Hail, Donald: Plenty of parallels between Rome, Trump

A mentally deficient populace put its counterpart in the White House, which resembles nothing less than a Marx Brothers movie, given its madcap chaos that has become the laughing stock of the world. Today's executive branch can also be aptly compared to the deranged emperors of ancient Rome. Here are a few quotes. "[He] strengthened his popularity by every possible means." "He made advances to almost every woman of rank...dwelling on her good and bad physical points." "Villas and country houses were run up for him regardless of expense." "He had mental trouble."

These refer to Trump, right? In fact, I'm quoting the contemporary historian of ancient Rome, Suetonius, who, in his "Lives of the Twelve Caesars," was portraying the murderous emperor Calligula.

We also see Trump-like characteristics in Suetonius's presentation of the equally vicious emperor Nero. For example, "So captivated was he by the rhythmic applause of a crowd...that he sent for more." And, "His jealousy of rivals...can scarcely be believed." "[He] was now so universally loathed that no bad enough abuse could be found for him." "His dominant characteristics were his thirst for popularity and his jealousy of men who caught the public eye." And his "craving for immortal fame made him change a number of well-known names of things and places in his own favor."

Nero wanted to rename Rome Neropolis. It's not hard imagining Trump, on a loan from Russia, attempting to buy the White House and renaming it Trump House. And, speaking of the emperor Galba, Suetonius says, "He outraged almost all classes" - as did (and does) Trump. The emperor Domitian was, according to Suetonius, not only "extremely lustful," but he did not bother "with either history or poetry, or taking pains to acquire even the rudiments of a style, he now reading nothing." It seems that we have with these leaders, as with Trump, the grotesquery of an undeveloped human being: an irrational, impulse-driven, egocentric child in an adult's body.

I make these comparisons to expose some of the traits Trump has in common with tyrants, and which make him one of them. Nothing frustrates Trump more than our tripartite democratic system of checks and balances, which he'd like to dispose of so that governing would emanate totally from his mindless and distorted "instincts." He uses "draining the swamp" as code for that project. Similarly, Nero considered draining the swamp by "poisoning the entire Senate at a banquet" (Suetonius). And the emperor Claudius, indeed, "Executed thirty-five senators and 300 Roman knights."

But we are not in ancient Rome. And as much as Trump embodies it, he doesn't have a chance - just as American demagogues such as Huey Long and George Wallace didn't in the long run. Another point of departure with the old Romans: They were preserving and extending a vast empire; Trump with his "Make America Great Again" is pretending to restore one that never existed - one that he can sit atop of as an unchallenged emperor.

The Roman miscreants were viciously murdered by their outraged subjects or, as in the case of Nero who stabbed himself in the throat, they committed suicide. Though democracy has certainly taken a bad turn with Trump, we've become more civilized since then. Unlike imperial Rome, governance can right itself non-violently by the will of the people. Our "Ides of March" is arrived at by a democratic legislature that can mercifully unseat an unwanted leader instead of stabbing him to death, as happened to Julius Caesar on that fateful date. So let's not despair.

Andrew Torre is a resident  of Londonderry.


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