Tuesday 15 June 2021

This is how ancient Rome’s republic died – a classicist sees troubling parallels at Trump’s impeachment trial

The U.S. Senate has made its judgment in the impeachment trial of President Donald Trump, acquitting the president. Fifty two of 53 senators in the Republican majority voted to acquit the president on the abuse of power charge and all 53 Republican senators voted to acquit on the obstruction of Congress charge.

Trump hugs the American flag at a 2019 convention of political conservatives. Tasos Katopodis/Getty Images

All 47 Democratic senators voted to convict the president on both charges. Senator Mitt Romney of Utah was the only Republican voting to convict for abuse of power.

- Advertisement -

The Republican senators’ speedy exoneration of Trump marks perhaps the most dramatic step in their capitulation to the president over the past three years.

That process, as I wrote in The Conversation last fall, recalls the ancient Roman senate’s compliance with the autocratic rule of the emperors and its transformation into a body largely reliant on the emperors’ whims.

Along with the senatorial fealty that was again on display, there was another development that links the era of the Roman Republic’s transformation into an autocratic state with the ongoing political developments in the United States. It’s a development that may point to where the country is headed.

Leader is the state

Trump’s lawyers argued that the president’s personal position is inseparable from that of the nation itself. This is similar to the notion that took hold during the ascendancy of the man known as Rome’s first emperor, Augustus, who was in power from 31 B.C. to A.D. 14.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, who led the GOP response in the impeachment trial, leaves the Senate floor on Feb. 4, 2020.
Alex Edelman/Getty Images
- Advertisement -

Trump defense attorney Alan Dershowitz asserted that “abuse of power” by the president is not an impeachable offense. A central part of Dershowitz’s argument was that “every public official that I know believes that his election is in the public interest” and that “if a president does something which he believes will help him get elected in the public interest, that cannot be the kind of quid pro quo that results in impeachment.”

This inability to separate the personal interests of a leader from the interests of the country he or she leads has powerful echoes in ancient Rome.

There, no formal change from a republican system to an autocratic system ever occurred. Rather, there was an erosion of the republican institutions, a steady creep over decades of authoritarian decision-making, and the consolidation of power within one individual – all with the name “Republic” preserved.

Oversight becomes harassment

Much of Rome’s decline into one-man rule can be observed in a series of developments during the time of Augustus, who held no formal monarchical title but only the vague designation “princeps,” or “first among equals.”

But in fact the senate had ceded him both power (“imperium” in Latin) over Rome’s military and the traditional tribune’s power to veto legislation. Each of these powers also granted him immunity from prosecution. He was above the law.

Augustus’ position thus gave him exactly the freedom from oversight – or what Trump calls “presidential harassment” – that the president demands. Such immunity is also the sort that Richard Nixon seemed to long for, most famously in his post-presidency declaration that “when the president does it, that means that it is not illegal.”

- Advertisement -

In Augustus’ time the idea also emerged that the “princeps” and the Roman state were to a great extent one and the same. The identity of the one was growing to become inseparable from the identity of the other.

So, for example, under Augustus and then his successor Tiberius, insults against the emperor could be considered acts of treason against the state, or, more officially, against “the majesty of the Roman people.”

A critic of the “princeps” – be it in unflattering words or in the improper treatment of his image – was subject to prosecution as an “enemy of the people.”

A physical demonstration of the emerging union of the “princeps” and the state came in the construction of a Temple of Roma and Augustus in cities across the Mediterranean region.

Here the personification of the state as a goddess, Roma, and the “princeps” Augustus were closely aligned and, what is more, deified together. The message communicated by such a pairing was clear: If not quite one and the same, the “princeps” and the state were intimately identified, possessing a special, abiding authority through their union.

Many higher-ups in the Trump administration, from Secretary of State Mike Pompeo to former Secretary of Energy Rick Perry to former Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders, have spoken publicly of Trump as a divinely chosen figure. And Trump himself declared earlier this year, “I do really believe we have God on our side.”

To this point, however, a Temple of Lady Liberty and Trump along the lines of the Temple of Roma and Augustus has not yet been constructed.

But the Senate impeachment trial has shown us how far along the identification of leader and state has moved in the Trump era. A central part of the president’s impeachment defense is, as we have seen, that the personal will of the president is indistinguishable from the will of the state and the good of the people.

Will the GOP-led Senate’s endorsement of this defense clear a path for more of the manifestations – and consequences – of authoritarianism? The case of the Roman Republic’s rapid slippage into an autocratic regime masquerading as a republic shows how easily that transformation can occur.

 

This article by Timothy Joseph, Associate Professor of Classics, College of the Holy Cross is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

- Advertisement -

FACT CHECK:
We strive for accuracy in its reports. But if you see something that doesn’t look right, send us an email. The Q reviews and updates its content regularly to ensure it’s accuracy.

Q Costa Rica
Reports by QCR staff

Related Articles

Immigration system failure affected passengers at the San Jose airport Monday

QCOSTARICA -  In yet another system-wide failure in the immigration check-out,...

Rainy afternoons and nights this week in most of the country

QCOSTARICA - Characteristic of the rainy season, we will see rain...

MOST READ

Tilaran, where the wind blows

QCOSTARICA - For years, Tilarán has seen the transit of tourists heading towards Lake Arenal, the homonymous volcano and La Fortuna or towards Monteverde. At...

Apple extended the life of its older iPhones

QTECH - Whether due to the global economic crisis caused by the Covid-19 pandemic or due to shortages of electronic components, raw materials, factory...

Direct flight will connect Guanacaste with Austin starting in November

QCOSTARICA - American Airlines announced that starting November 2, 2021, it will offer a direct flight between Austin, Texas and the Daniel Oduber International...

Simple to request certification of vaccines against covid-19 applied in Costa Rica and abroad

QCOSTARICA - The Ministry of Health issued a new guideline on Thursday that establishes the requirements to request the vaccination certificate against covid-19 in...

Bribed with cars, sexual favors and money in exchange for road works contracts

QCOSTARICA - The OIJ uncovered a big pothole on Monday when it was announced that public officials had allied with construction companies that, apparently,...

Opinion: Peru’s electoral drama is damaging democracy

Q REPORTS (DW) In Peru, the left-wing village school teacher Pedro Castillo has in all probability been elected the new president. The fact that...

Nicaragua government assures that detainees violated one of the Ten Commandments

TODAY NICARAGUA – The vice president of Nicaragua and First Lady, Rosario Murillo, assured that those who feel persecuted are for the crimes they...

Immigration system failure affected passengers at the San Jose airport Monday

QCOSTARICA -  In yet another system-wide failure in the immigration check-out, passengers looking to leave Costa Rica Monday morning by way of the Juan...

The US improves travel alerts for Central America; Not Costa Rica and Nicaragua

QCOSTARICA - The United States has eased travel advisories for most Central American countries, with the exception of Costa Rica and Nicaragua, according to...

WANT TO STAY UP TO DATE WITH THE LATEST!

Get our daily newsletter with the latest posts directly in your mailbox. Click on the subscribe and fill out the form. It's that simple!

Log In

Forgot password?

Forgot password?

Enter your account data and we will send you a link to reset your password.

Your password reset link appears to be invalid or expired.

Log in

Privacy Policy

Add to Collection

No Collections

Here you'll find all collections you've created before.