Mellanöstern och Nordafrika Tidningen
Published On: Wed, Mar 2nd, 2016

Caligula Trumps the GOP

For students of Roman history, the name Caligula dredges up images of the ultimate spoiled tyrant. He ruled Rome for three years, starting in A.D. 37. Like Nero, he delighted in causing destruction, even to his own people. Soon after coming to office he decided he was a god and started to dress like one. He even wanted a statue of his godness erected in Jerusalem’s Temple.

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He is known for being the ultimate royal gigolo, sleeping with married women and bragging about it. It is even said that he once attended the famous games where criminals were thrown to the lions, got bored, and had his guards throw an entire part of the crowd into the ring. Now that Super Tuesday is behind us, with Donald Trump paving the yellow brick road to win the GOP nomination, it seems that the emperor Caligula has returned in the 21st century.

Trump is the kind of publicity-craving surreal estate mogul who has always believed himself to be godlike. I am not sure if Israel’s Netanyahu would agree to put up a statue of him in Jerusalem, although both might be pleased to sponsor rebuilding of Solomon’s Temple after bulldozing away the current Muslim shrines. I have no idea how many women Trump has slept with, apart from his three wives, but I suspect it is more than zero. And he does seem to be the kind of person who gets easily bored. If the Wall between the U.S. and Mexico does not keep out all the Mexicans, perhaps he can order them taken to the Mercedes-Benz Superdome in New Orleans and have them thrown to the lions.

It must have been rough for serious Roman citizens at the height of the empire to realize they were being ruled by lunatics. It was after all the mightiest empire on earth at the time with several centuries yet to go. The prospect of a Trump victory as the standard bearer of the Republic Party heralds a similar political nightmare some two millennia after Caligula. The United States is the major super power of the day. Although winning the presidency would seem to be a long shot for Trump, the fact that so many Republicans are willing to drink poison tea in the primaries is somewhat alarming, especially since the establishment of the GOP is desperately trying to disown him.

The problem is that Trump is a creature of the media. No matter who he manages to offend, from women to Mexicans to Muslim Americans to the Pope to his rivals and to just about anyone who pops out of his run-amuck mouth, there are enough people out there to egg him on (rather than throwing eggs at the podium where he is speaking). It is significant that his most ardent supporters are rabid racists (such as the KKK), think that slavery was not so bad after all, don’t believe there is any climate change to worry about, prefer a literal Adam and Eve some 6,000 years ago to modern science, and other idiocies of the extreme American right. They are having their moment in the sun, primary after primary, thanks in part to the rest of the circus candidates who split the majority of the vote time after time. Fortunately, the American population overall is not that crazy (just too lazy to vote that often); there is still some sanity in New York, New England and California. But the spotlight remains on Trump as he blasphemes his way by taking a wrecking ball to the remnants of the Republican Party. Caligula would be proud of his successor, but then Caligula was insane.

About the Author

- Anthropologist and historian with 40 years of experience researching and working in Yemen. Varisco is currently the President of the American Institute for Yemeni Studies, Senior Fellow at the Annemarie Schimmel Kolleg of Bonn University, and an expert advisor to MENA Tidningen.

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