I hope that in the minds of some readers I am not beating a dead horse, but to me the increasing danger that Donald Trump - I never give him the title of "president' because (i) he literally sickens me, and (ii) had the Electoral College performed its duty as envisioned by the Founders, he would not have been certified as "winner" - poses to America and the world requires constant calls for resistance. I have at times compared Trump to the Roman Emperor Caligula (who ruled for 3 years and 10 months before being assassinated by members of the the Praetorian Guard), but as a piece in the New Yorker that bears the headline “The Lost Emperor.” in the January 15, 2018, print issue, points out, perhaps a better comparison, is the Emperor Nero. Like Caligula, Nero died in office while facing several military revolts and having been declared a public enemy by the Roman Senate (Nero could not bring himself to take his own life but instead he forced his private secretary to perform the task for him). As will likely happen when Trump leaves office regardless of the means, the vast majority of Romans gave a huge sigh of relief when both Caligula and Nero breathed their last. Here are article highlights:
What made the Emperor Nero tick, Suetonius writes in “Lives of the Caesars,” was “a longing for immortality and undying fame, though it was ill-regulated.” Many Romans were convinced that Nero was mentally unbalanced and that he had burned much of the imperial capital to the ground just to make room for the construction of the Domus Aurea, a gold-leaf-and-marble palace that stretched from the Palatine to the Esquiline Hill. At enormous venues around the city, he is said to have sung, danced, and played the water organ for many hours—but not before ordering the gates locked to insure that the house would remain full until after the final encore. Driven half mad by Nero’s antics, Romans feigned death or shimmied over the walls with ropes to escape.
Chaotic, corrupt, incurious, infantile, grandiose, and obsessed with gaudy real estate, Donald Trump is of a Neronic temperament. He has always craved attention. Now the whole world is his audience. In earlier times, Trump cultivated, among others, the proprietors and editors of the New York tabloids, Fox News, TMZ, and the National Enquirer. Now Twitter is his principal outlet, with no mediation necessary.
Future scholars will sift through Trump’s digital proclamations the way we now read the chroniclers of Nero’s Rome—to understand how an unhinged emperor can make a mockery of republican institutions, undo the collective nervous system of a country, and degrade the whole of public life.
During the 2016 Presidential campaign, and then in the first days of the Administration, some commentators counselled their colleagues to ignore the early-morning salvos about small hands or large crowds. “Stop Being Trump’s Twitter Fool,” Jack Shafer, of Politico, advised, just after the election. Trump’s volleys were merely a shrewd diversion from serious matters. . . . . Sean Spicer, the President’s first press secretary, insisted otherwise. Trump, he pointed out, “is the President of the United States,” and so his tweets are “considered official statements by the President of the United States.”
Spicer was right: a pronouncement by the President is a Presidential pronouncement. But Trump’s tweets are most valuable as a record of his inner life: his obsessions, his rages, his guilty conscience. No bile goes unexpectorated. Trump, who does not care for government work, is more invested in his reputation as a creative writer, declaring more than once that “somebody said” that he is “the Hemingway of a hundred and forty characters.”
Last week, when Trump returned to Washington from Mar-a-Lago, he set a White House record with a sixteen-tweet day. He behaved less like a President than like a teen-ager locked in his room with an ounce of Purple Skunk, three Happy Meals, and a cell phone.
Though he lauded Iranian demonstrators for standing up for their “rights,” he continued to offer respect bordering on servility to the likes of Vladimir Putin. One of his signature phrases—“fake news”—has been adopted by autocrats from Bashar al-Assad, of Syria, to Nicolás Maduro, of Venezuela. To the astonishment of our traditional allies, Trump humiliates and weakens a country he pretends to lead.
A new book by Michael Wolff, “Fire and Fury: Inside the Trump White House,” amplifies, in lurid anecdote and quotation, what we have been learning elsewhere every day for the past year: Trump believed that he would lose the election, but would multiply his fame, his fortune, and his standing in American life. To near-universal shock, however, he won. And the consequences followed. Trump has no comprehension of policy and cares about it less. He surrounds himself with aides who are either wildly incompetent or utterly defeated in their attempts to domesticate the mulish and bizarre object of their attention. There are no lingering illusions about the President’s capacities . . . . . Wolff’s book, which leans heavily on interviews with Steve Bannon, makes it plain that pretty much everyone in the President’s circle agrees that he is, in terms of character and intellect, fantastically limited. There is no loyalty or deliberation in the White House, only a savage “Lord of the Flies” sort of chaos. Each day is at once preposterous, poisonous, and dangerous.
Predictably, Trump has reacted to Wolff’s book in the manner of a wounded despot—by declaring that Bannon, once his closest adviser in matters of isolationism and white nationalism, has “lost his mind,” and by declaring war on the written word.
Nero had hoped to last long enough on the throne to re-brand the month of April “Neroneus” and the city of Rome “Neropolis.” He did not succeed. When he was thirty, having spent thirteen years in power, he was condemned by the Roman Senate as hostis publicus, a public enemy. He was doomed. One of his last utterances seemed to mark the despair of the politician-performance artist: Qualis artifex pereo! “What an artist dies in me!”
Scandal envelops the President. Obstruction of justice, money-laundering, untoward contacts with foreign governments—it is unclear where the special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation will land and what might eventually rouse the attention of the U.S. Senate. Clearly, Trump senses the danger.
In the meantime, there is little doubt about who Donald Trump is, the harm he has done already, and the greater harm he threatens. He is unfit to hold any public office, much less the highest in the land. This is not merely an orthodoxy of the opposition; his panicked courtiers have been leaking word of it from his first weeks in office. The President of the United States has become a leading security threat to the United States.