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Alliances and Betrayals

The Fall of the Republic of Rome and a Lesson for the Republic of the United States

Julius Caesar confronts the senate
Julius Caesar confronts the senate (image generated with Midjourney)

Discussing Julius Caesar’s thirst for absolute power is difficult without acknowledging his wide populist appeal. For example, Caesar lampooned the current power structure, labeling the senate politicians as elitists whose only concern was retaining their own power. Yet at the same time, Caesar was torn; how do you seize power from elitists without becoming an elitist yourself? This conundrum stalked Caesar as he traveled the road to power, ultimately resulting in his assassination in the Senate chamber. Presumably, the goal of the Senate in assassinating Caesar was to stabilize their tenuous grip on power. Unfortunately, however, it proved only to accelerate the unraveling of the republic. When Caesar’s adopted son, who became known as Augustus, took power, he finished the job, transitioning Rome from a republic to an empire and establishing himself as the first emperor of Rome. Over the subsequent centuries, the empire fell victim to a series of rogue and incompetent leaders, corruption, economic instabilities, and a growing wealth gap. These internal problems proved too much and ultimately led to the fall of Rome.

Throughout history, empires have been doomed to fail because they lack the checks and balances that normal republics institutionalize.

If you see parallels in today’s political climate in the United States, you’re not alone. Populist leaders - most notably Donald Trump - maneuver themselves to the centers of power, riding on a wave of populist discontent. Though much of this discontent is manufactured and disseminated through media companies sympathetic to the cause of imperialism, it is discontent nevertheless, and it serves its purpose. Its purpose is to challenge the current political structure and promise that things can improve, but only if you trust the new system. Like Julius Caesar, Trump created a leadership style based only on his personality and not policy. The familiar line, “Trust me,” is used often in this scenario. As in, “Trust me, I’ll deliver you from troubling times. I’ll build a wall. I’ll stop all wars. I’ll bring you healthcare. I’ll make you rich like me. I’ll restore this nation to its mythical past glory.”

The reality, however, is quite different. Caesar’s rise to power depended largely on powerful political connections - connections discarded with extreme prejudice once they outlived their usefulness. Like Caesar, you see Trump making these powerful connections as well. In his previous administration, he granted top-level positions in government to those who served his ego and his quest for power. And now, Project 2025 openly encourages this action. Project 2025 calls for the firing of people in government institutions that do not pledge fealty to the leader. Often overlooked, however, is the sheer corruption of these individuals; in fact, it is cynically considered an attractive attribute. However, once these relationships have outlived their usefulness, they are discarded in much the same way as Caesar fought Pompey the Great and ultimately had him assassinated. To help solidify the downfall of his republic, Caesar sent the entire Senate fleeing for their lives, seeking refuge in faraway lands, fearing retribution from assassins. Any political connections with Caesar proved to be tenuous and fluid, subject to his whims, and often ended in tragedy for those who once pleaded their fealty.

Why do I bring this up? Today, we live in a pivotal moment in America. The recent Supreme Court decision - Trump v United States - ultimately gives the president emperor-like powers. If Trump were elected to a second term, he would implement Project 2025 the moment he takes office - eliminating those in the government deemed not sufficiently loyal to him. Like ancient Rome, members of the Senate who question Trump may find themselves running for their lives, seeking refuge in distant lands, always looking over their shoulder for an assassin.

Yes, we live in a constitutional republic modeled after the tenets of democracy. And yes, things are unfair, and the system often fails its citizens. But now, with the recent Supreme Court decision, we’re staring down the barrel of canon aimed at our way of life. Once fired, it will obliterate our constitution and turn our nation into an empire.

Today, we march freely in the streets, advocating for women’s rights, the rights of LGBTQ, the rights of minorities, the right to our own healthcare, and our common right to live in dignity and prosperity. These rights will no longer exist in an empire unless you’re connected to the Emperor - and any such connections will be tenuous at best. While I understand people’s attraction toward a man who - like a snake oil salesman - says he can cure all your ills, you will, in fact, be drinking poison. Everything you’ve taken for granted up to this point, even the right to your own health, is at risk.

Vote as if your way of life depends on it. Because it does.

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