History warns us about America’s future
Assistant Opinions Editor
On January 10, 49 B.C., Julius Caesar crossed the Rubicon river. Back in the days of the ancient Roman Republic, the Rubicon was one of the boundaries which a Roman general could never cross with his army. To cross the Rubicon was tantamount to declaring war on all Romans. Nevertheless, Caesar crossed the Rubicon with his loyal legion following close behind. After successful military actions, the army he commanded was loyal to him and him only. The army would follow him even against fellow Roman citizens. Caesar was also exceptionally beloved by the Roman plebs, or commoners. This dangerous mix of populism and military loyalty would eventually culminate in Caesar being declared dictator for life and the end of the Roman Republic.
Of course, there were others who eroded the authority of the Republic before Caesar, figures such as Marius and Sulla, the latter of which also became dictator at the point of a sword. However, Caesar had no intention of “reforming” the Republic like Sulla did. Rather, he wished to end it.
The way things are going for America, I can’t help but think we are on this path towards Caesarism and strong-man rule.
President Trump is nothing new in terms of populist politics. Andrew Jackson was not only popular with the army, being a successful wartime general himself, but he was popular with the people as well. After all, he gave universal suffrage to all white men. But American civic virtue was much too strong and the elan of the early American republic was still beating in the hearts of Americans. This may have dismayed any thoughts Jackson had of becoming a Caesar himself.
However, we are not living in Jackson’s time. That republican elan that was strong in Americans even 10 years ago is weakening. It is not a controversial statement to say that many of my peers do not even believe in a republican government to begin with. The questioning of institutions such as the Electoral College and even the Senate erodes the legitimacy of these crucial institutions and can yield disaster. If eventually the Senate and Electoral College are scrapped in favor of a pure democracy, there is little stopping a new Caesar from emerging.
The President is playing a role in this as well. While he is no Caesar, President Trump undermines many institutions himself which can have far reaching repercussions. An already skeptical America becomes ever more jaded as people like Trump rely on his sheer popularity with his base to accomplish anything. Writing this on the night of November 4, the President has already questioned the results of numerous state elections, vowing to fight them in court to the bitter end. This disregard for etiquette is concerning to say the least and demonstrates a candidate’s willingness to cling to power, almost at any cost.
Those in favor of “democratizing” the Senate argue that without the fetters of that body, it would increase the speed at which policy can be passed into law. Ironically, this would increase the speed at which the common people would lose their rights to a power-hungry political bureaucracy. The Senate represents one of the only checks to sheer numbers of the mob, who are often eager to exchange their hard won natural rights in exchange for shortsighted security measures and economic gain. After all, all Caesar needed was to bribe the people with the spoils of war and the army the glory of it to seize power for himself.
To my peers in higher education and to those who are not: be careful what you wish for. For if the Electoral College is abolished and the Senate rendered illegitimate, the real “Caesar” would emerge in someone far worse than Trump. People with the ambition of Trump along with the political and military skill of Caesar do not often have your interests in mind.