OPINION: Love Him Or Hate Him, Trump Is No Julius Caesar

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Marc Hyden R Street Institute
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“Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it,” according to George Santayana’s overused adage. While this aphorism bears an inherent truth, Santayana should have followed it with: “And those who are ignorant of history ought not write about it.”

The latter has recently become increasingly apparent. Starting no later than 2016, writers and social media trolls have highlighted purported parallels between President Donald Trump and ancient Rome’s Julius Caesar. The problem is that such analogies further polarize American society and should make historians cringe.

Both Trump loyalists and his fiercest detractors have drawn these comparisons as compliments as well as criticisms. Not long ago, the author of a Daily Caller opinion column heralded Trump as “America’s Julius Caesar” as if that were a good thing, but the writer’s rationale was limited in scope. He stated that like Julius Caesar, Trump is a “winner” and a great negotiator who will overthrow a corrupt elite establishment — among other things. But the author glosses over the darker truth about Caesar, including his history of corruption and cruelty.

At the other end of the spectrum, an updated version of Shakespeare’s “Julius Caesar” seems to portray Trump as Caesar — presumably because the play’s producer and director feel that Trump is an ambitious tyrant in Caesar’s mold. The play goes as far as to shockingly portray the Trump-like character’s assassination, which is beyond perverse.

While Trump is a fallible human like any of us, he is a far cry from Julius Caesar. The Roman was a warmonger from the very beginning and sought the flimsiest justifications to invade and conquer unsuspecting foes. Caesar even boasted that he killed at least one million people during his Gallic Wars alone — which was tantamount to genocide — and enslaved countless others. During the conflict, Caesar exhibited his willingness to act with unrestrained cruelty in other ways, too. After capturing the Gallic town of Uxellodunum, Caesar mercifully spared the citizens’ lives only to cleave off the hands of all of the city’s surviving defenders.

As he wrapped up his Gallic campaigns, it became evident that Caesar would ultimately face prosecution for alleged misconduct. Rather than risking this consequence, he marshalled his legionaries and invaded his homeland as an enemy. After sacking Rome and neutralizing his opponents, he illegally declared himself dictator in perpetuity which, in essence, suspended Rome’s republican form of government — the very model on which the American Constitution is based.

This all became far too much for the remaining republican stalwarts who stabbed Caesar to death on the Ides of March, 44 B.C. They hoped that this would usher in a rebirth of Rome’s republican forms, but the conspirators’ cure turned out to be far worse than the disease. A string of devastating internal military conflicts followed and, upon their conclusion, Caesar’s adopted son Octavian assumed control over the state, abolished the republican form of government, and instituted an autocracy that gradually grew into a hulking authoritarian government.

Trump is not the first person who has been compared to Caesar, nor will he be the last. Sure, Trump is an ambitious man who, like Caesar, has risen to the apex of power. And yes, both men have been on the receiving end of immature wisecracks regarding their hair. But this is hardly enough reason to claim that Trump is today’s Julius Caesar. Trump certainly has flaws, but even his staunchest critics would admit that he is not a genocidal warmonger bent on leading troops to overthrow the government. Before writers thoughtlessly lob such comparisons, they ought to have a deeper understanding of Roman history.

Making these analogies adds little value to ongoing debates. Rather, it either unfairly glorifies or demonizes public figures. And in the end, it simply inflames members of the public as they retreat to their entrenched positions and refuse to have respectful, adult conversations with one another.

For those who love freedom, liberty, peace and the Constitution, Caesar is no hero, and Trump supporters would be wise not to fawningly compare the two. Likewise, no matter how much Trump’s opponents dislike him, he has not earned the degree of ignominy that Caesar himself achieved.

Love him or hate him, President Trump is no Julius Caesar, and for that, we should be eternally grateful.

Marc Hyden (@Marc_Hyden) is the R Street Institute’s director of state government affairs. He is also the author of “Gaius Marius: The Rise and Fall of Rome’s Saviour.”

The views and opinions expressed in this commentary are those of the author and do not reflect the official position of The Daily Caller.