Commodus was mad and, at least the way Russell Crowe told it, it took a heroic gladiator to bring him down. America has the polls
Hail the imperial cult: ancient Rome is reborn on the Potomac.
This week, Donald Trump ascribed to himself the roles of deity and the Chosen One, a first for an American president but definitely not for an emperor. Then, on Friday, he ordered US companies to immediately start looking for an alternative to China.
The president cited no authority for his directive, but then again it looks like Trump thinks the law and he are one and the same and that Article II of the constitution is a limitless font of power, Congress and the courts be damned. To quote him: Then I have an Article II, where I have the right to do whatever I want as president.
None of this should come as a surprise. From the moment Trump became president, he sought to graft upon the office a patina and degree of authority antithetical to Americas foundational documents. When those were being written, Alexander Hamilton lost the battle over whether the president would serve for a lifetime.
But who can forget the spectacle over crowd size less than 36 hours after Trump had placed his right hand on the Bible? Poor Sean Spicer, we hardly knew you.
Then, this 4 July, Trump figuratively parachuted into the middle of Americas birthday party, putting himself front and center at the Lincoln Memorial in a scene reminiscent of Gladiator, Ridley Scotts Academy Award-winning tale of Commodus, a debauched and self-venerating emperor.
Trump sought to hijack Independence Day and turn it into a taxpayer-subsidized celebration of self. But this is not just about visuals. It is about substance too. Trump has teased that he just might attempt to stay ensconced in the Oval Office beyond the legal duration of his term.
In May, echoing Jerry Falwell Jrs contention that the Mueller investigation was a corrupt failed coup, Trump posted a now deleted tweet: Despite the tremendous success that I have had as President, including perhaps the greatest ECONOMY and most successful first two years of any President in history, they have stollen [sic] two years of my (our) Presidency (Collusion Delusion) that we will never be able to get back.
Months later, in the same breath as he proclaimed that he was the least racist person, Trump mused about keeping his job for another 10 or 14 years.
To think George Washington set a deliberate example of staying around for only two terms, and that was before the 22nd amendment and official term limits. As Washington framed things in his farewell message: The spirit of encroachment tends to consolidate the powers of all the departments in one, and thus to create, whatever the form of government, a real despotism.
To be sure, some of Trumps supporters appear to have welcomed the possibility. During the 2016 campaign, Paul LePage, then governor of Maine, thought Trump needed to show some authoritarian power. LePage backtracked but the bell had been rung.
Also in May, William Consovoy, the presidents personal lawyer, told a federal judge Congress was powerless to hold the presidents feet to the fire, and that Watergate and Whitewater were examples of congressional overreach. Regarding a House committees subpoena to Trumps accountants, the Oval Office was claimed to be out of bounds.
Hail Caesar! Hello praetorian. As Consovoy saw things: That is law enforcement Are you complying with federal law? I dont think thats the proper subject of investigation as to the president.
Fortunately, the district court didnt buy what Team Trump was selling. The decision is on appeal to the DC circuit.