What’s the old saw by Mark Twain? “History doesn’t repeat itself, but it echoes.”
Last month when I was tootling around the Uffizi Gallery I took time to study some of the busts and statues of the ancient Romans, and there was one of Julius Caesar. Sure enough, he was shown with a combover. It led me to remember the similarities between Julius Caesar and Donald J. Trump.
First, both Rome and Washington D.C. are built on a swamp. The situation in Rome when Caesar arrives on the scene is the Republic is at the end of its lifespan. The wealthy patrician class ruled through a corrupt system of nepotism, privilege, wealth, power and insider trading. The plebs–the working classes, soldiers, farmers etc. were increasingly isolated. Julius Caesar was a man of the people who swept into power on a wave of popularity. When he took control and put through reforms that favored the ordinary people his power and popularity grew and the elite conspired to bring him down.
The similarities with Trump are interesting. Both were famous for their combover hairdos. Does that matter? Not much. It just shows that both men had an element of rather pathetic vanity. Both men were extremely popular with the people but hated by the powerful elite. It is also true that both men were married three times and both men were outsiders who turned out to be extremely shrewd politicians.
The difference is that Julius Caesar rose to prominence because of his military conquests. Donald J. Trump is not a military man, but it’s not over yet. He has the warrior personality and who knows, he may launch the USA into further wars of conquest and world domination.
What I find most interesting are the parallels between both men and the context of their rise to power. The Roman Republic in the time of Caesar was corrupt and decaying. Already it had crumbled into the triumvirate with Caesar, Crassus and Pompey ruling together. After Caesar’s assassination, Rome descended into a civil war between the ruling elite and Caesar’s forces. Out of that comes the beginning of the Empire with Julius Caesar’s adopted son Octavian emerging as Augustus Caesar – the first real emperor.
If history echoes, then within the cycle of governments republics are often followed by dictatorships. Why? The freedoms of the Republic are squandered by those who abuse them and ignored by the diffident. Affluence brings lethargy and individual license and self indulgence brings chaos. In a multiform and mobile society people are divided. The people would prefer to have a strongman take control, sort things out, clean things up and achieve unity.
Will Donald J. Trump emerge as a dictator? I don’t think so. The constitution limits him to two terms, and I think he and his advisors know that they can’t push things too far. However, should there be some crisis like a financial collapse, a terrorist attack or a new war, Trump (like any president) could claim more “executive powers.”
On the other hand, we should remember that most dictators are swept into power by the people. The people choose to be ruled by a strong man. The massive MAGA rallies that Trump holds are therefore a very interesting historical phenomenon. These are not your usual political rallies. They are hyper patriotic and very focussed on Trump the man. I can understand Americans’ patriotic enthusiasm, but one should also watch those rallies carefully and see where they are leading.
If history repeats itself, then we would expect Trump, like Caesar, to eventually stumble and fall. If history repeats itself we would then see America go through some sort of civil war out of which the first emperor emerges. If history repeats itself it would be a member of the Trump family. Who would that be? Donald Trump Jr? Eric Trump? Ivanka?
My money’s on the little guy.
I know. I know. It’s all speculation, but what also interests me is that Augustus Caesar was actually a good ruler. The republic had crumbled and an emperor had emerged, but Augustus ruled well. As the Empire developed the world experienced the Pax Romana–a period of peace brought about by Roman military dominance. It was the Pax Romana (among other factors) that created the environment in which Christianity could spread rapidly and successfully.
Don’t get me wrong. I’m not favoring a dictatorship or some great American Empire, but if history does repeat itself, then the final wave of Christian missionary effort around the world might also coincide with the rise of an American Empire and a Pax Americana. While I think our American Republic is the best form of government, I’m of the opinion that any form of government could be good if the rulers themselves and the people themselves are good. In other words, a righteous monarch ruling over a God fearing and righteous people would be better than a corrupt and immoral democracy.
What has got me thinking about all this possible future is my continued research for my podcast on John Allen’s The Future Church. If you’re interested tune in to the podcast. I’ll be starting it up again now that I’m back from my vacation-pilgrimage. The free episodes are at BreadBox Media and the full length versions are here on the blog for Donor Subscribers.