End of the American Experiment?
Playing with Roman allusions while America debates "the issues" and the storm clouds gather.
Hello and welcome to Angry Planet’s weekly catalogue of a world in conflict. Every week Jason, Kevin, and Matthew watch the news and sort through the signal and noise so you don’t have to.
We’ve been talking a lot about the possibility of wide scale violence in America’s near future and the three of us don’t agree on what it will look like or if it will even happen. We wanted to use a few newsletters to outline our thinking. Three different perspectives from three different journalists we’ll loosely define as the Hack, the Historian, and the War Correspondent.
Last week, we gave you Matthew’s perspective. Now let’s check in with Jason.
Today we’re going to make some facile comparisons between the American Republic and Ancient Rome. We’re going to cherry pick from history to make a point.
The Roman Republic started off with kings under the Etruscans. After the kings were kicked out, a class of noblemen—the patricians—took over. Then the plebian noblemen wanted a piece of the action and made life miserable for the patricians until the pie was redistributed. So it went down through the centuries, until male Roman citizens got the vote inside of a system that was both far less and far more democratic than our own.
Democratic institutions—always the subject of bribery, jealousy, and other shenanigans—began to wear away. Conservatives wanted more power for the elites (themselves) and the “populares” wanted more power for the “people” (also the elites). Everyone wanted glory, the rich became even richer and the generals became warlords. The Republic ended but the institutions remained. The Senate, assemblies in the Forum, praetors, and even consuls. It’s just that there was a new “first citizen.” All the pigs were equal, but one was far more equal than the others.
The American Republic, too, is corrupt. Its institutions are run down and tired. Bureaucracies entrenched, crushed under electrons and recycled paper. Just try to have a patio built behind your house and you’ll see what I mean.
And a majority of the polis (forgive the Greek), heading toward plurality, doesn’t like what it sees of the future. America is changing and racism is less appealing when you’re among the races that are despised.
It feels like the Republic is fucked and the time of the First Citizen has come again. This election is unlikely to be free or fair. Let me lay it out quickly and then we’ll get back to Rome.
Voting in person is fucked. In states that matter, Republicans ruling from the state houses, have been closing polling places for years and insisting that poor and minority voters have forms of ID that they don’t have. Now the new First Citizen is talking about “election monitoring” by armed groups intending to scare the living shit out of those same voters at the few polling places that are left.
Have I mentioned COVID-19?
The courts won’t save us because Mitch McConell has spent his career packing the courts with sympathetic judges. And look! A new member of the Supreme Court, just in time! Beholden to president, party, and religiosity, whither this new 6-3 vote majority? I can hardly guess.
Trump’s certainly not Augustus, a man of great vision, strategy, and wisdom—with a nasty streak a mile wide and an eye for PR. No, Trump is the second First Citizen, Tiberius.
Tiberius was a nasty man and a child-fucker, ruling his empire from Villa Jovis on the island of Capri in southern Italy. Trump is a nasty man who palled around with a convicted child-fucker and often rules from Mar-a-Lago in the southern state of Florida.
By the time he was in his 70s, Tiberius lived his days on the Capri, rarely setting foot in Rome, arbitrarily having people killed, with their fortunes reverting to the state’s coffers. He was a man of moods and petty revenge. A small man in some very big shoes.
Tiberius was not a great emperor and certainly a bad man, and when he was done he left behind someone even worse—the stinking shit pile known as Caligula.
Perhaps it’s time to look beyond this election and ask the question, “Who–and what–will follow Trumpberius?”
Armenia and Azerbaijan have started fighting and it looks like Russia and Turkey are involved.
As nuclear negotiations with Russia falter, the Trump administration has ordered the military to figure out how fast it could dust off all the old bombs and missiles and deploy them.
The Proud Boys had a moment during last night’s debate, but don’t forget that their big weekend in Portland was a bust. Local officials had prepared for thousands and only received about 200.
We’re learning more about the Sailor who shot three civilians and then himself last year in Pearl Harbor. The mental health red flags were so common that they went unnoticed.
The U.S. Army has officially endorsed naptime in its new Field Manual 7-22.
An F-35B crashed into a KC-130J while attempting to refuel. No one was killed.
at top: George Baker as Tiberius in ‘I, Claudius.’