One ruler had a penchant for gilded palaces, poorly-executed jokes, financial irresponsibility, and nepotism. The other was a Roman emperor who thought about making his horse a consul.
Is Jared Kushner the American equivalent of a horse-consul? Perhaps it’s Sean Spicer? Kellyanne Conway and Betsy DeVos both feel right as well.
This comparison isn’t just to be glib, though that’s certainly in fashion amongst the Resistance. Rather, it’s to illustrate a wider point.
As Caligula’s excesses and buffoonery represented lost opportunities for the Roman Empire, so too does the presidency of Donald Trump, whose own over-the-top leadership and clear political incompetence squander the power of a great nation-state.
Caligula, famously, helped spark the Jewish Revolt of 66–70 CE, when he dismissed Jewish petitions against Roman misgovernment by asking why Jews didn’t eat pork. Caligula was long dead by the revolt, assassinated by his bodyguard (perhaps our equivalent of Paul Ryan filing articles of impeachment?). Yet the four short years of his reign, from 37–41 CE, represented a lost opportunity to stifle that rebellion decades before it happened. Imagine if Caligula could have imitated Augustus Caesar, who handled Jewish politics with finesses. Would the Temple of Solomon still stand today, rather than being pulled down by Roman legionaries?
If we look at Trump through the Caligula lens, we must look beyond just the personal excess and gilded palaces, past the emperor’s orgies and Trump’s reputed golden showers, and to the conditions behind them.
As Caligula led a secure Roman Empire threatened by only by the mumbles of great disruption, so too does Trump. Caligula’s amoral rule did not bring down the Empire, since in the 1st Century the Empire was too well-organized and its enemies too weak. That collapse would come hundreds of years later, the result of a confluence of conditions that Caligula’s rule helped continue, but did not single handedly cause.
The same can be said of Trump’s rule. Like Caligula, there are no great rivals to the United States: no Soviet Union, a China that still adheres to a peaceful rise, nothing but the battering of Sunni supremacist barbarians at the gates of the superpower. The territorial integrity of the U.S. itself is not even remotely in question; Putin’s wild-eyed gambit to force a California secession ended in laughs. Its allies, some of whom are alarmed by the current White House, are content to wait out Trump.
Yet beyond the maximum 8 years of a Trump presidency, great challenges loom. None of them are being addressed by Trump. If Caligula’s malfeasance helped spark the Jewish Revolt, with its far-ranging consequences, and did nothing to alleviate the excesses of the Caesarian imperial system, Trump threatens to cause wars that might otherwise be avoided while reinforcing all that is irrational about the United States.
(Read more at American Politics Made Super)