Letter #4: Losing a fair fight…the 12 and 140
January 2, 2021
This afternoon, I saw a headline hit my newsfeed that made me very nervous for you and your future. It made me very nervous for all of us.
I had planned on writing to you about leadership this week. I had planned on telling you about my many mistakes that I have made throughout my life as a leader and what I learned from those mistakes. I will certainly tell you those stories one day soon, but today, I need to talk with you about the actions that our leaders are taking right now as I write this letter — actions that jeopardize everything that we have fought so hard to protect and preserve. Actions that, as I read the headline in my newsfeed, gave me a sinking feeling in my chest and confirmation that the idea of America is truly in danger. I write this letter to you today because the events that will take place next week will definitely impact you, both now and in the coming years.
In my letter today, I want you to understand the importance of moral courage — of doing the right thing when it’s hard. And I want you to see what happens to leaders when moral courage is replaced by cowardice. I want you to be able to recognize the difference between a leader who is showing true country-first courage and strength and one who is being a self-interested coward wrapped up in a nice bow of flowery patriotic language when the TV cameras are on.
Let me start here by saying that in my letters to you, I work deliberately to communicate the importance of what it means to be an American citizen — not talking to you about the power of a certain conservative or liberal ideology, but about the power and potential that the idea of America represents. I want to teach you the importance of coming together around the common ground that makes us all Americans. I want to teach you about the beauty of our differences and the unique opportunity we have as a nation to be a positive force in the world around us.
I am not writing this letter to seek validation or approval from some political scientist, pundit, politician or journalist. I am writing these words to you — to my daughter and fellow American. I write these words to you because I love you, and you have a right to know what is happening to the country you will inherit.
I’m not writing these words to you as a Republican or Democrat. My political party affiliation has nothing to do with the words and lessons I want to teach you because, at the end of the day, the political party one belongs to has nothing to do with being a good or bad person. It has nothing to do with being a smart or ignorant person. It has nothing to do with being a patriot or a traitor.
I grew up as a Republican. I used to vote as a Republican. I am now an Independent. I am conservative in some of my views and liberal in others. I don’t have a political party now because I believe that the leadership in both parties have become huge contributors to many of the problems that our country faces today.
I don’t choose political sides in my letters to you — you and I have no time for that in our conversations. Frankly, we have no time for that as a nation. It is the “two sides” that have stripped away the voice of the American people, and we as one people, one voice, must take it back.
It is from this place that I write to you today. The words that follow are not an indictment of Republican voters or Democratic voters — I have deep bonds of love, friendship and respect forged through blood, sweat and tears with patriots who come from both camps. These words are also not intended to be an indictment of a political party. Instead, my words are an indictment of specific leaders, and their failure to act with moral courage in service to the Constitution and the American people — leaders who are purposely creating a crisis that we may not be able to recover from.
Now, to that article that I saw in my newsfeed.
The article described in great detail how this coming week is going to be a pretty intense week here in Washington. Wednesday, January 6th is shaping up to be a day for the history books. On Wednesday, 12 U.S. Senators and 140 Members of the House of Representatives plan to contest and try to overturn the election of President-elect Joe Biden. President Trump has continued to tell Americans that it was a rigged election and “he won big,” and he has been inciting protests on the same day — encouraging tens of thousands of his supporters to descend on Washington, D.C. for as he puts it, a “wild time” to try to prevent Congress from announcing Joe Biden as the next President of the United States. Leaders of popular podcasts and major news media personalities are calling for President Trump to invoke the Insurrection Act — an action that would declare martial law to overturn the election results and, in effect, carry out a coup to take over the government. There are even leaders calling for people to rise up in arms and revolt, calling for a second civil war.
Trinity, I want you to hear me when I say…this is not leadership. This is not strength. This is cowardice, and there is sadly no other word that better describes the act of these leaders.
To these leaders, the words they use are just rhetoric intended to drive their popularity in the polls and increase their hold on power. Most of them don’t even believe their own words. They are using lies, conspiracy theories and false promises to enrage and radicalize hard-working Americans who are struggling to get by and just provide for their families.
But what they fail to understand is that their words have terrible, long-lasting consequences. They are turning us against one another. They are tearing apart families and life-long friendships. These leaders are taking actions with one set of interests in mind — their own…not the interests of the Americans they represent and certainly not the greater interests of the nation as a whole.
I’ve struggled with how to explain to you what has begun unfolding in our country since our conversation we had about American Democracy late into the night on November 3rd.
To fully understand the crisis that these leaders are placing the American people in, I want to explain how our President is elected. Last year, in your Democracy class, you learned about the Electoral College. The Electoral College and the period between Election Day (the day most Americans cast their vote for President) and Inauguration Day (the day the President is sworn into office) can be a rather tough process to understand. I want to break the 2020 Presidential election process down for you into eight steps and explain to you the facts of what has happened so far in this process, so that you can see how important it is to have country-first leaders at all levels of our government to execute their duties with strength and moral courage. The steps in the process to elect our President and the facts of that process in the 2020 election are as follows:
1. Parties select electors. In every state, the major political parties select representatives called electors. Every state is represented by a number of electors equal to their number of representatives in Congress. So, for example, Texas has 38 electors: 2 for its U.S. Senators and 36 for its number of Representatives in the House. In Texas, the Republican party will select 38 electors and the Democratic party will select 38 electors.
2. The people vote. On November 3rd, registered voters in every state cast their vote for who they wanted the next President to be. This vote can be made in person at what’s called a polling station on election day (or during periods of early voting), or the vote can be sent in the mail. Your mom and I are examples of these two options — Mom voted on a paper ballot early and I dropped it off at one of the polling stations, and I went into the polling station on election day to cast my vote in person.
3. The votes are counted. After the polls closed on Election Day, all the votes were counted to see who got the most votes. Citizens who volunteered their time to work at polling stations had to work very long hours until all the votes had been carefully counted / The American people voted, and across the country, 81 million votes were cast for Joe Biden, and 75 million were cast for President Donald Trump.
4. Candidates can legally challenge the count. Between November 3rd and December 8th, each Presidential candidate was allowed to challenge the election results in court if the candidate thought the vote had been unfair. The candidate must produce evidence to prove that the vote has been unfair in order to affect the outcome of the election / President Trump and his campaign challenged the election results in 60 state level court cases around the country — saying that there was widespread fraud in the election. President Trump lost 59 of the 60 court cases. The judges presiding over these courts were appointed by both Democrats and Republicans — many by President Trump himself. The President and his allies then wanted the United States Supreme Court to weigh in on two separate cases to completely overturn election results in four states. The Supreme Court, which consists of six conservative justices (three who were appointed by President Trump) and three liberal justices — rejected and threw out both cases. On November 13th, President Trump’s own Department of Homeland Security declared that the 2020 Presidential Election was the most secure in American history — stating that, “There is no evidence that any voting system deleted or lost votes, changed votes, or was in any way compromised.”
5. State governments certify the vote and choose electors. By December 8th, the vote count had to be finalized. The State governments certified the election results and chose the electors for their state. Certification just means they had to ensure and declare that the election was carried out in a secure, fair, and transparent way. The vote count was finalized and certified, and they announced the candidate who won the most votes. If the candidate who won the most votes was a Republican, the State government selected the Republican electors. If the candidate who got the most votes was a Democrat, then the State government selected the Democratic electors. This process happened in a similar fashion in every state except for Nebraska and Maine (who select their electors in a slightly different manner that I won’t bore you with here) / By December 8th, every state government (Republican-controlled and Democratic-controlled) had certified the vote in their state and selected the electors to represent their people at the Electoral College. President Trump and his allies put pressure on several Republican state legislators to overturn the will of the people in their states and declare him the winner instead. They refused to do so.
6. Electors cast their votes for the President. On December 14th, the electors from each state met at their state capitals around the country and cast their vote for the candidate who won the most votes in their state. The results of that vote were sent to Washington, D.C. to Congress for an official count / On December 14th, the Electoral College met and cast their votes. Joe Biden won 306 electoral votes, and Donald Trump won 232 electoral votes.
7. Congress counts the votes and announces the winner. On January 6th, the Senate and the House of Representatives will meet in a joint session led by the Vice President of the United States. They have one job to do in that meeting — to count the number of votes cast by the electors around the country — confirming the will of the American people. The Vice President will then announce the candidate who receives 270 or more electoral votes (a majority of the total 538 electoral votes possible) as the winner of the election and the next President of the United States / This is the meeting during which the 12 and 140 intend to challenge the election results and overturn the will of the American people.
8. Winner is sworn in as President. On January 20th, the candidate who receives 270 or more electoral votes as confirmed by Congress will be sworn into office as the next American President.
The 2020 election was not rigged. There was no mass election fraud. There were most likely isolated incidents of fraud on a very small scale (as there are in every election), and those incidents should be investigated rigorously to make our system better, but there is absolutely no credible evidence that supports a rigged election or large-scale voter fraud that could have even come close to changing the outcome of the election. This has been confirmed both by the courts and by investigations carried out by President Trump’s own Administration.
Our election officials in both parties did a heroic job. We the people did a heroic job as well — turning out in record numbers across the country to fulfill one of the most important responsibilities we have as American citizens — to exercise our right to vote. A defining feature of a liberal democracy is that the people get to elect their own leaders.
The American people have spoken. And they have spoken definitively. Joe Biden won the election. Donald Trump lost the election. Donald Trump and the 12 and 140 are now attempting to overturn the will of the American people.
In every election, there are winners and there are losers. Historically, one of the things that separates American Democracy from so many other forms of government is how our leaders act when they lose. In America, after an election, the loser admits defeat, congratulates the winner, and we all continue to grow and move forward. The losing side picks itself up and continues to work together with the winning side to lead the nation — remembering that at the end of the day, we’re all Americans who genuinely love this nation…no matter what side you are on. If the loser fails to act with courage and dignity and admit defeat, there are terrible consequences for democracy.
I lived for many years in other countries where leaders and governments do not lose well, and I saw these consequences firsthand. Many times, the leaders who lose an election refuse to admit defeat. In doing so, these leaders plunge the people of their nation into endless strife and civil war. Millions of innocent people suffer horribly as powerful, narcissistic elites scramble to hold onto their positions so they can continue to personally benefit from their seats of power.
As I watched the headlines today and thought about our leaders — those 12 U.S. Senators, the 140 Members of the House of Representatives and the President — I couldn’t help but see a dark reflection of the narcissistic leaders in other countries who I had witnessed burn it all down for their own power and political gain.
In order for our system in America to hold, the losers of our elections must hear the voice of the people and admit defeat. They must concede. They must recognize that the winners won so we have a peaceful change of power and we can all move on with our lives. The great thing about American Democracy is that, even if we lose, we get to elect our President every four years. If enough people think the President does a bad job, we are not stuck with him. We can fire him — we have the power to hold him accountable and vote him out.
I have great friends and family members who voted for Joe Biden. I have great friends and family members who voted for Donald Trump. Great Americans voted for the winner of the election, and great Americans voted for the loser of the election. It sucks to lose. But when you lose, you have to admit you lost, learn from it and move on. That’s how we grow as leaders. It’s hard to do the right thing, but taking these important steps as the losing side of an election is the right thing to do — for ourselves and for the country.
Courage and leadership often show up most powerfully during times of loss. The true character of a leader is revealed in defeat, not in victory. Leadership is about doing the right thing when it is hardest, not when it is easiest.
The 12 and 140 and the President are trying to overturn the results of the 2020 presidential election — seeking to overturn the voice of the people. These leaders do not care about the 75 million Americans who voted for Donald Trump. They only care about themselves.
They’re not interested in governing. They are not interested in leading. They want to increase their followers on Twitter and their level of celebrity and influence within their party. Many of them want to keep their seat in Congress at all cost. Some of them desperately want to be the next President elected in 2024. All who choose to act on January 6th as they have publicly stated they will, are placing power and personal gain above the interests of their people and the idea of America.
But it doesn’t have to be this way. I believe that the 12 and 140 took their oath of office wanting to serve and help build a better America. Somewhere along the way, power diluted that desire to answer a higher call of duty to serve. Power corrupts. I have certainly made my fair share of missteps as a leader — at times mistaking my own interests for the interests of those I served. But being a real leader means admitting when you make those mistakes. It means doing the hard things when it’s really, really hard. It means putting your own needs and interests aside and serving others.
There is redemption. These leaders can pull America back from the brink of violence and worse. They have a choice. They can still do the right thing on January 6th. President Trump himself could stop all of this fear, division, and suffering by uttering five simple words: I lost a fair fight.
In my new work, I promise you that I am going to do everything in my power to combat the type of leadership fueled by cowardice, narcissism and fear that we are seeing today in the news. I will make mistakes too, but I promise you that I will admit when I am wrong and when I have wronged others. I promise to learn from my mistakes and when I fail, to fail forward. I promise to do the right thing even when it is hard. I promise to relentlessly pursue the healing of a nation and the realization of a promise deferred. I promise to help build, protect and preserve the America that you and your generation deserve to inherit.
There is a better way. We all, as Americans, deserve better. You deserve better. And regardless of what decisions our leaders make in the coming weeks, we the people must never give up the pursuit of that better way.