There was a time when competitions produced winners and losers.
Winning was always more fun, but losing was never shameful; in fact, the willingness to compete was alway considered a victory in itself.
Then came the Participation Award—some (usually) written proof that a child had actually competed in something, and though he or she may not have won, there was something tangible to take away—above and beyond the lessons of sportsmanship and effort.
The value of participation awards has been bandied about for years—coaches, parents, and competitors themselves have offered opinions and nobody needs mine—but only last week did the debate move from the athletic fields to the political realm, when Donald Trump, having lost the contest to be president, needed some sort of participation award to assuage his hurt feelings.
This would be all well and good if he were seven years old instead of well past seventy: it isn’t a very good look for a grown man, and it’s even worse for his “parents and coaches,” those Republican senators afraid to let him go home empty-handed, and his base who want him to get the winner's trophy, irrespective of the vote.
Both these groups—maybe all of us—should watch the final moments of the deciding game in the Stanley Cup finals—any year. When it ends, the opposing hockey teams shake hands, the losers get out of the way, and the winners skate about with the 35-pound cup raised above their heads. It’s a stirring scene, one that I watch even when the winning team is the one I’ve rooted against.
In Trump World that could never happen, for skating around the ice with the trophy would hurt the feelings of the losing team, and in order to coddle them, officials would have to postpone the victorious skate...or have it in secret. Also in Trump World the game would have to be replayed—or at least re-officiated—to make sure the winning team had not used fraudulent methods to win. In Trump World the Rays would still have a chance at the World Series, as would the Yankees, and the Celtics would still be in the bubble...waiting...waiting. Who said they had to lose!
Further, now that coddling has made the jump to politics, where’s the participation award for Hillary Clinton and Mitt Romney? And shouldn’t Dewey receive a posthumous certificate for the embarrassment of the 1948 fiasco? There have been lots of hurt feelings during our history, and no one has tended to these wounded competitors.
Maybe because they’re not seven years old.
Donald Trump has spent four years embarrassing himself and disgracing the presidency: anyone who expected a different outcome when it ended is just delusional. But it could be that a certificate of participation is all he needs—proof that he didn’t so much lose as not participate well enough. It would add a minute or two to the inauguration ceremony, but since there will probably be no crowd anyway with Covid-19 still raging, where’s the harm?
And if Trump wants his legacy preserved, this will be the best way. He will never have to concede, but simply remind us that he participated. And if Joe Biden simply agrees not to claim he won, but simply that he participated better, then we can maybe move on and prevent some of the most dire new predictions concerning the virus from coming to fruition, and maybe get some aid to the millions who are going without the simplest necessities.
You participated, Donald. Thank you and goodbye.