Being Gracious in Victory-Especially When the Stakes are Low

Joe Biden won the presidency. Videos of celebrations were shared from not just all over the US, but all over the world. A return to if nothing else, a more stable time is expected on inauguration day. The race has been run, the victor called, and the loser rebuked. Many online burns have circulated, none the least of which by the President-Elect himself.


The temptation, especially after such a divisive and hate-filled candidate loses, is to twist the knife now that the finishing blow has been struck. Trump spent the last four years mocking everyone from Hilary, her supporters, democratic-run cities, war veterans, and countless other groups. Now that he's been humbled by democracy, it would be easy to ridicule him and his supporters. "How could you have been so dumb to have supported someone so toxic? Especially now that he's a loser." I've even seen others call for this same message of being gracious in victory mocked for these very reasons, doesn't Trump deserve the same treatment that he put everyone else through these last four years?


The real answer is it doesn't matter. whether he does or doesn't, what truly matters is repairing the country to prevent another him from happening in the future, and this doesn't come from going after him or his supporters, especially since they didn't win. To illustrate, there's a story from the reign of Marcus Aurelius where the stakes were a little higher and he still managed to take the high road.


Marcus Aurelius was a Roman Emperor in early AD. He's most well known for writing Meditations, a reflection of his own time as emperor and a fundamental text for Stoicism, a philosophy he studied and practiced. During Marcus' reign, he faced a fractured country, a plague, and was surrounded by people he called, "meddling, ungrateful, arrogant, dishonest, jealous, and surly." Sound familiar? Towards the end, Marcus even faced an actual civil war.


One of his generals, Cassius, declared himself emperor while Marcus was still engaged in wars on multiple fronts away from Rome. Cassius knew just as well as Marcus that there was no better time to strike; Marcus was nearing his fifties (old for ancient times) and had yet to name a successor. He was caught up in war, and Cassius was popular in his part of the empire. Rather than let the pressure of the situation get to him, Marcus made it very clear that he believed Cassius was acting in error, and announced that he wanted the upstart and his supporters captured, rather than crushed.


Getting angry would've probably felt great, so would deploying legions to smash Cassius' rebellion to bits. The man had threatened not only him but his family and friends, who no doubt would be executed if Cassius were victorious. However Marcus recognized that the divisions represented by Cassius' rebellion were much deeper than just the man leading them, and he valued the health of Rome over his own pride. By pure happenstance, Cassius was assassinated by a subordinate just as the rebellion began, and Rome narrowly avoided a battle that could've easily been its end. Marcus did exactly as he said he would, none of the co-conspirators were executed or even punished, he visited each city that supported Cassius to reassert his authority and repair relationships that had worn thin.

Due to his forethought, Rome would go on to last centuries more when a less gracious victor than Marcus might've shortened it. He could've executed all the rebels as soon as they were caught. He could've placed all the cities that stood against him under martial law. Instead he chose forgiveness, even when it wasn't deserved. The fact of the matter is that gloating creates resentment, resentment breeds hate, and hate is what rends nations apart. That's just as true now for us as it was then.

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