Day of Reckoning

Good morning. It’s Thursday, March 15 — the Ides of March, a day that in traditional Western literature, if not necessarily modern U.S. politics, recalls Julius Caesar’s death in ancient Rome. Are there relevant lessons, either from ancient Rome or William Shakespeare’s famous play, for our time?

No matter how many of today’s world leaders alarm you, it’s a matter of historic record that Julius Caesar was not always a despot. Early in his political career, he was a Roman consul, which meant he served with another consul, Crassus, both of whom shared power with the Roman Senate — and with Pompey, the third member of Rome’s informal triumvirate.

You might say that as a politician, Caesar was an early kind of populist.

For one thing, he urged the Senate to enact land reforms. Being a “reformer with results” (to use George W. Bush’s 2000 campaign slogan) did not sit any better with Rome’s elites than Donald Trump’s proposed tariffs do today. As much to get him out of the way as anything else, Caesar was given control of armies in Rome’s western territories, which he used to wage war in distant lands. The elixir of conquest, at a time when Rome was the world’s sole superpower, helped turn a reformer into an icon and, ultimately, a tyrant.

Caesar would outmaneuver Pompey, who would later be assassinated. This was an omen. “Beware the Ides of March,” the soothsayer tells Caesar in Shakespeare’s famous play. On that fateful day, a smug Caesar runs into the seer, and tells him, “The Ides of March have come.” To this, the soothsayer replies, “Ay, Caesar, but not gone.”

In the Unites States, with the passage of time — two millennia, actually — senators do not conspire to fatally stab leaders of the government when they tire of them. Instead, they delay and filibuster and, if things get bad enough, vote on articles of impeachment sent to them by the lower house of Congress. Are there applicable lessons here? I’m no soothsayer, but perhaps. In other words, the 2016 elections have come, aye, but perhaps not gone.

Carl M. Cannon
Washington Bureau chief, RealClearPolitics
@CarlCannon (Twitter)
ccannon@realclearpolitics.com

%d bloggers like this: