aNewDomain commentary — “Let them hate me, so long as they fear me.”
Nope, that’s not the latest Donald Trump tweet. It’s a quote from Caligula, the whack job Roman emperor who terrorized Rome, appointed his horse Roman senator and turned the imperial palace into a brothel nearly 2,000 years ago. In just four years, his power-mad, chaotic policies wreaked havoc on that state.
They call those years the “1400 days of terror” for a reason.
I’ve been thinking a lot about Caligula lately — especially since I read my colleague Ted Rall’s column on why he refuses to vote for likely Democratic candidate Hillary Rodham Clinton. He says he loathes and fears the idea of Trump in the White House, but he is #NeverHillary nonetheless.
Such an attitude is wrong. Dangerously wrong.
Rall justifies this position by saying he will never, ever, endorse Clinton. A vote, he argues, is an endorsement.
But a vote isn’t an endorsement. Not always. A vote can also be a weapon of self-defense, a tool for preserving self-governance.
A tool for saving 200 plus years of our imperfect yet still free republic.
And there has never been a better time in all of US history to pick up that tool and use it.
To put it another way, in a Nixon vs. Caligula contest, you vote Nixon. You don’t think about it. And in the coming contest between Clinton vs. Caligula — that is, Trump — you vote for Clinton.
You have no other choice. Pouting and refusing to vote because your guy didn’t win the nomination isn’t just risky. It’s deadly. You might not have another chance to make things right again.
I’m not the first to compare Clinton to Nixon. The comparison is fair. The two resemble one another not just on style, but also on policy and outlook. Clinton is without question the most Republican candidate, and the most Nixon-esque candidate to call herself a Democrat in many years. The Clinton of 2016 might be even more conservative than the Nixon of 1968.
But with Clinton, the worst you’ll get is an eight year sentence. Then she’s gone. And if she gets thrown out before then, she’ll pack up and go. There will be no bloodshed, no protesters beating people up in the street and no pepper spray. Like Nixon, Clinton will leave quietly when it’s time. She’s knows that she’s not being elected national dictator.
But Trump and his crazed, angry hordes of supporters? Good luck getting rid of them. “God-Emperor Trump,” as the nutjob white supremacists have anointed him, will hang on like Malaria. Violently.
Trump shows little evidence of understanding the divided powers of the federal government, and it’s unclear to what extent he believes in the rule of law and would honor it as president.
Trump-Hitler and Trump-Mussolini comparisons have been made so many times in the last year that they now seem stale, even hackneyed.
But the comparison of Trump to Caligula is fresher. It’s also more apt.
In mood, temperament and focus, Trump is abundantly Caligula-like.
And he is erratic. One minute he’s picking a fight with such close US allies as the United Kingdom and Germany.
The next, he’s conducting a bromance with Russian president Vladimir Putin and inviting North Korea’s Kim Jong-un to a meet-and-greet, an offer the dictator today rejected as “nonsense.”
Trump wants to take out a handful of terrorists in Syria by carpet bombing its civilians, people who are helpless hostages at this point. He aims to have soldiers murder the terrorists’ innocent parents, wives and children, too. Never mind that we are talking about war crimes, at the same time, he seemingly wants to end NATO, the organization that has kept the peace in Europe for 75 years. So, the Trump Doctrine is to swat flies with dynamite in one place while opening the floodgates in another.
He may flip flop constantly on such topics as abortion, climate change and gun rights, but he’s never wavered on his promise to deport 11 million undocumented workers and their children. As president, he could make good on this promise without so much as an executive order, a move that would result in panic, chaos and a nationwide system of relocation camps for the adults and children in transit.
An aside: Trump’s claims that their jobs will be replaced by robots is patently ridiculous when you consider what jobs most undocumented immigrants hold.
And then there’s Trump’s Mexican Wall — “big and beautiful,” he calls it. The 2,000 mile long wall will keep out Mexicans — rapists and thieves, he calls them. Just the idea of it has many white-obsessed Trump rally goers foaming at the mouth and chanting. USA! USA! And Trump now says he plans to eliminate gun-free zones around schools and playgrounds “within an hour” of taking office.
School shootings? Oh, whatever. Let’s make America great again.
Trump acts like a man possessed. Perhaps he is. But if you choose to let him grab the reins of power by not voting, you’re the one who’s insane.
. . .
You know, the US never has had such a wild card come so close to the presidency.
Yeah, I know all about Hughie P. Long. But Governor Long never got this close to the presidency. And while Long was a demagogue, at least he was a consistent one.
And Aaron Burr? No, because he was consistent, too.
In terms of wild card status, Trump stands alone.
He’s all over the place. Erratic. His mood swings are fearsome. He shows little interest in the limits of democratic government. If he doesn’t appear to understand much about how our democracy works, it’s because he doesn’t want to. He’s not stupid. He just doesn’t care about all that stuff any more than a reincarnated Roman emperor would.
For what it’s worth, Rome was a republic for more than 500 years before it became an empire. We’ve only gone half that distance.
But I guarantee you Trump will be consistent about one thing: He’ll consistently want to hang on to his power. So much so that he might not want to leave. Ever.
I expect one of the first things a newly-elected President Trump will do is replace any and all members of the military high command who he perceives are not being personally and absolutely loyal to him.
The safest, most expedient way to do that is just to fire everyone presently in a command position and then personally hire all their replacements. It’s what a turnaround CEO would do with the management staff he found. And what is the military high command but a supremely well-dressed and well-armed group of “security executives”?
Stalin did exactly this when he purged the Soviet officer corps. The results proved disastrous. When megalomaniac Stalin invaded tiny Finland, the Finns kicked Soviet ass hard, and they kept doing it until Stalin had to bring down nearly the entire weight of the Soviet army on them. The damage was still evident by the time the Nazis invaded Russia a few years later.
The next order of business for Pres. Trump will be to bend the giant security apparatus that Bush created and Obama expanded that allows the government to set aside personal liberty protections in order to nab terrorists. Trump will want to do this to get to his perceived political opponents, who could in fact conveniently be labeled: terrorists.
And remember the film of Saddam Hussein speaking before the Ba’ath Party? In it, you see Hussein telling the party members that he’s just uncovered a vast network of “traitors” with his henchmen. Good thing, too, he told the party members. Saddam presided over the meeting smoking a Cuban cigar as the unsuspecting “traitors” were hauled off ….
Probably Trump’s revised and expanded security apparatus won’t be ready for his first State of the Union message. But the second address? Expect plenty of fireworks.
Meanwhile, the wild mood swings and erratic power grabs will continue. On Monday, see Trump vacationing with Putin. The next day, Marines are invading Monaco over a perceived slight by Prince Albert. A week later, he’s be signing an executive order freezing the US postal service “to save money big time.” And then boom: Trump says he is selling off Hawaii to China or Japan to pay off a hunk of the national debt.
Supreme Court justices will be dismissed. Yes, I know they have lifetime appointments. Your point?
The free press will be battered, blacklisted and subjected to federal control. But this may be done by virtue of a secret national security order, so you’ll have to start reading between the lines.
This is what the end of the great American experiment looks like. The only way out of it is to vote for the Democratic candidate, presumably Hillary Rodham Clinton, even if you hate Democrats, even if you hate Nixon, even if you love Bernie Sanders and Clinton makes your skin crawl.
This is why Ted Rall is wrong about #NeverHillary.
Yes, I know the United States of America has problems, piles of them. As the late comedian George Carlin used to say, you may even think of the country is pretty much fucked. Metaphorically speaking.
But metaphorically fucked isn’t the same thing as actually fucked.
For aNewDomain, I’m Tom Ewing.
Need some more on Caligula? No problem. Here’s a dramatic, but accurate, portrayal of Caligula. It’s from a 1979 film funded by Penthouse founder Bob Guccione.
And if you need any more help imagining Trump as Caligula, watch this.
Classicist and television presenter Mary Beard is responsible for this documentary about Caligula …
For aNewDomain, I’m Tom Ewing.
Cover image: Nixon/Clinton/Trump/Caligula montage by Tom Ewing for aNewDomain, All Rights Reserved; Caligula as portrayed by Ingmar Bergman’s Gothenberg, Sweden premiere: IngmarBergman.se, All Rights Reserved; “The Women of Amphissa,” by Sir Lawrence Alma-Tadema (painting): Public Domain image