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Trump's Presidency

The “Caligula Imperial Presidency”: Is Impeachment on its Way?



“The Emperor is wears no clothes”–Hans Christian Andersen in “The Emperor’s New Clothes”

[yt_dropcap type=”square” font=”” size=”14″ color=”#000″ background=”#fff” ] O [/yt_dropcap]ne can just imagine a conversation between two interlocutors as they walk in the streets of Rome some 2000 years ago: emperor Caligula did what? He made his horse senator of Rome. Nowadays, the daily quip in American cities and around the world seems to be: President Trump did what?

It has been approximately two weeks since what I dub “Caligula redivivus” (Caligula reincarnated) has assumed the reins of the US Presidency as arguably the most powerful man on earth with his finger on the nuclear button. That in itself is scary enough.

True to form, and quite predictably he has been performing one enormity after the other on a daily, even hourly basis, governing by childish whim and impulse, by executive fiats and unvetted decrees, with an eyes to corporate profits, to personal vendettas and slanderous vituperations, often hurled via twits; confusing allies and even his own staff. Clearly, this deranged Caligula style governing is not working very well. The wheels seem to be wobbling off the bus. Rhe man seems to be constitutionally and psychiatrically incapable of distinguishing what is legal and what is illegal, what is normative and what is deviant.

The issue of torture, which he continues to support publicly even when he hypocritically deferring to his aide General Maddox’s views, is a glaring example. It’s as if the Electoral College had elected him dictator of the US. The presidency looks and acts imperially, and deranged. Certainly, the majority of the people, by some three million votes, did not order from that menu and now have to digest it, albeit many misguided people did do so and are satisfied; what they have failed to realize, so far, is that democracy itself is now in peril, wounded and bleeding.

They continue to praise the sartorial splendor of emperor Caligula strutting through the streets of Rome, or Washington, as the case may be, with his invisible clothes. The pundits, meanwhile, continue to offer their Machiavellian, real-politick, analyses missing the bigger point that the Caligula reign was the canary in the mine for the Roman Empire and its Republican-democratic institutions, the beginning of the end. They dare not dare cry out “the emperor is illegitimate.” Only one politician has found the courage to do so (Representative John Lewis), just as one little boy did in Andersen’s tale.

Indeed, the first president of the US must be turning in his grave at the sight of how low the august and dignified Office of the US Presidency has sunk. One courageous prominent citizen has already publicly shouted “The Emperor is illegitimate,” which is equivalent to the little boy shouting “the President is naked” in the famous tale. He has been soundly rebuked by the emperor via twitter for that kind of impertinence: telling the truth and ignoring the alternate facts of the pundits.

Geo-political experts of all stripes are now busy in explaining the irrational after failing to explain why a pathological narcissist managed to be elected imperial president. They continue to analyze, when they ought to know that the only option left is that of sardonic satire and debunking. Even iconoclasm will not do to confront psychopathology.

But the emperor continues on his merry way to court Putin while criticizing allies like Mexico, Australia, Israel, claiming massive voter fraud despite the ridicule of his own party on those claims and refusing to issue an executive order to investigate the fraud. The panic in the party is palpable. It is now frantically trying to figure out how to kill Obamacare without killing patients or Republican re-election hopes. They also see themselves mired in a trade war with Mexico which is not a good omen on their re-election prospects either.

All this after ten days, mind you. What will be left of a democratic American Republic after four years, or, perhaps eight years? The question gaining ground now seems to be: how do we get the man out of office and avoid a potential unmitigated political disaster? We know how the Praetorean guards in Rome, after five years of sheer abuses, ultimately solved the problem. In modern CIA parlance, “with extreme prejudice.” That is not something feasible or desirable in a democracy governed by the rule of law where assassinations are illegal.

What seems to be left is the option of impeachment which is a political, not a medical and not even a legal solution. Here there is some hope. Even Republicans seem to be deserting in droves. It has become quite clear to many of them that the man is unfit for office, is set on disaster, and trying to rein him in is an exercise in futility. Reality is now pushing back. They could have imagined that before they nominated him and elected him, but better late than never.

At this point one can hope that the constitutional legal checks on tyranny hold. So far they seem to be holding. After the deranged effort of Caligula redivivus to selectively ban refugees as potential terrorists (except those terrorist countries like Saudi Arabia and Egypt which have Trump business interests), he has discovered, eureka, that American has courts. Get a hold of that.

The reality is that the courts are now the only barrier to Trump’s dictatorial style of governing. Hopefully, the people will also intervene by starting popular impeachment procedures. Free Speech for People has launched a citizens’ campaign to impeach Trump. About 400,000 people have already signed the petition. Senior legal scholars associated with CREW (Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington) have filed a legal brief documenting the several ways Trump is in violation of the Emoluments Clause, which prohibits a president from profiting from the actions of foreign governments.

We can only hope now that as the deranged emperor deserts the Constitution, pari passu, his loyal sycophants will begin deserting him, as they realize that they cannot use Trump for their own ends; that, to the contrary, he has and will continue to use them for his own deranged agenda.

If the Caligula episode in Roman history teaches anything is that malignant narcissism (as described by psychiatrist Otto Kernberg) is more severe than ordinary narcissism. It is a pathology characterize by an absence of conscience, grandiosity and a desperate quest for power and validation, not to speak of a sadistic enjoyment of cruelty and the suffering of others. We see that exemplified around the world by authoritarian personalities; some of them call themselves president; they usually flock together and like each other.

In any case, Trump’s impeachment seems almost inevitable, even at this early stage of the Caligula presidency. The only question remaining then will be: how much damage will the US be able to withstand before it finally happens?

N.B. This article, slightly modified for MD, has appeared in Ovi magazine on February 2, 2017.

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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