There are parallels between the last days in Rome and the fall of the American Empire. Eric Morse writes:
Applying ‘Fall of Rome’ memes to U.S. politics has been a popular pastime since at least the 1990s, but suddenly we are faced with a president who is meme incarnate. It’s less fanciful than it might seem; of all the sovereignties in history, Rome and America are two that fully believed themselves to be founded in the rule of law.
Looking back at the slow collapse of the two-party system, the extreme polarization of American society and the ever-more-blatant misbehaviour of public figures over the past 20 years, perhaps no one should have been surprised. In many ways it’s more reminiscent of the century-long collapse of the Roman Republic. But the U.S. presidency has been getting more imperial as the legislature has become more deadlocked, irrespective of the incumbent.
What sets this incumbent apart is his sheer, stunning incompetence — a Roman Circus on Pennsylvania Avenue. And the man at centre of it all is, unselfconsciously, loving every minute of it.
Trump can tweet. But he can't legislate. And therein lies the difference between him and several nutbar emperors. At least they knew how to get things done:
The Romans were far better at practising power politics than theorizing about it, but here a fascinating third-century-BC Chinese authority steps in to help out. ‘The Six Handles of Lord Shang’ tells us that:
“Allowing a man to live or killing him, enriching him or impoverishing him, honouring him or debasing him, these six handles are what the ruler grasps.”
The Romans were past masters of all six handles. They also understood (more or less as Vladimir Putin does) that they have to be used in a measured fashion. What they did do — as the Empire went on and the ruler’s direct power was increasingly threatened with suffocation by the bureaucracy — was keep a careful, slightly arbitrary hand on the structures of rule, sufficient to keep even the highest and cagiest bureaucrats off-balance.
As crazy as they were, Nero and Caligula kept things going for quite awhile. But, under Trump, the decline of the United States should come quickly.
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