As things have turned out, both the 2008 and 2012/13 Maltese election campaigns have coincided with the American presidential election.
So as we sit here, still drumming our fingers waiting for the magic date to be announced, the Americans have kept the date which comes by every four years (and which is not at the whim of the President), they’ve voted, the results were announced and Barack Obama, (thankfully) has been re-elected.
The temptation to compare and contrast is inevitable.
As we all sat watching Mitt Romney’s gracious speech conceding defeat, followed by Obama’s eloquent delivery in which he managed to be sincere, erudite and down-to-earth without ever once striking a false note, flashes of what happens here kept going through my mind.
Here, unfortunately, the smug gloating of the winning party, from the party leader, to the candidates to the supporters is often insufferable. Likewise, as we have seen in the past, the bad loser syndrome manifests itself unpleasantly in the losing party, its leader and by extension, its supporters. We don’t do losing well here in Malta – whether it’s a dismal showing at the Eurovision, a thrashing during a football match, or an election, a failure to win is considered a humiliation in which the ‘loser’ feels he needs to run away and hide himself in a hole until it is safe to come out and the jeers have stopped.
Because, of course, we don’t know how to be mature when we win either. Winning is never entirely satisfying until we have mocked and ridiculed and accompanied our triumph with a heavy dose of name-calling in which we enjoy watching the ‘losers’ squirm in discomfort. Nothing gives some people more pleasure than seeing their opponent “mahruq” as well call it in Maltese (literal translation: “burnt”, as in, mightily pissed off).
I see this happen in sports all the time – sometimes, it is not enough for someone to win a game, they need to see the person they have beaten demonstrate an adequate level of mahruq-ness…with smoke coming out of their ears. If the beaten opponent merely shrugs and takes the loss lightly, the winner feels cheated: what is the point of winning if you cannot crow at the sight of your opponent’s fuming face?
The analogy with sport is apt because I feel it explains why Americans are so sportsmanlike during election defeats. From the time they start school, where sports is considered a priority, they are educated in the importance of being gracious winners and good losers. Being a bad sport who throws tantrums because he has lost, or who boasts because he has won, is frowned upon. And you could witness this in the way Romney and Obama behaved yesterday. In their own way, now that the campaign was over, they left partisan politics behind and each struck just the right tone to see a more united nation.
Will we ever get there ourselves? Will we ever hear the politician who has lost give credit to his opponent for a well-run campaign and promise to work with him for the better of the country? Will we ever hear the winning politician say “even I didn’t earn your vote, I still listened to you”?
Will we ever watch a victory celebration where we see Maltese flags and not party flags, and generic upbeat music rather than the chanting of political slogans or what is worse “the party anthem”? Finally, we will ever reach the point of political maturity where we can wake up the day after an election, hear the results and not spend the next few years taunting friends and acquaintances who do not share our political views?
Maybe if the footage of Romney and Obama’s civilised speeches were to be shown in our schools to educate children about how mature democracy works in practice, we might get there one day.
I’m afraid for many adults, it’s far too late.