Opinion: Republicans blind to brutal Roman emperor in Trump

photo by: Creators Syndicate

Jamie Stiehm

Washington — An ancient Roman poet foresaw former President Donald Trump as a deposed ruler raging to regain power in a famous line, with “bread and circuses.”

Master satirist Juvenal poked at corruption in Rome’s leaders. Yet he also aimed his pen at the people, who lost their right to govern the proud Roman republic.

They surrendered citizen status in the rise of the Roman Empire.

Here in federal court, Judge Tanya Chutkan — and special counsel Jack Smith — are the noblest Romans of them all for bringing Trump to face justice.

Over his lawyer’s shouts, Trump’s trial for trying to steal the 2020 presidential election is set for March 4.

Back in ancient Rome, the common people, the masses fell prey to a cynical political strategy, “bread and circuses.”

Translated from the Latin: “Keep ’em fed with free grain and let ’em watch gladiators and amusing contests to their hearts’ content.” It was a way to distract people, keep them nice and quiet.

That’s what I see in Iowans and other Trump voters at August state fairs. There’s barbecue beef and harvest corn to go round and round, and well-fed farm animals with ribbons round their necks.

“Iowa Stubborn” fairgoers are mesmerized by Trump’s political circus, as if cast in a spell.

This state of mind has little to do with issues.

My father, a Wisconsinite, wonders how sensible Midwesterners can be stubbornly loyal to a man with four criminal indictments.

That is the question we must ask, and not just in red state diners in Ohio, where cable correspondents seek voter wisdom.

We need to get at the heart of why so many Republicans are blind to the brutal Roman emperor in Trump. After all, he’s no Julius Caesar. And at least Nero could play the fiddle.

The answer: Trump invites the darkest sides of our selves to come out to display. The greatest leaders, like Franklin Delano Roosevelt, lift the best in us.

History will note Trump put the “coarse” in public discourse — the American character and conversation.

Acting out, Trump appeals to the worst gut instincts — in whites, mostly — who voted for him out of grievance, unwilling to accept a female president after a Black one.

(If only Barack Obama tried harder to get Hillary Clinton elected, but that’s a story for another day.)

There is no difference between the private and public vulgar Trump. He makes manners seem a thing of the past. I for one appreciate class, cheer and courtesy in a president.

The only comfort is that Trump lost the popular vote twice and won’t pick up new voters in 2024.

The armed mob violence he unleashed in 2021 was near-death for American democracy. I witnessed the siege within the walls of the Capitol.

Our neoclassical Capitol evokes the majesty of the Roman Senate and Republic.

Trump has no book-learning about the ancient world, but a canny grasp of appealing to the lowest common denominator in people. He practices that in Iowa, New Hampshire, wherever he may be. He has zero respect for hallowed ground or institutions. Early on, he called the White House “a dump.”

His defiant, self-aggrandizing speeches ramble on with no script. But he has a ringmaster’s command, which Juvenal would appreciate.

Then Trump flaunts and parades his shameless language and actions, over and over, amplifying lies, boasts and insults day and night on his “social” media. How juvenile, pardon the pun.

Remember the Muslim ban on travel? Then the white supremacy rally in Virginia full of “very fine people”? Trump was just getting warmed up.

Back in New York, his fake Time magazine covers, his begging to go to Chelsea Clinton’s wedding, his callous treatment of women (including wives) were stepping stones in a ruthless quest for image-building.

Trump’s swagger is not so proud now that his mug shot was released in Atlanta. He’s charged with conspiring to undo the Georgia state 2020 presidential election.

Sen. Robert C. Byrd once observed that the fall of the Roman Republic and the rise of empire resulted in “a turbulent stream that flowed through dark centuries” of conspiracy and violence.

Let’s not go there. That history path must stay past.

— Jamie Stiehm is a columnist with Creators Syndicate.


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