Roman Redux: Observations occasioned by an exchange of messages with a much admired friend

Roman Redux:
Observations occasioned by an exchange of messages with a much admired friend

The transition between the Roman Republic and the Roman Empire was murky and as it occurred impossible for most if not all of those involved to discern. It may have started with the destruction of Carthage, or with the assassination of the Gracchi brothers, but probably began much earlier and in a much more subtle fashion. Speculation on those points delights historians and political scientists but ought to now concern us all as we seem to be living in all too similar times.

During the past month we have been witnessing what smells like a prelude to our own civil wars; a determined and concerted, well planned effort to overthrow our recently installed government through either quasi-legal political means (Article II, Section 4 of our Constitution), or, if that fails, through any other means necessary. During the past century the so called Deep State (a combination of neoliberal – neoconservative – mercantile – government alliances within the United States government) has developed admirable expertise (assuming the irrelevancy of ethics) in such informal endeavors (e.g., witness the successful very recent implementation of regime changes during the Obama – Clinton administration in the Ukraine, Paraguay, Honduras, Argentina, Brazil and, the continuing efforts in Venezuela, to name but a few). Even if internal regime change is accomplished successfully through quasi legal political means, our republic would probably be doomed, assuming it still exists. Once escaped from Pandora’s Box of constitutional delights, politicized impeachment would first likely become the norm and then virtually irrelevant. The Empire would have slipped in among us virtually unnoticed but by its progenitors, already here among us, active, well-funded, and very, very powerful.

I have to admit that (as my friend Toby might say) this all seems like a delusional paranoiac rant. I definitely hope that’s true but like Cassandra, I fear it’s not. Most among those I most respect as well as among those with whom I most disagree share the perspective that I’m wrong. I attribute that to the fact that they find themselves partisans in the midst of the current conflict. I on the other hand am part of a small disenfranchised but civically active group viewing events at a distance, although in this era of globalization distances tend to be “virtually” invisible (pardon the pun). Still, there are at least two people I greatly admire who I believe at least sense some of what I’m sensing and are culturally sophisticated enough to grasp my comparisons, former Congressman Dennis Kucinich and former Senator James Webb, men with very different political perspectives but similar in their candor, trustworthiness and objectivity.

Although the current crisis has been very long in the making, probably since at least the abrupt demise of the presidency of Richard Millhouse Nixon, it seems to most of us that it has come upon us suddenly, the consequence of a presidential election in which the two major candidates were imposed on an electorate that despised them so that no matter which one won, the victor would have faced an unhappy citizenry. Although the deck was very, very heavily stacked in favor of the unexpected loser, she somehow accomplished the improbable but with the sheen of illegitimacy sometimes inherent in a federalist rather than purely democratic system, a sheen sufficient to allow the mainstream establishments of both political parties, the mainstream media and the Deep State which backed her, to decide that now might be the perfect time to strike to correct the electorate’s unfortunate mistake. The defeated candidate and her principle (albeit not principled) backers, have apparently not faded into the haze of history as so many believe and so many hope, but appear to be successfully orchestrating a carefully planned and funded contingency plan which ought not to be a surprise. They see themselves as Bruti to President Trump’s Caesar, forgetting that an Octavian (subsequently an Augustus) lurked in the wings.

One of my very respected college classmates (we both attended the Citadel, the Military College of South Carolina during the late 1960’s) insists that I am paranoid and that the Clintons have deservedly lost their political (if not their historical) relevance and that my perception that a Clinton Wing of the Democratic Party (“CWD”) still exists and is active among the current opposition is dead wrong. I disagree although I very much wish he were right. To think that it merely evaporated after so much investment by people so few in number but so hefty in power appears naïve to me. The coordinated nature of the current anti-Trump campaign bears a familiar imprimatur that leads to my conclusions, as does the immediate implementation of the incredibly well organized and efficient opposition. It is all too familiar in areas of the world that during the past century have been victims of similar campaigns led by United States intelligence agencies on behalf of the Deep State. Thus to me, the Clintons are the catalysts for the paradigm political shift in which I perceive the United States and by contagion, the rest of the world, are in the midst of.

Paradigm shifts are frequently difficult to discern until it’s too late to shape them, but there are usually plenty of indicia which should have provided due warnings in time to make necessary adjustments, unfortunately obvious only after the fact. The past month, indeed this past year, has been deluged with such indicia. Take for instance the demise of the self-perpetuated myth of an objective mainstream media. The truth is than an objective student of history (assuming one ever existed) would probably note than an objective press has never existed in the United States but rather, starting during the colonial era, the press was always not only partisan but highly skilled in the use of calumny, distortion and where convenient, outright falsehood. In that it reflects our character as a nation where we are capable in the same breath of extolling the virtues of democracy, equity, justice and equality on the one hand, and American exceptionalism and Manifest Destiny on the other; tactics on which ethicists may frown but which pragmatists, especially successful pragmatists, loudly applaud; and we have historically been nothing if not oxymoronical ethical pragmatists. Thus the mass media is probably not all that different than what it always has been, but rather, perhaps in a strange manner, more honestly dishonest, more blatant in its prejudices and goals, more obvious in its tactics, more certain that those who’ll buy what it’s selling will, as in the case of hot dog lovers, not care just how it’s made.

Currently, the mainstream media’s part in the proposed overthrow of the current administration involves crafting a dislikeable persona for the current president and anyone associated with him; the antithesis of their immediately past task (which it blew) of crafting a likeable and comforting persona for Mr. Trump’s adversary during the recent presidential election. Mr. Trump, never really a likeable fellow, lends himself well to this form of artistry and his bombastic reaction to the mainstream media’s now constant baiting is merely the music made by the Combined Opposition (the Clintons, the CWD, Obama administration holdovers still in the government and the Deep State), deliberately provoking Mr. Trump in order to facilitate their hoped for coup d’état (so far only a putsch). Mr. Trump certainly did not begin the feud, his comments are almost always reactive (more accurately over reactive), and certainly predictably. The mainstream media’s shock at such reactions is obviously feigned as it is exactly what it sought to elicit. While such “feud” is certainly terrible for US democracy (assuming it still exists), it is a tried and true weapon in the armory used by the Deep State for delegitimization of governments in the process of being overthrown (or during such attempt, e.g., Venezuela during the past decade). Psychologically for the mainstream media after the thrashing it was dealt in its efforts to control the results of last year’s elections, the results of these efforts are, for now, therapeutic, kind of like opium to relieve a mild toothache, although the long term consequences may prove disastrous.

The most immediate success of the Combined Opposition’s putsch in progress has been its artfully designed and implemented removal of President Trump’s National Security Advisor, retired lieutenant general Michael T. Flynn. A practice run to be sure but its success, in the Combined Opposition’s opinion, must auger well. Mr. Flynn was accused of two things, violation of the never invoked, frequently violated, multi century old Logan Act (ironically passed along with the Adam’s administration’s Alien and Sedition Acts) and then with lying to his superiors and the public about the nature of such supposed violation. Mr. Flynn’s conduct was naïve. He not only had the right to conduct conversations with the Russian and other ambassadors but the duty to do so and to do so reflecting the perspectives of the incoming administration. The purported “one president at a time” tradition is and always has been a fraud. One only need look at the Clinton – Trump reunions with Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu during the last campaign to see how ludicrous the current posture is (both violated the Logan Act albeit with impunity as it involved Israel). The misconduct was really on the part of former President Obama’s outgoing administration taking political action disguised as national defense intended solely to damage the incoming administration. During presidential transitions, especially during their latter part, with the notable exception of President John Adams, the tradition has generally been to take no unilateral action opposed to the incoming administration’s anticipated policies. Flynn’s sin was to engage in traditional political deception but this time set in the framework of a well planned and executed trap by the Combined Opposition. Ready since well before the act, it pounced, Mr. Flynn is gone and the battle of nouveaux Bunker Hill (appropriately enough, really Breed’s Hill) appears to have been won; the first nail in the Trump administration’s coffin set, albeit perhaps also reflective of the demise of the American Republic, were we inclined to look into untainted mirrors.

The Combined Opposition is in the midst of an all-out battle against every member of President Trump’s cabinet as well. Personally, I am not inclined to defend the members of that cabinet as they do not reflect my values or aspirations other than with respect to avoidance of further armed conflicts and interventions. I especially detest those most favored by GOP traditionalists (who in fact oppose that aspect of Trump’s inclinations), but I do acknowledge that the candidate I supported in the last election, Jill Stein of the Green Party (who all too quickly, after the election, showed her true colors, Clintonian rather than Green), lost the election and that in a democracy (which apparently some people still believe we have) rather than in an enlightened dictatorship, that’s the imperfect manner in which things work.

So, … where does that leave us, where does that leave me? As a historian and political scientist it is fascinating watching the flow of history perhaps being repeated, but as a human being, my aspirations are neither so detached nor so objective. I have long hoped that we would somehow evolve into a setting where commonality of interests for the people of the world as a whole rather than for states or for the few rich and powerful, was the rule, and I am prepared to work toward that goal, one that despite our differing perspectives right now, I know many of us share and are willing to work to accomplish.

For those who, having objected strenuously to Article II, Section 4 of our Constitution’s purported abuse during the 1990’s now find it the silver lining to their recent defeat, you may want to be careful with what you wish for lest it come to pass and become the new norm. That is exactly what I believe the current situation is designed to attain; ironically structured for that purpose by a power couple some believe have passed into the haze of history. But at least it would provide certainty to my suspicion that the American Republic is now just a cold corpse. Certainty but, as in the case of Cassandra, certainly not satisfaction.

Revolutions, real and faux, tend to come about at times when social glaciers have started to move and their movement has started to accelerate. At times, hidden truths leak out greasing such acceleration and those who’ve been comfortable with the status quo ante become desperate and are willing to forego their traditional patience in order to generate the massive energy necessary to reverse the process apparently moving in new directions.

Usually, they cause a lot of trouble, a lot of noise, and manage to change the course of change somewhat but not change itself. Unfortunately, as the Romans discovered millennia ago, change is not always the same as progress, and even progress is not always good.

© Guillermo Calvo Mahé; Manizales, 2017; all rights reserved

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