Herodotus tells us that “men’s fortunes are on a wheel, which in its turning does not allow the same man to prosper forever.” This election season has been a perfect example; from the primaries to the general election, Trump’s campaign has experienced too many highs and lows to remember. The biggest low, however, was almost certainly the strategically-timed release of his locker-room banter. With major media outlets doing their best to keep those comments in the spot-light, Trump walked into the second debate under a cloud of controversy.
Some 2,500 years ago, King Agis II of Sparta was also faced with a crisis when he marched to the Battle of Mantinea. Thucydides tells us that Sparta’s reputation for bravery and prudence had suffered greatly during the Peloponnesian War. A number of Spartan citizens had surrendered to Athens on the island of Sphakteria, and Agis himself was almost punished for cowardice when he failed to attack an Argive army. Marching into the Battle of Mantinea, Agis knew he had to prove that he could still lead Sparta, and that Spartans were worthy of their ancestral reputation.
Both Trump and Agis began their struggle with an apology, and both men ultimately triumphed on the field of battle. Immediately before the debate, Trump called a press conference and apologized for his words, and promised that he would make America great again. Agis, for his part, apologized and entreated the Spartans not to punish him for cowardice, promising to bring them honour during the next battle.
After those acts of contrition, both men went on the offensive. Agis immediately marched an army right into the contested territory of Mantinea, plundering the land and seeking out any battle he could find. He went so far as to consider a suicidal charge at a defensive position, whereupon an older Spartan told him, “don’t cure one evil with another”. Ultimately, though, the opportunity for redemption presented itself. The Spartans and their allies came face-to-face with an opposing army drawn from cities like Athens and Argos.
Trump, as we all saw last weekend, was similarly out to prove his strength and ability. The candidates skipped the initial hand-shake and went straight into the competition. The moderator joined the fray, offering Clinton the perfect question so that she could immediately lock horns with Trump. Clinton did not shy from the opportunity; she immediately accused Trump of every failing imaginable, and then awaited his response.
During the Battle of Mantinea, King Agis and his men silenced all opposition. At the centre of the battle, Agis and his 300 knights slaughtered all that faced them. They then proceeded to march around the battlefield to aid allied soldiers, continuing the bloody business. King Agis II was redeemed, and Thucydides records the common reaction to Sparta’s victory:
“Fortune, it was thought, might have humbled them, but the men themselves were the same as ever.”
A similar success was seen by Trump; in the space of 90 minutes, he turned the tide of popular opinion. Faced with an attack, he didn’t grovel for forgiveness; instead, he reminded America of how Clinton treated her husband’s female accusers. He pointed out the difference between words and actions, and then masterfully switched to policy. Initially only Trump’s locker-room banter was on the table, but now he added the multitude of scandals swirling around Clinton. The audience heard about Clinton’s history defending sexual predators, Clinton’s failure to comply with Congressional subpoenas, Clinton’s disastrous foreign policies, Clinton’s desire for mass-immigration… the hits kept coming.
When all was said and done, everyone knew the result. The journalists and reporters tried to harp on Trump’s locker-room banter, but their hearts weren’t in it anymore. The popular polls told of his success. Perhaps the sweetest confirmation of Trump’s achievement came the next day; during the morning commute, NPR struck a humble and defeated tone. Whether or not Trump ultimately gained your vote, he did achieve that Spartan ideal:
“Even if I accomplish nothing else, I may at least blunt an enemy’s sword.”
This article was originally posted in 2016