Wednesday, February 28, 2018

How a Republic Falls

You know the old saying, "those who don't study history are condemned to repeat it." How the Roman Republic fell into dictatorship is an object lesson for our times.

Proliferation of Weapons
gang of Oath Keepers
In the first century BC, it was illegal to carry weapons in the city of Rome. A supporter of Julius Caesar named Clodius ignored the law and organized armed gangs to harass citizens and disrupt elections. In response, a supporter of Caesar's rival, Pompey, named Milo (I really didn't make up these names) organized his own gangs of armed gladiators to harass other citizens and intimidate Caesar's followers.

Rigging Elections
While bribing elections officials had been illegal, and common, for years, Caesar and Pompey stepped things up in 56 BCE. The elections that year were postponed for months because of street violence by Clodius. These riots were organized by both Caesar and Pompey to freeze out their rivals and insure total control of government. When the elections finally happened the Triumvirate won as much through intimidation as popularity. Pompey then oversaw the election of lesser offices (Praetors and aediles) and openly used armed thugs to force the result in his favor.

Legislative Gridlock
The Roman constitution was designed for consensus, actions by the upper class (senators) could be vetoed by the public assembly (tribunes) and vice versa. But, as government became polarized between Caesar's populists and Cato's conservatives, consensus became impossible. The constitution called for two co-consuls to share the leadership of the government.

Yet in 59 BCE, Caesar's first as head of government, his co-consul was threatened and humiliated to the point he spend most of the year hiding out in his house. In 52 BCE, Pompey was granted sole consulship (without an election) in the hope he could get something done.

Constitutional Crisis
The Roman Republic had lasted for over 400 years, its constitution surviving invasions and civil wars. In these closing years of the Republic, Romans began seeing their constitution not as guideposts but obstacles. Increasingly, the constitution and Roman law was being ignored for convenience sake.

Law Breaker-In-Chief
When Caesar crossed the Rubicon River in 49 BCE with his 13th Legion he was breaking the law. Had Caesar returned to Rome without his army he would have been arrested and tried for the many crimes he had committed in the previous decade.

No, I am not comparing Trump to Caesar. Caesar was intelligent, brave, decisive and ruthless in his quest for total power. Trump is a cowardly senile idiot who may stumble into a dictatorship just to cover up his money laundering.

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