It’s supremely discomforting not knowing what’s going to happen in the near future. Maybe that’s why there’s the time-honored tradition of seeking comfort in the past – in historical analogy. In just finding that static and familiar figure which can help elucidate the present.
A classical reference is always best. As it is currently an empire at stake, a Roman would be the most appropriate. So let’s see who’s on deck.
Is Trump our Julius Caesar? The destroyer of the Republic – who rose to prominence from wealthy, yet mediocre stock on a pile of unpaid debt? The establishment did deem him a traitor to his class, so he cast his lot with the plebs. And upon taking office he made himself ‘dictator in perpetuity.’
But Caesar was also a singularly skilled general and a man of letters, which indicates essential qualities Trump most definitely does not possess.
What about Augustus, the first true emperor? Useless as a general, but murderous and vindictive, he brought Rome to heel through sheer connivance and an uncanny ability to make the everyman feel as if he represented him – all while fleecing the countryside.
But while Augustus was a brutal figure for the first few years of his reign, he’d always displayed temperance, patience, and a deference to the expert that allowed him to settle well into the role of benevolent autocrat. Once his enemies were crushed, of course. Trump has none of those traits.
So, let’s peek into the real rogue’s gallery.
What about Nero? He commissioned a 100-foot-tall statue of himself, burnt religious minorities alive, and tore down a third of the city in order to build a golden palace.
But he also played the lyre, recited epic poetry, and minced about the stage. I can’t see Trump playing the fairy for anyone’s amusement.
Now, I can picture him as a Caligula type – an easily bored sadist with incestual passions. But, Caligula himself was thrust into the royal position by happenstance. And at a young age. Unambitious, he’d serve as a poor analog for our soon to be executive.
It is the grim Tiberius, Augustus’ aged successor, who really screams TRUMP from the annals.
Supremely disliked by the other royals, for years he was a walking punchline. And he didn’t take the throne until well past his prime. When he did, he quickly tired of the responsibility. So he handed power to a gang of thugs who would overturn the small semblance of due process that remained in the empire.
So maybe here we’ve found our man, our ancient Trump avatar.
So how did it all play out, in the end?
From his remote palace, Tiberius ordered summary executions of any Senator that had ever snickered at his expense. He lived out his 20-year reign engrossed in debauched palatial perversions. Eventually, a close relative smothered him with a pillow and took his place.
What can we glean, then?
Less than I’d like. Tiberius may have been a vindictive sociopath, but he never had an arsenal of remote controlled flying death machines, capable of targeting any wedding party anywhere in the world. He never had 7000 nuclear warheads at his disposal, just one tenth of which would be enough to immolate civilization.
He never had a surveillance apparatus capable of monitoring perceived enemies foreign and abroad, 24/7.
Tiberius never had an opportunity to pursue weaponized artificial intelligence at a breakneck pace.
And never in a world where technology increases at an exponential rate – one where the outcomes of that possibly final breakthrough could be utterly dependent on the ultimate goals of whichever executive happens to be in power.
Tiberius’ sadism was the stuff of legend. But he never had Twitter.