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The most important part of a democracy is what the losers do

Posted on 7 November 2012

Last night was the most watched exercise in democracy in history.

Or not.

Because there is a certain segment of the population who are viewing last night’s results as somehow illegitimate or undemocratic. And of course there are no shortage of people congratulating America on making the right choice, implying that all the people who went the other way were wrong and had there been a few more of them, America as a whole would have made the wrong choice. That’s problematic.

The most important thing in creating a stable democracy isn’t that people get to choose a leader. The most important thing is that even the people whose choice didn’t win still feel like the results are legitimate. That political opponents could legitimately lead the country, if enough people supported them.

From that point of view, the most important part of an election isn’t the victory speech. It’s the concession. It’s the moment when the loser acknowledges the legitimacy of the winner to lead, and the legitimacy of the people and the system that made that happen.

Filed under: Best Of, politics

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