Ave, True to Caesar


A meme of Donald Trump’s face over a portrait of Julius Caesar.

Liam Toomey, Reporter

“I have always reckoned the dignity of the republic of first importance and preferable to life.” – Julius Caesar

Caesar is remembered as the destroyer of the Roman Republic, but he saw himself as it’s savior. Donald Trump as president is likewise called the destroyer of the Republic by the left, and it’s greatest hero by the right. This comparison is just insulting to the reputation and legacy of Caesar.

Phillip Freeman, a classics professor, wrote a piece in the Huffington Post about the similarities between Trump and Caesar. He sheds light on the truth in the history, where the people felt disenfranchised and welcomed a demagogue to improve their lives.

He demystifies the connection of the two; saying “history lessons aren’t that simple.” Despite that, it lacks some details about Caesar as a reformer and the positive legacy he set for the Republic before his death.

Freeman refers to his neighbors feeling left behind by a changing economy writing “My neighbors …like the people of ancient Rome, they were willing to take a chance Tuesday on anyone who would offer them hope.” He forgets that Caesars land redistribution program had already revitalized the Roman economy from the bottom up, he had the support of the people because his leadership had already worked in fixing Rome’s economy.

Freeman compares the Roman Senate to the modern political leader when both are taken aback when this populist figure rises to power and popularity. Disregarding that Caesar was the leader of a political faction in the Senate, supported by at least half the Senate.

Freeman’s analysis is partially true, but the comparison breaks down when fuller context is added.

On the opposite side, the hard right has embraced this image of Trump as the new Caesar. The Daily Caller, founded by Tucker Carlson who replaced Bill O’Reilly’s on Fox News, wrote an opinion piece framing Trump as the savior of the people against a corrupt elite. Putting Trump in the role of a hero savior, before he has saved anything.

The Daily Caller’s image is that of an angel to fight the corruption of the system against all odds by himself and win. They build Caesar up to be a champion of Rome and the people, while conveniently forgetting Caesars greatest liberal reforms.

While The Daily Caller uses the real history of Caesar, they intentionally misrepresent the image of Caesar to be more like Trump, and the political establishment as corrupt oligarchs. Stating that Caesar’s greatest reform was a debt forgiveness, they frame it as “revitalize the economy by freeing up capital for enterprise,” to fit the modern conservative talking points.

This is nothing short of Trumpist propaganda, completely misrepresenting Caesar as a perfect figure that was besieged on all sides. To compare Trump as an equal to that misrepresentation is pure insanity made by a fool who does not know their own history.

Caesar is a complex figure; he used bribery and brutality in his ascension to power. But that power allowed him to make meaningful reforms as Consul, and later dictator.

Far from the man of the people the Daily Caller makes him out to be, Caesar was born a patrician i.e. an aristocrat, but then became a part of the Populares (populist) faction in the senate.

This wasn’t a simple case of political opportunism, as eluded to in the Huffington Post, as Caesar was arrested and persecuted during the dictatorship of the Optimate (conservative) dictator Sulla.

Ceasar was, by his dictatorship, a long-proven statesman and excellent military commander through cunning and dynamic innovations. He was governor of Hispania, modern-day Spain, where he quelled a rebellion and incorporated the disenfranchised people’s as equals into the Roman territory.

Vercingetorix Throws Down his Arms at the Feet of Caesar by Lionel Royer

He did the same in annexing Gaul, modern France, he showed mercy and shielded his Gaulic allies, while showing ruthlessness to those who deceived and betrayed him. He cared for his Gaulic translator so much he looked for him after a battle and was so relieved to see him alive he embraced him.

Caesar incorporated many Gaulic tribes not by the sword, but by the pen. Making promises of Roman protection and citizenship, the wars were fought to ensure peace (as far as it could be in those times).

He was elected Consul, a dual executive office in the Senate, in 59B.C. his co-consul withdrew from the public as Caesar dominated the Senate. Roman satirists called it the Consulship of Julius and Caesar.

His greatest reform was to land redistribution, where by using state wealth to buy privately owned, unused land the state would then give it freely to the poor homeless Romans to farm.

When presented to the Senate he said he would not put it to a vote if a single member would criticize it, and embarrassingly to the Optimates, they could not.

Caesar’s honesty was exemplified when he was captured and ransomed by pirates; Caesar joked with them saying he would come back and kill them all. When released, he went back to their island and crucified them all and took his ransom back.

Caesar was an articulate orator, rewarded for bravery on the battlefield, fiercely loyal to friends, and honest (even in brutality) in all his dealings.

The two men share little in common, but they are both populists. But where Caesar did as he said he would, Trump is a lying demagogue; he says what he will to carry favor with the people, then lies and inflates when boasting on his accomplishments.

Trump is quite wealthy and well known, he has been in part on the public consciousness for decades. Caesar was born into wealth and power as a patrician, although he still needed experience and loans to climb the political ladder of Rome.

It is true that both men campaigned on improving the lives of the people. Populism by itself is neither good nor bad — it depends on the person who uses the power the people give them.

Freemen shows in his article that both populist messages were based on a major shakeup to the status quo of politics and economics at the time. It takes strong conviction to go through with that.

When compared to Trump, Trump can’t measure up.

Trump inherited his wealth and position and never challenged himself to greatness, instead expecting it to fall upon him, while using people so long as they are convenient, insulting and firing those who act in good faith and protecting abusers and despots.

Trump, unlike Caesar, has no experience in government, his actions reinforce his ineptitude. There is a reason why governors usually make good presidents, they have experience in being an executive. Being a CEO is a far cry from the head of state, few skills could transfer over.

He dodged the draft during Vietnam, then accepted a purple heart from a veteran proclaiming “I always wanted one.” He had a perfectly good opportunity to receive one but decided his wealth and position would protect him from that.

While advocating militancy for the militancy, it is usually those who have seen war that wish to avoid it.

Trump uses his power to empower the rich and disenfranchise the poor, the very poor that voted for him. Caesar was a liberal, even considered an extremist by contemporaries, when pushing for reforms that took resources from the rich to give to the poor.

Trump’s ability to speak is at best described as “rough around the edges,” but is closer to rambling off keywords related to policy to a crowd and seeing what sticks. While Caesar’s writings are still read and taught 2000 years later.

Caesar was surrounded with people of different backgrounds and thinking; this is part of why he was successful. He would listen to those people and the best plan was followed no matter whose idea it was.

Trump’s inability to balance and control the various interests around him and diverse ways of thinking has led to gradually surrounding himself with “yes-men” giving him no chance to contemplate his actions and act with assured conviction.

The comparison presented by the modern left and right is unfair to both men. The legacy of Caesar is insulted by this comparison of someone so inept. Trump can never measure up to the accomplishments of such a historic figure.

Trump is no Caesar.


Donald Trump by Gage Skidmore
Peter Paul Rubens, Julius Caesar, 1619