Thursday 12 January 2017

God-Emperor Trump: comparing the Donald with figures from antiquity


I thought I used the Trump Roman Emperor analogy first:

"I increasingly feel that we may be living in a period like the reign of Marcus Aurelius, the golden age where Gibbon starts his Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire. Come to think of it, there is something of an outlandish late Roman emperor about Donald Trump, perhaps a rich wheat importer who got his position in an auction held by the Praetorian guard. "
I used this as part of an analogy between the present age and the reign of Marcus Aurelius, where Gibbon begins the Decline and Fall.

Then Tom Holland got in on the act and compared Trump to the early emperor, Caligula.

But actually he had done so earlier, at last years Hay Festival and in an article in 2015 where he compared Trump to both Caligula and Nero.

There was a whole tradition in Roman politics called the popularis tradition and it was with incredibly rich, aristocratic figures playing the popular card and saying, I am the spokesman for the ordinary Joe, and affecting the language and the tone of the ordinary citizen and consciously setting himself against what he would portray as the archetypal, self-obsessed establishment. That was the tradition that Caligula and Nero inherited, so in their bloodthirsty and brutal way they were populares, people who were playing to the popular gallery, who were all about entertaining as well as ruling. I think Donald Trump is clearly a politician in the popularis tradition.

In fact I discover now that a minor cottage industry of classical analogies with the Donald developed last year of which this article by Donna Zuckerberg, "Silicon Valley-based Classics scholar" is one of the most interesting, most depressing and unintentionally funniest. Until the nineteenth century, educated men looked to the Ancients for wisdom and guidance but those days are long gone. Miss Zuckerberg says:

Looking to the ancient world as a source of wisdom and intellectual power is primarily an elite white male strategy — the strategy of gentlemen. Not exclusively, of course: the ancient world has been appropriated by the LGBTQ communityand feminists and black hip-hop artists, too. But those appropriations are powerfully subversive precisely because they go against the expected grain. Dead white men are useful mostly to living white men.Trump may be more orange than white these days, and the whiteness of the ancients may be debatable.

Regardless, Trump feeds off the expectation that a rich white man is a source of authority. He is the combed-over manifestation of our deeply held belief that rich white men win, and they will continue winning, no matter how often they lose. History supports this belief, more or less. The rich white(ish) men of the ancient world suffered plenty of losses, up to and including the near-complete destruction of their civilizations, but they still won. In an election where, for the first time, a woman will be a major party’s nominee, the subtle reminder that for thousands of years rich white men have always won is powerful and dangerous.
Now Harry Mount is on the case, here.


  1. Judge a man by his deeds; he DJT hasn't even gotten into the office.. I agree US is at he beginning of the end, but if Trump is like Nero and Caligula and Napoleon before he takes office, who is Obama like? We already have Obama's record.

  2. Just some more anti-Trump hogwash. Not really history or even current events, as Trump has yet to serve a day in office. So how can it be said how history might portray him or the style he will use to run the government? And no, I am not a Trump supporter. I am waiting to cast judgement.
    Steve Stadler

  3. Trump seems to me to be much closer analogy to Napoleon: a moneyed plebeian with an emperor complex. Bonapartism can also describe Putin and other supposedly "right-wing" populist leaders of the current era.
    Lee Duncan

  4. Trump may have not have taken office yet, but he's got plenty on his record already.