Tuesday, November 22, 2016

Trump as Sulla - Just A Little Roman History

Why Sulla?
What Can Be Gained By Comparing Trump to Sulla?
Although far from a "perfect match," there remains plenty to be gained.
Often enough the questions and mysteries of today 
can be illuminated by examining lessons from the past.

When we search out historical similarities, we must not insist that every parallel be embraced. Often, the "larger" story contains just enough redeeming, vital consistency with the object of our inquiry to validate its use for such a purpose.

Aside from far too many, glittering, titillating media sneezes, Donald Trump is an unknown. Thanks to an utterly useless, policy free campaign with Mrs. Clinton, Americans are "left in the dark" with respect to the man's "fundamentals" of both deeply held philosophical beliefs and the more material intentions for his Presidency. There are not even many reassuring details to be derived from the demographic nature of his incredibly opaque voter base.  

Evidence of this can be found in the wildly inaccurate polling conducted by this media at every phase of his ascension. The moribund, out of date, inaccurate processes and conclusions of the Fourth Estate's "investigative attempts" allegedly aimed at discerning the future outcome of an election is ample evidence that more or less "normal" presumptions were woefully insufficient to penetrate the political reality of the election.

Worse, there are no "reflective historical touch points" which might lend some useful insight to us in better understanding the situation. This has really never "happened" here before.

A High Desert Blog Presents Ancient Roman History
MeanMesa cordially invites visitors to indulge the experiment.

For this reason we find it necessary to "widen our view" in hopes of detecting these historical similarities which, upon a review, might help clarify our speculation as to "what is coming next." Happily, the chronicles of the governments of ancient Rome can help.

Even the sheer idea of this is wonderfully "blog-like." 

"Do you mean that you intend to post lengthy excerpts from pre-Imperial Roman history in order to draw conclusions about the President-elect?"

Not a problem. The greatly appreciated visitors to this blog are readers. Although President-elect Trump has already announced his somewhat narcissistic vendetta to "get even" with the cruel press which has dared criticize him, MeanMesa is hardly concerned that some of his censoring vitriol will visit here. 

The Trump voters don't read. 

In fact the Trump cabinet doesn't seem to read much, either

As a result it is safe to expect that Short Current Essays will remain comfortably below the "Trump radar" while this maniac unleashes his Presidential powers for vengeance on the "bigger fish." 

Trump as Sulla
Acknowledging the dis-similarities

Sulla was a respected military leader. Clearly a brave Roman, he very effectively served to face the Republic's military challenges in many of the "trouble spots" which arose in the Roman hegemony. The Romans of this period were quite proud of themselves for having maintained their "republic," although this form of government was ruled largely by the Roman Senate. After elevating himself to "dictator," Sulla was the first, notable exception to this status quo.

While many of us continue to rely on depictions of ancient Rome in terms of the sets of modern cinemas about ancient Rome, it is important to understand that these were real people -- in many ways still suspiciously similar to our modern contemporary peers.

Sulla, according to numerous contemporary accounts, was determined to strengthen the rule of the Roman Constitution and re-affirming what were, at the time, widely considered to be Roman cultural values. Something of an opportunist, Sulla assisted other disgruntled -- and ambitious -- Romans of his day in fomenting two violent civil wars which were, in the bigger picture, the ground work for the later imperial dreams of Julius Caesar. 

At this point we have no way of knowing whether or not this last part will turn out to be a dis-similarity or an "expectation."

Trump as Sulla - Two Articles
The similarities
Here's the history you were warned about earlier.
See if you can detect the "similarities" which are concerning MeanMesa.
Just allow your own thoughts to seek out the relevance.

First Article - WIKI:

Dictatorship and constitutional reforms

[MeanMesa recommends that visitors keep a dictionary handy.  Excerpted. Links remain enabled, but footnote notations have been deleted for ease in reading. Visit the original article here Sulla/WIKI]

At the end of 82 BC or the beginning of 81 BC, the Senate appointed Sulla dictator legibus faciendis et reipublicae constituendae causa ("dictator for the making of laws and for the settling of the constitution"). The "Assembly of the People" subsequently ratified the decision, with no limit set on his time in office. Sulla had total control of the city and republic of Rome, except for Hispania (which Marius's general Quintus Sertorius had established as an independent state). This unusual appointment (used hitherto only in times of extreme danger to the city, such as during the Second Punic War, and then only for 6-month periods) represented an exception to Rome's policy of not giving total power to a single individual. Sulla can be seen as setting the precedent for Julius Caesar's dictatorship, and for the eventual end of the Republic under Augustus.
In total control of the city and its affairs, Sulla instituted a series of proscriptions (a program of executing those whom he perceived as enemies of the state). Plutarch states in his "Life" of Sulla (XXXI): "Sulla now began to make blood flow, and he filled the city with deaths without number or limit", further alleging that many of the murdered victims had nothing to do with Sulla, though Sulla killed them to "please his adherents".
"Sulla immediately proscribed eighty persons without communicating with any magistrate. As this caused a general murmur, he let one day pass, and then proscribed two hundred and twenty more, and again on the third day as many. In an harangue to the people, he said, with reference to these measures, that he had proscribed all he could think of, and as to those who now escaped his memory, he would proscribe them at some future time." -Plutarch, Life of Sulla (XXXI)
The proscriptions are widely perceived as a response to similar killings which Marius and Cinna had implemented while they controlled the Republic during Sulla's absence. Proscribing or outlawing every one of those whom he perceived to have acted against the best interests of the Republic while he was in the East, Sulla ordered some 1,500 nobles (i.e., senators and equites) executed, although it is estimated that as many as 9,000 people were killed. The purge went on for several months. Helping or sheltering a proscribed person was punishable by death, while killing a proscribed person was rewarded with two talents. Family members of the proscribed were not excluded from punishment, and slaves were not excluded from rewards. As a result, "husbands were butchered in the arms of their wives, sons in the arms of their mothers". The majority of the proscribed had not been enemies of Sulla, but instead were killed for their property, which was confiscated and auctioned off. The proceeds from auctioned property more than made up for the cost of rewarding those who killed the proscribed, making Sulla even wealthier. Possibly to protect himself from future political retribution, Sulla had the sons and grandsons of the proscribed banned from running for political office, a restriction not removed for over 30 years.
The young Caesar, as Cinna's son-in-law, became one of Sulla's targets and fled the city. He was saved through the efforts of his relatives, many of whom were Sulla's supporters, but Sulla noted in his memoirs that he regretted sparing Caesar's life, because of the young man's notorious ambition. The historian Suetonius records that when agreeing to spare Caesar, Sulla warned those who were pleading his case that he would become a danger to them in the future, saying: "In this Caesar there are many Mariuses."
Sulla, who opposed the Gracchian popularis reforms, was an optimate; though his coming to the side of the traditional Senate originally could be described as more reactionary when dealing with the Tribunate and legislative bodies, while more visionary when reforming the court system, governorships and membership of the Senate. As such, he sought to strengthen the aristocracy, and thus the Senate. Sulla retained his earlier reforms, which required senatorial approval before any bill could be submitted to the Plebeian Council (the principal popular assembly), and which had also restored the older, more aristocratic "Servian" organization to the Centuriate Assembly (assembly of soldiers). Sulla, himself a patrician and thus ineligible for election to the office of Plebeian Tribune, thoroughly disliked the office. As Sulla viewed the office, the Tribunate was especially dangerous and his intention was to not only deprive the Tribunate of power, but also of prestige. (Sulla himself had been officially deprived of his eastern command through the underhand activities of a tribune. Over the previous three hundred years, the tribunes had directly challenged the patrician class and attempted to deprive it of power in favor of the plebeian class.) Through Sulla's reforms to the Plebeian Council, tribunes lost the power to initiate legislation. Sulla then prohibited ex-tribunes from ever holding any other office, so ambitious individuals would no longer seek election to the Tribunate, since such an election would end their political career. Finally, Sulla revoked the power of the tribunes to veto acts of the Senate, although he left intact the tribunes' power to protect individual Roman citizens.
Sulla then increased the number of magistrates elected in any given year, and required that all newly elected quaestors gain automatic membership in the Senate. These two reforms were enacted primarily to allow Sulla to increase the size of the  from 300 to 600 senators. This also removed the need for the censor to draw up a list of senators, since there were always more than enough former magistrates to fill the senate. To further solidify the prestige and authority of the Senate, Sulla transferred the control of the courts from the equites, who had held control since the Gracchi reforms, to the senators. This, along with the increase in the number of courts, further added to the power that was already held by the senators. Sulla also codified, and thus established definitively, the cursus honorum, which required an individual to reach a certain age and level of experience before running for any particular office. Sulla also wanted to reduce the risk that a future general might attempt to seize power, as he himself had done. To this end he reaffirmed the requirement that any individual wait for ten years before being reelected to any office. Sulla then established a system where all consuls and praetors served in Rome during their year in office, and then commanded a provincial army as a governor for the year after they left office.
Finally, in a demonstration of his absolute power, Sulla expanded the "Pomerium", the sacred boundary of Rome, untouched since the time of the kings. Sulla's reforms both looked to the past (often re-passing former laws) and regulated for the future, particularly in his redefinition of maiestas (treason) laws and in his reform of the Senate.
Near the end of 81 BC, Sulla, true to his traditionalist sentiments, resigned his dictatorship, disbanded his legions and re-established normal consular government. He stood for office (with Metellus Pius) and won election as consul for the following year, 80 BC. He dismissed his lictors and walked unguarded in the Forum, offering to give account of his actions to any citizen.
(In a manner that the historian Suetonius thought arrogant, Julius Caesar would later mock Sulla for resigning the Dictatorship.)

Second Article - Ancient History Encyclopedia:
[Excerpted. Links remain enabled.  Visit the original article  here Ancient EU]

 Sulla [Lucius Cornelius Sulla Felix][image]
Sulla used his unlimited power to unilaterally reform the Republic into his ideal form of government. He curtailed the power of the tribunes of the people who were sacrosanct elected officials with immense veto powers and the ability to circumvent the Senate by introducing legislation directly to the People’s Assembly. Sulla restricted their power by requiring all legislation to first be approved by the Senate, greatly increasing its influence. He established the requisite ages for officeholders and the order in which the offices could be held along the cursus honorum (the Roman political ladder), and he packed the Senate with his supporters. He set the maximum prices for many goods, services, and also limited interest rates. He even sold tax immunity to certain cities, and he unpopularly abolished the grain dole. For all of his efforts, many of his reforms were quickly repealed, some by his allies, Pompey and Crassus.

If this was the extent of his dictatorship, then perhaps he would be remembered differently, but Sulla instituted the proscriptions, which cemented his transformation into a bloody tyrant. Each day, he posted a list of condemned Romans in the forum whose property was to be confiscated and whose murder would be rewarded with a bounty from the state. Once the deed was done, Sulla personally inspected the severed heads of the slain, which served as decorations for his home and the forum. Thousands were added to the proscription lists with or without just cause. A young Julius Caesar was proscribed for no other reason than he refused to divorce his wife, Cinna’s daughter. Sulla’s deputy, Crassus, placed men on the proscription lists simply because he coveted their estates, and various names were posthumously added to justify their unauthorized murders. The purge lasted for months and led to the deaths of an uncertain number from Rome’s upper classes, estimated at perhaps 1,000-9,000 killed. However, under Sulla’s rule, the deceased were also at risk. He ordered the corpse of his nemesis Marius to be removed from its crypt, dragged throughout the city, and torn to pieces.

In 81 BCE, when Sulla was convinced that he had created a stable government and eradicated all potential threats, he technically resigned from the dictatorship. However, he remained in power by serving as consul for 80 BCE, but after his term, he settled into partial retirement. As he set aside ultimate authority, a man ostensibly bombarded him with insults, but the once violent dictator passively received the abuse and exclaimed, “This yob will ensure that no-one else will ever relinquish supreme power.”

One day during 78 BCE, while screaming for a corrupt official’s strangulation, he began to hemorrhage orally and died the following morning, likely caused by chronic alcohol abuse. His remains were interred into his tomb with an epitaph purportedly written by Sulla himself that roughly read: “No friend ever served me, and no enemy ever wronged me, whom I have not repaid in full.”

Sulla steadfastly defended Rome, its interests, and the republican status quo for much of his career, and if that was the breadth of his life’s work, then he would undoubtedly be hailed as a heroic guardian of the Republic. However, his exploits went far beyond this. He allegedly wanted to repair the fragile republican government, but he implemented reforms through brutal force. He violently, unnecessarily, and unconstitutionally seized control of the government and presided over a reign of indiscriminate terror, a lesson for future power-hungry generals, including Julius Caesar. In truth, many of the escalating domestic conflicts of this period could have easily been avoided, but Rome was simply not large enough for the competing petty egos of both Marius and Sulla.

Sleep well on this chilly winter night.

No comments:

Post a Comment