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Donald Trump: Caligula Reborn?

30/11/2016 16:11
Bastiaan Slabbers via Getty Images


"I have existed from the morning of the world and I shall exist until the last star falls from the night. Although I have taken the form of Gaius Caligula, I am all men as I am no man and therefore I am a God."


"I could stand in the middle of Fifth Avenue and shoot somebody and I still wouldn't lose voters"

The essence of the above two quotes reveals a manic and deeply narcissistic individual. An individual who, if not literally, believes themselves to be in an exalted position, a God like position, the position of one who wields ultimate power. These two quotes do not represent who we might imagine the leaders of the most powerful nations on earth of their age to be. But both can be attributed to such; the first, to Roman Emperor Gaius Caligula. The second, to the current President Elect of the United States of America. Donald Trump.

The name of Caligula has gone down in historical folklore, evoking memories of one hundred dull history lessons in which the only fact to be remembered was the goriest. Caligula, who attempted to make his horse a consul. Caligula, who supposedly once fed a randomly selected portion of audience to wild animals during a break in a gladiatorial spectacle, because he was bored. Caligula, whose name is synonymous with an untameable lust for brutality and destruction.

Yet beneath the scandals and horrors attributed to him by rich, literate Romans was a man with a fervent belief in his own immortality, who despised the Roman aristocracy and offered the masses spectacles, money and an assurance that, whilst he was above them, he understood them, and shared their disdain for the upper classes. The reign of Caligula was, as forewarned by Plato, a "Tyranny of the Appetites". It is this man to whom we can draw comparisons with the President elect.

Like Caligula before him, Donald Trump's greatest strength is his character, a brazen extrovert who takes pleasure in his ability to say shocking things in the knowledge that this will only serve to further his approval ratings. His twitter feeds and public announcements have shaken the establishment to its core; to describe an individual boasting over thirty years of public service as 'crooked' and 'unfit' is almost unheard of. In the same way as Britain's Nigel Farage or France's Marine La Pen, Trump champions the disenfranchised working class, fighting the American aristocracy that he is so obviously a part of with vulgarity and powerful, (but entirely illogical) rhetoric. In the same way, Emperor Caligula took pleasure in insulting the senate of Rome, his plot to make his horse consul a humiliation for a proud aristocracy which saw its dignity trampled in the dirt. Ever the populist, he satisfied the whims of the masses with huge chariot races and gladiatorial spectacles that may have almost bankrupted the empire. It is not hard to compare the chariot races with the wall, both economically draining projects that seeking to appease a restless population. It is said that Caligula once threw a handful of coins into a crowd, leading to the deaths of many in the stampede to claim them. There is some scepticism as to whether this event actually occurred, but as a story it provides a powerful metaphor and a warning regarding the dangers of populist politics, the danger of giving people exactly what they want regardless of the chaos, both material and immaterial, that may ensue.

Since his election Trump does appear to be rolling back on some of his key policies. There will no longer be a wall across the border with Mexico, but maybe some kind of glorified fence. Obamacare might not be fully repealed because, actually, some parts of it might be quite good. And no, Hilary Clinton will not be locked up. But the United States and her allies cannot afford to relax. If Donald Trump has shown us one thing over the election campaign it is that he is volatile, unpredictable and narcissistic to the extreme. If the United States of America has just elected a budding Caligula to lead it then we should be very afraid. Caligula was stabbed by a Praetorian Centurion whom he insulted for having a high voice. Living Gods they may be, but the Emperors of our times are not immortal.

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