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Even the most casual student of history knows that the mighty Roman Empire fell from within. More serious students of history have read tomes of scholarly research on the subject. Most of them also share the conclusion that the collapse of the greatest economic and military power in the world came primarily from within. And many of these same researchers are saying that America is on a course to repeat Rome’s collapse. I believe they are right.
Excessive taxation with unbridled spending, a hedonistic culture preoccupied with pleasure and sport, fascination with military conquest that bred overextended military adventurism and perpetual war and extreme corruption in government seem to be the consistent themes describing the fall of the mighty Roman Empire.
In truth, the Roman Empire was doomed . . . when it became an empire. The power lust of Julius Caesar drove him to lead the Roman army in many unsanctioned, unlawful and barbaric wars of aggression. But it also made him extremely powerful and popular with the Roman people.
The Roman senate wanted Caesar to face criminal charges for his unlawful wars and summoned him home from the battlefield to face those charges. Instead, Caesar crossed the Rubicon River with his 13th Roman Legion in 49 B.C. and seized Rome by force. He then summarily dismantled the power of the senate, gave great wealth and lands to the military troops that were loyal to him and implemented monarchical law. He soon forced the senate to declare him to be “dictator for life.”
Julius Caesar was assassinated by senators loyal to the Roman Republic on March 15, 44 B.C., but they lacked the power to overcome Caesar’s adopted heir, Octavian, and were soon defeated. Their defeat eliminated all opposition to the new monarchy. Octavian, named Caesar Augustus (the title as ascribed in Luke 2:1; called Augustus Caesar in secular history), became the first official Emperor of Rome.
The Roman Republic fell when the Roman Empire began.
Historian Timothy Joseph writes:
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.
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.
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.”
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.”
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.
Pulitzer Prize-winning historian Jon Meacham is even more direct. He said that the U.S. Senate’s vote against allowing evidence and witnesses at Trump’s impeachment trial had made Trump “functionally a monarch.”
Meachan said, “He’s [Trump’s] functionally the most politically powerful president in American history,” meaning Trump has accrued more unconstitutional power to himself than any other president in U.S. history. With the exception of Abraham Lincoln, this is doubtless true.
Donald Trump is doing what no liberal Democrat could ever do: He is turning America from a constitutional republic into a monarchical dictatorship. Anyone who doesn’t see that is either completely ignorant of history or willfully blind.
Donald Trump ignores congressional oversight of the president’s financial spending; he ignores congressional oversight of the president’s ability to wage war; and he ignores congressional power to subpoena witnesses. In short, Trump has all but completely neutralized the legislative branch of government.
Donald Trump is not attacking the Deep State; he is attacking constitutional government. He is attacking the United States.
CNN analyst Stephen Collinson was absolutely right when he wrote:
[Donald Trump] is completing his project of fashioning the office around his own personality. It's unrestrained, unaccountable, often profane, impervious to outside influence and factual constraints of normal governance. The President has established dominance over his party, his Cabinet and his own media complex. He loosened Congress's constraints by refusing to cooperate with the impeachment probe.
The result is that there are very few political constraints on his behavior left.
And here is the scary part: The stronger (and more reckless and ruthless) Trump’s rogue presidency becomes, the more popular he becomes. Trump’s poll numbers have risen exponentially since his impeachment. With Republicans and conservative Christians, Trump’s popularity tops 90%.
As with tyrannical strongmen such as the Caesars, Donald Trump has made the country all about HIM. Patriotism is all about HIM. Even Christian faith is all about HIM. Any legal restraint, any constitutional prohibition, any moral impediment and any voice of opposition must be swept away. Trump is der Führer.
And just as with der Führer Adolph Hitler, Donald Trump receives his most rabid, enthusiastic, even fanatical support from professing Christians.
Writing for the Washington Monthly, Martin Longman quotes David French:
[Conservative Christians] rationalize that any criticism of Trump will weaken him and empower his opponents, so they refrain from criticizing him. Then they begin to attack his critics even when they agree with them: “They’ll echo Trump’s lies. They’ll defend Trump’s lies. They’ll adopt many of his same rhetorical tactics, including engaging in mocking and insulting behavior as a matter of course.”
Somewhere along the way, the idea of loving your enemies gets lost. Along with it, the standard against lying is abandoned. And, since Trump cannot be criticized and must be defended, every foul act in Trump’s history is either denied or ignored. Traditional norms of American government, like the separation of powers and Congress’s right to subpoena witnesses and documents, are thrown to the wayside because the president doesn’t abide by them.
Trump takes kind old ladies who worry about the unborn and transforms them into hate-tweeters. He turns upright and model citizens into apologists for sexual assault, white nationalism, business fraud, self-dealing and foreign interference in our elections.
For French, his primary concern is what this does to faithful conservative Christians. For the rest of us, the concern is what it does to the nation as a whole. As [sic] the core of Trumpism is the corruption of the national character.
Add to all of the above the fact that the establishment has successfully orchestrated almost the entire Democrat Party in Washington, D.C., becoming nothing but a cartoonish compilation of radicalized left-wing extremists, making it increasingly repugnant to most Americans, thereby making Trump look better by comparison and greasing the skids for his re-election.
The establishment Deep State has ALWAYS been about expunging America’s Bill of Rights and constitutional form of government and returning America to monarchism. It’s a lot easier for the power elite to control one man than it is 435 congressmen, 100 senators, 9 Supreme Court justices and a president and vice-president—not to mention 50 sovereign states.
Donald Trump is the strongman who will give the establishment Deep State everything it has ever wanted.
We are going back to Rome.
Christians who are cheering on this wanna-be Caesar should remember what Caesars do to Christians.
© Chuck Baldwin
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