I
t did not take very long before ancient Romans began to realize that the Caligula reign (which lasted some five years) represented a veritable threat to the Roman Republic and indeed the whole of the Roman Empire.

The Praetorian guards, whose duty it was to protect, the august Emperor of the Empire, came to that realization a bit more slowly but they too arrived at it, and then decided, wisely or misguidedly, as the case may be, to take things into their own hands. They proceeded to assassinate the emperor as he returned to his quarters from a gladiators’ game in the Coliseum.

Unethical and illegal, not to speak of loyalty and duty, to be sure, but a solution of sorts, one must admit. They had decided that a legal or ethical solution was next to impossible; so they resorted to an illegal and unethical one.

Let’s now jump to our present dire crisis. I have dubbed it “the Caligula presidency” because I see uncanny and ominous parallels with what went down some two thousand years ago in ancient Rome.

What is this crisis all about? Is it what Weaky Leak would like us to believe. Deep state taking over like the Orwellian Big Brother in 1984, eavesdropping on its citizens via state of the arts technology?

Is it terrorism? Al-Qaida, ISIS, getting its hands on nukes or controlling the computers that power our banks?

In some way it is all that. But that would still be a secondary peril. The first threat may turn out to be not terrorism but the way we respond to it, by turning against each other and in the process betraying our own ideals.

To imagine such a scenario we need not bring in Donald Trump as president of the United States. We can imagine it even without him. Thomas Jefferson had already imagined when he warned that “eternal vigilance is the price of freedom.” It is not that Jefferson was predicting the eventual demise of America as a polity. That may go on for a while just as Rome went on for some 400 years more after Caligula, when Romans went about their daily lives unimpeded, but America might disappear as an ideal democracy and as a symbol of liberty and tolerance.

But things have gotten worse than Jefferson might have imagined. We now have a leader who has no shame. He lies habitually and exploits our darkest fears regardless of consequences. He is simply unable to recognize when he is wrong and to rectify it. He takes responsibility for nothing but what appears useful to his own tremendous ego.

Take a couple or recent policy executions which he initiated by executive orders. The travel ban from selected Muslim countries. It reveals a mind-set, alive and well in the White House via the conspiracy theories of Steve Bannon, Trump’s strategist, that terrorists, like a giant tsunami, are flooding the country disguised as refugees. This is pure and simple a ban on Muslims, period.

Then there is VOICE, Victims of Immigration Crime Engagement, a new office Trump has created recently. This office was created after three Indian men were shot in separate attacks within the country, apparently mistaken for Muslims, or perhaps just because they were non-whites. The initiative of VOICE after these incidents bring one back to Nazi propaganda which blamed every societal ill on an alien race.

What is Trump doing here? Not hard to figure out. In the first place, remember that he is an entertainer. He is motivated rather than repulsed by the raw emotion of a mob. Indeed, fear is what defines much of America at the moment: fear of foreign terrorism, automation, new global markets, drug abuse, spiritual dislocation. Trump give it a name and scapegoat: Otherness. The people respond enthusiastically. They now see enemies everywhere, even here at home: the liberal media, the government agencies, the liberal philosophy underpinning much of democracy, free speech, all considered “enemies of the people.”

To combat those enemies (often dubbed Deep State) a White Nationalism has been created. The KKK used to be the racist symbolism of that mind-set. Now it is more respectable; it clothes itself in the mantle of patriotic Americanism.

Despite all this, the country as a whole continues to believe, a bit schizophrenically, that the country’s legacy is that of a nation of immigrants beyond religion and race. It is that belief that is deemed to be our singular place in the world. That bedrock belief explains the difficulty in reaching a consensus about unlawful immigration. Two seminal ideas are crashing here: the rule of law on one hand which is considered almost sacred, and compassion for others on the other hand, especially when declaring oneself a “Christian” nation.

You would expect that a sitting president would be helpful in sorting out these painful contradictions of public policy. What he has done, instead, is breach all the common boundaries of responsible political debate. His numerous enemies whom he insults habitually via Tweet, are not only Muslims, but Mexicans; not only the poor and disadvantaged, but the educated and the politically correct.

This sitting president, so similar to Caligula of old seems to care little for tolerance, pluralism, free press, as long as the mob stays loyal, well fed and entertained. But it seems that lately he has been losing that too. His popularity as a president is at an all time low.

Oh well, presidents come and go, but this is different. How so? In the sense that he may have unleashed in the body politic of the US a sort of cultural virus wherein the mantra “go back to your own country” does not belong exclusively to the KKK and other assorted racists, but it is fast becoming popular and common.

What’s even more disturbing is that there seems to be an assault on taken for granted American ideals by which this country thought of itself as exceptional. The question arises: is this the real threat? Is this the wrong path we have embarked upon from which there is no going back? And when do our leaders in Congress and the Judicial rise up and say “enough is enough”?

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Emanuel L. Paparella, Ph.D.

Professor Paparella has earned a Ph.D. in Italian Humanism, with a dissertation on the philosopher of history Giambattista Vico, from Yale University. He is a scholar interested in current relevant philosophical, political and cultural issues; the author of numerous essays and books on the EU cultural identity among which A New Europe in search of its Soul, and Europa: An Idea and a Journey. Presently he teaches philosophy and humanities at Barry University, Miami, Florida. He is a prolific writer and has written hundreds of essays for both traditional academic and on-line magazines among which Metanexus and Ovi. One of his current works in progress is a book dealing with the issue of cultural identity within the phenomenon of “the neo-immigrant” exhibited by an international global economy strong on positivism and utilitarianism and weak on humanism and ideals.

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