointing a presidential commission to investigate the integrity of the voting.
What we have now in the White House is our first "sore winner" president. Forget everything you have ever learned about the virtue of being proud in defeat and humble and gracious in victory. Previous presidents have understood that Americans expect and value national leaders who can bind up our nation's wounds and do not twist political opponents into personal enemies. Successful American leaders, who are able to remind their fellow citizens about why we are all proud to be Americans, realize that politics is a matter of addition, not subtraction. Respected and successful presidents are not sore winners.
To find out more about Mark Shields and read his past columns, visit the Creators Syndicate webpage at www.creators.com.