A Not So Fine Madness

Near the end of the reign of Tiberius Caesar, in the first century A.D., with the emperor having removed himself from Rome and living out his dissipated life on the Isle of Capri, the Eternal City was gripped by a kind of madness. Plots and rumors of plots were everywhere; senators of high standing and noble birth were accused of everything from treason to the slightest trifle, and were executed—their veins were opened, they were strangled in jail, or they fell on their swords. Noblewomen were banished or murdered on whispers of adultery. To even associate with one who had fallen into the chaos of disfavor was tantamount to a death sentence.

Guilt-by-association was rampant, especially in the wake of the plot by Sejanus—as Prefect of the Praetorian Guard, once numbered among Tiberius’s intimates—against the emperor. Anyone associated with Sejanus effectively was liquidated. The madness persisted through the brief reign of Caligula, and extended into the rule of Claudius and, of course, Nero. Any chance Rome might have had of a restoration of the Republic vanished in a welter of blood and legal savagery. Forget Gibbon’s theory about the destructive nature of Christianity upon the Roman spirit: practically from the birth of Christ, the Empire had already sown the seeds of its destruction in the ambition, venality, and cruelty of men—and all based on a lust for absolute power.

And so here we are. Since the election of Donald J. Trump as the 45th president of the United States—a verdict that rocked official Washington to its foundations—we have been embroiled in a struggle for control of the government that is almost unprecedented in our history. We have had disputed elections before—a doozy in 1800, first between Jefferson and John Adams, and then, in the Electoral College between Jefferson and Aaron Burr; in 1824 (the “corrupt bargain” that allowed John Quincy Adams to defeat Andrew Jackson); and in 1876 (Tilden v. Hayes), in which the winner of the popular vote lost thanks to a re-examination of some disputed Electoral College votes. Within memory, we also have the example of the case of Bush v. Gore going all the way to the Supreme Court.

But nothing compares to the aftermath of 2016. Because the decision was such a shock to so many, it has seemingly been impossible for most Democrats, Leftists, and #NeverTrumpumpkins to accept that their revulsion against the Republican candidate was not as widely shared as they had assumed, nor dispositive when it came to the final result. Because they found Trump a vulgar, morally objectionable, nouveau riche arriviste who did not attend their favored Ivy League schools (Harvard and Yale), they assumed those traits would disqualify him in the eyes of the country—after all, everybody they knew felt exactly the same way. They fought him in the Electoral College, during the transition, after the inauguration, and every step of the way since. And now we know they even tried to sabotage his candidacy in the back rooms of a flagrantly corrupt Justice Department, FBI, and CIA as the campaign was starting.

So far, nothing has worked. With their ultimate goal of impeaching, convicting and removing Trump from office still front and center in their minds, the so-called “resistance” also hopes to turn the tide of public opinion against him via their shills and fellow travelers in a now openly partisan media, and somehow force his hand to resignation. The long march through the institutions has brought us to this moment, one in which a relatively small group of people—all of whom went to the same schools, live in the same neighborhoods, attend church and shul with each other, sleep with each other, marry each other, work with each other, and vacation with each other—has determined to overthrow the American electoral system in a gigantic fit of pique.

To this end, they have now undertaken the tactics of the imperial court of Tiberius. Through their control of social media and their penchant for doxing people with whom they disagree, they are now endeavoring to delegitimize their opponents essentially by threatening them into silence or, worse, getting them fired for crimes of association, no matter how tenuous, or even imaginary. When a vicious hate group like the Southern Poverty Law Center is routinely cited as an authority by the media, and even consulted by the FBI, we have reached a Caligulan state of collective insanity, one that overthrows all previous American notions of free speech and free association (right there in the First Amendment) in favor of groupthink and rightthink.

This is a descent into a maelstrom we should not wish to take. American cultural cohesion relies upon a shared group of societal and political values; among them used to be an unwavering support of free speech—of “hate” speech—and the essential sanctity of our electoral process. Fight hard, hold the vote, win or lose, then get ‘em next time. Disputed elections not only should but must be quickly forgotten, in the interest of our shared Americanness.

But as the assault on borders, laws, and our national sovereignty shows, there may no longer be a shared sense of nationhood. Indeed, I believe there is not, and have written two books on the subject—The Devil’s Pleasure Palace, which limns the philosophical attack on the American Idea by the Frankfurt School of communist philosophers; and The Fiery Angel, which outlines our way back to the first principles of our Western cultural history and works of art, music, and literature, should we choose to take it.

So how do we fight back against the new reign of media-fueled J’accuse? The example of Gaetulicus, a commander of a Roman army in Upper Germany, comes to mind. Called out for having betrothed his daughter to one of the traitor Sejanus’s sons, he is recorded by the historian Tacitus as having replied directly to Tiberius himself:

My connection with Sejanus was not my idea, but yours. I could be deceived as easily as you. The same mistake could not be considered harmless in some, a capital offence in others. My own loyalty is undiminished and permanent—unless I am plotted against. But I should regard my supersession as a death-warning. Let us strike a bargain—that you rule everywhere else, and I keep my province.

Gaetulicus survived—one man against an elite-driven mob.

Today, the emperor to be feared is not Donald Trump, it is the D.C. mob itself, inflaming the nation via the media, both social and anti-social. And mob rule never ends well, neither for the country nor the mob.

Photo Credit: Felix Josep Barrias/L’Illustration

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About Michael Walsh

Michael Walsh is a journalist, author, and screenwriter. He was for 16 years the music critic and foreign correspondent for Time Magazine, for which he covered the fall of the Berlin Wall and the collapse of the Soviet Union. His works include the novels As Time Goes By, And All the Saints (winner, 2004 American Book Award for fiction), and the bestselling “Devlin” series of NSA thrillers; as well as the recent nonfiction bestseller, The Devil’s Pleasure Palace. A sequel, The Fiery Angel, was published by Encounter in May 2018. Follow him on Twitter at @dkahanerules (Photo credit: Peter Duke Photo)