Cassandra has moved. Ugo Bardi publishes now on a new site called "The Seneca Effect."

Friday, January 8, 2021

The Deification of Emperor Trump: Following Caligula's Path

Jake Angeli, high priest of the growing cult of Emperor Donald Trump, dressed as the horned God Cernunnos. The deification of Emperor Trump in Washington, yesterday, didn't go so well, but we are moving along a path that the Romans already followed during the decline of their empire, including the deification of emperors, starting with Caligula. So, comparing Roman history to our current conditions may tell us something about the future.

I already speculated on what kind of Roman Emperor Donald Trump could have been and I concluded that he might have been the equivalent of Hadrian. The comparison turned out to be not very appropriate. Clearly, Trump was no Hadrian (a successful emperor, by all means). But, after four years, and after the recent events in Washington, I think Trump may be seen as a reasonably good equivalent of Caligula, or Gaius Caesar Augustus Germanicus, who also reigned for 4 years, from 37 to 41 AD.

Caligula was the prototypical mad emperor -- you probably heard that he nominated his horse consul. And he was not just mad, he was said to be a cruel, homicidal psychopath, and a sexual pervert to boot. In addition, he tried to present himself as a living god and pretended to be worshipped. He even claimed to have waged a war against the Sea God Poseidon, and having won it!

But, really, we know little about Caligula's reign, and most of it from people who had plenty of reasons to slander his memory, including our old friend Lucius Annaeus Seneca (he of the "Seneca Effect") who was a contemporary of Caligula and who seriously risked being executed by him. The Romans knew and practiced the same rules of propaganda we use today. And one typical way to slander an emperor was to accuse him to be a sexual pervert.

But it really doesn't matter so much if Caligula really was so bad as we are told he was. The point is that there is a certain logic in his actions. In Rome, just as in almost every ancient empire in history, Emperors were far from being warmongers. And that was for perfectly good reasons: imagine you are the emperor: you are the richest person in the world, you can have everything you want, you may order people to do whatever you want to do, and if they refuse you can have them killed. You can even force people to worship you like a God and many will do that without any need of forcing them. Then, why should you risk all that for the mere pleasure of slaughtering a bunch of bad-smelling barbarians?  

That put emperors in a quandary: their power was based on military might, but the soldiers needed to be paid. And in order to pay them, military adventures needed to be undertaken. But military adventures, then as now, are risky and you never know who will win a war unless you fight it. This problem was the reason why many Roman emperors didn't end their careers in their death bed. Either they were reckless and then defeated, or too prudent, and they were killed by their own troops. The latter was the destiny of Caligula, who refused to engage in the invasion of Britannia. No invasion meant no booty and no bonus for the troops. And the troops were not happy. In the end, Caligula was killed by officers of the Praetorian Guard, a military corps that was supposed to protect him.

At this point, I think you can see how Trump's rule can be seen as similar to that of Caligula. Of course, Trump never made senator a horse, but he surely had stormy relations with the US congress -- as you saw in the recent events in Washington. As for considering himself a God, well, Trump may not have gone as far as Caligula, but surely he tended to aggrandize himself more than a little! The apparition of Trump's follower, Jake Angeli, dressed as the horned God Cernunnos,  even gave a certain theological meaning to the occupation of the Capitol building in 2021.

The main point in the similarity, then, is that both Caligula and Trump did their best to avoid major wars and succeeded, at least in part. Trump had to compromise with the military, providing huge financing for the military apparatus. We don't know if Caligula did the same, but his fake campaign against Britannia may have been an attempt to appease the military without risking a real invasion. Whatever the case, Caligula was eliminated and replaced with an older and more pliant Emperor, Claudius. 

Something similar occurred with Donald Trump, replaced by an older and more pliant emperor because he clearly showed that he did not plan any major military campaigns. Unlike Caligula, and luckily for him, Trump was not physically eliminated (so far). But the trend is clear: The Washingtonian Emperors are desperately trying to acquire more and more powers in order to try to control an increasingly divided society. "Deification" - turning the leader into a God - may be a good strategy in this sense and it is likely that we'll see more and more US presidents using it in the future 


This being how things stand, can we use the Trump-Caligula analogy to conceive future scenarios? The future is always difficult to predict, but it is also a lot of fun to try. So, let's tell first the story of the Roman Empire after the death of Caligula, then we'll see to create a narrative for the modern Global Empire after the removal of Donald Trump. 

Caligula's successor, Claudius, was a relatively weak emperor who couldn't oppose the military adventure in Britannia, and that nearly brought the Roman Empire to its doom. Initially, the invasion was successful but, later on, the Romans seriously risked losing everything when Queen Boudicca led a revolt against them in 60 AD, nearly succeeding in throwing back the invaders into the sea. Eventually, the Romans managed to quell the revolt, but it was a close call.

The problem was not so much Britannia, but the fact that the Empire had seriously overstretched itself. While Boudicca's warriors scoured Britain, torturing and killing Roman citizens, on the opposite side of the Empire, in Palestine, a revolt was brewing. It exploded with tremendous fury in 66 AD and, this time, the Romans failed to quell it immediately. After the fall of Jerusalem to the rebels, it took nearly eight years of hard fighting to reestablish the Roman domain in the region. During this period, the survival of the Empire itself was at serious risk. 

We may imagine that if the Romans hadn't needed to garrison Britain, they could have had more resources to defeat the Jewish insurrection. As it was, instead, the effort of having to control two unruly regions at the same time and at the two opposite extremes of the Roman dominion led to financial problems and to turmoil all over the Empire. in 68 AD, Emperor Nero lost control of his generals and was forced to kill himself. For a year, four different generals fought each other for the imperial throne. Eventually, Vespasian, a general who had fought both in Britain and in Palestine, restored order in 69 AD, but the situation remained difficult. One indication of the financial problems of the time is that in modern Romance languages, urinals are named after Vespasian, probably because for the first time he placed a tax on their use. 

In time, the Roman state managed to recover a certain balance and the deep state scored a major victory when they placed a career soldier at the top, Trajan (53-117). Trajan may have seen himself as the successor of Alexander the Great and he maintained his promise to expand the Empire. In 101 AD, he engaged in a successful military campaign against Dacia (more or less modern Romania). Then, in 113 AD he embarked in an ambitious campaign destined to get rid once for all of the competitor Parthian Empire, in the East. It was nothing less than an attempt of world domination. By taking control of Central Eurasia, the Roman Empire would have been able to dominate the whole continent. That was the dream, at least, but dreams tend to evaporate fast when confronted with reality.

At the beginning, Trajan obtained some major victories, but he was not Alexander the Great. The Romans conquered the region that we call Iraq today, but further advances were simply unthinkable. They had overstretched their domains to an extremely dangerous level. In order to finance his campaigns, Trajan had devaluated the Roman currency and a new civil war could have shattered the Empire. Fortunately for the Romans, Trajan died before he could truly wreck the Empire's finances. His successor, Hadrian, stopped the wars of conquest and reorganized the Empire within militarily sustainable borders. Of course, the Roman empire was doomed anyway, but at least Hadrian avoided that it would collapse already during the 2nd century AD: 


Now, let's start from these ancient events to create a scenario for our times. Joe Biden is clearly no Trajan, but he has something in common with the weak and old Claudius. As such, Biden may fail to stop the US military from engaging the Empire in one or more risky military adventures, for instance attacking Syria, or maybe even Iran. 

The military strength of the US is so large that it is hard to think a relatively minor campaigns could be unsuccessful, but they would seriously weaken the Empire and generate internal frictions. The attack on the Capitol building already gave us a taste of what the results could look like. 

After Biden will be gone, it may be possible to see the Global Empire in the hands an aggressive military leader. Such a leader might decide to do what Trajan did. She might engage in an all-out effort to destroy the rival empire, the Chinese Empire, just as Trajan tried to destroy the Parthian Empire. (why did I say "she"? You know that!). That would mean global domination for the Western Empire.

Could a warlike Empress succeed? Unlikely. Just like Trajan nearly wrecked the Roman finances in his attempt, our Empress may well wreck the Western economy -- or the whole world's economy --  forever, with the additional result of wrecking the whole ecosystem as well. But history seems to reason in its own terms that was unavoidable from the beginning. For one thing, in our times things seem to happen much faster than in Roman times and the fall of Washington to a Barbarian army doesn't seem to be so unthinkable as it was just a few days ago. 



Ugo Bardi is a member of the Club of Rome, faculty member of the University of Florence, and the author of "Extracted" (Chelsea Green 2014), "The Seneca Effect" (Springer 2017), and Before the Collapse (Springer 2019)