Is the US doomed to be Imperial Rome?

Via Martin Wolf at the FT:

Here is what has happened. US President Donald Trump asserted for months, without evidence, that he could not be defeated in a fair election. He duly attributed his defeat to a rigged election. Four in five Republicans still agree.

The President pressured officials to overturn their states’ votes. Having failed, he sought to bully his vice-president and Congress into rejecting the electoral votes submitted by the states. He incited an assault on the Capitol, in order to pressure Congress into doing so. Some 147 members of Congress, including eight senators, voted to reject the states’ votes.

Dangerous. Donald Trump incited an assault on the Capitol, in order to pressure Congress into rejecting the electoral votes submitted by the states. Getty

In brief, Trump attempted a coup. Worse, the great majority of Republicans agree with his reasons for doing so. A huge number of federal lawmakers went along. The coup failed, because courts rejected evidence-free cases, and state officials did their jobs. But 10 former defence secretaries felt the need to warn the military to stay out.

…As Yale’s Timothy Snyder asserts: “Post-truth is pre-fascism, and Trump has been our post-truth president.” If truth is subjective, force must decide. There can then be no true democracy, only gangs of rival thugs or the boss’s dominant gang.

The Republican party is rotten through with sedition. As soon as I write this, I know people will start complaining about the violence and socialists on the left. But absolutely no equivalent to Trump is to be found among leading Democrats. Those pre-fascists are on the right.

Worse, Trump is not himself the disease, but a symptom. James Murdoch recently declared that: “The sacking of the Capitol is proof positive that what we thought was dangerous is indeed very, very much so. Those outlets that propagate lies to their audience have unleashed insidious and uncontrollable forces that will be with us for years.”

The role of the right-wing media bubble in creating the post-truth world of Trumpism is evident. So, too, is the plutocrat-funded long march through the institutions. The judiciary this has created has delivered the armed citizenry, the invisible political contributions and the soaring inequality that now endanger democratic stability.

…Trump has shown the way. Many will try to follow. So long as the aim of so many Republicans is to make the federal government fail and the rich richer, this is how its politics must work…If US politics unfolds as seems likely, there will be more Trumps.

One of them, more competent and ruthless, may succeed. If that is to be prevented, US politics must now shift to respect for truth and an inclusive version of patriotism.

Rome was arguably the last republican superpower. But the rich and powerful destroyed that republic, bringing forth a military dictatorship, 1800 years before the US was born.

I’m less pessimistic but there is no doubt about the underpinning divisions. They need to be addressed including the recreation of a centrist polity and moderate right.

As for the fall of the Roman Republic, it is an interesting comparison. Arguably the wrong one.

Rome was a more explicitly martial state than is the contemporary US. Rome’s democractic problems were, in part, a result of inequality and rapacious elites. But the bigger problem was its reliance upon powerful individual generals to resolve a whole series of wars on its frontiers, from Carthage to Gaul and western Mediterranean grain trade routes.

Each time Roman interests were threatened, the Roman senate tasked ever more powerful individual generals to resolve the issues accompanied with gigantic propaganda coups and glorious “triumphs” marched through the capital.

The strategy worked for many generations but, eventually, a few of the most successful of the generals got so powerful that the idea that they be answerable at all to the republic lost currency. Several of these, Pompey the Great, Julius Caeser and Marcus Crassus (also Rome’s richest man) began carving up huge slices of Roman territory amongst themselves in secret deals in which they retained Roman legions almost as private armies. The rest is history as the three went to war with each other and eventually, Caesar occupied Rome as the victor.

There are two key points to take from this in the American context. First, the separation of military and executive power in US is still very much more explicit than it was in Rome. This was one key missing ingredient in the Trump “coup”. There was no military involvement which, arguably, made it little more than a directionless riot. That said, one of the darker possibilities is that any future political chaos could trigger military involvement in which an ambitious general rises.

Second, it was the dynamics of competition with foreign powers that undid the Roman Republic. In the sense that America is challenged today in analogous ways there is a good comparison to make. But, Roman strategic positioning was much less secure than the US. In the Roman Republic, the issues that generals were given extraordinary powers to resolve were often life-threatening to the regime. By comparison, the US is a single, largely-self-sufficient continent, not a trade-dependent, martial state like Rome was. Which is one reason why its military remains more separate.

That is, American challenges are very much more “first world problems” than Rome’s ever were.

That is not to say that the US is not at risk of some kind of imperial takeover and period. The post-truthiness described is a huge problem, perhaps more akin to China or Nazi Germany than Rome, which is not very reassuring. Democratic normatives are both very strong and very weak.

Yet, in the sense that the US is demographically strong, economically self-sufficient and strategically safe, it is the case that the US is much better placed to avoid an imperial transition than Rome ever was.

David Llewellyn-Smith
Latest posts by David Llewellyn-Smith (see all)


    • ErmingtonPlumbingMEMBER

      Reading the Masters of Rome series (Historical fiction) by Colleen McCullough had me seeing heaps of parallels between the Roman Republic and Todays political machinations.
      The First 3 books were among the most entertaining books I have ever read, Esp number 1,
      The First man in Rome.

      The 4th book, Caesar’s Women, wasn’t a bit shyte though.

      “The series has a thesis (first introduced in 1939 by Sir Ronald Syme in his epic historical treatise The Roman Revolution): as Rome became more powerful within the Mediterranean world, the old ways of doing things – through the deliberation of various interests, mainly aristocratic and mercantile – became impossibly cumbersome. It became more and more difficult to govern an empire with institutions originally designed to administer a city-state. Certain powerful leaders (especially Marius, Sulla, and Caesar) tried to create a state in which they had autocratic power but also preserved the externals of the old ways. They were opposed by the conservatives (called the optimates by classical historians, though they themselves preferred[citation needed] the title boni or “good men”). The obtuse or simply ignorant resistance of these reactionaries, who are all (except for Cato) presented as degenerate or self-serving, made the creation of an autocracy necessary. The result was the birth of an imperial monarchy, and a radically different organization of power.[citation needed]”

      I Didn’t know Bob Carr was such a fan,

      “McCullough said that her publisher wanted her to write The Thorn Birds sequels instead of the Roman books because the latter, while popular, did not sell as well. Bob Carr, former premier of New South Wales, publicly campaigned for McCullough to write further Roman novels.”

      • reusachtigeMEMBER

        Oh wow, I’ve never met a bogon that reads anything more than Picture magazine (mainly for the bag lady of the week and Possum)!

        • ErmingtonPlumbingMEMBER

          You know Reusa I used to begrudgingly respect and think of you as a bit of a Lucius Cornelius Sulla.
          Handsome, capable, wealthy and of Patrician Blood I felt you had probably earned the right to a hedonistic lifestyle of many, many, many relations partners.

          But after the revelation of your passion for “Power Walking”!
          I now see you more a, Metrobius.
          ie Sullas “bag boy”

          I, like Plutarch, have got you sussed out Reus/Metrobius

          “”It was this laxity, as it seems, which produced in him [Sulla] a diseased propensity to amorous indulgence and an unrestrained voluptuousness, from which he did not refrain even in his old age, but continued his youthful love for Metrobius, a lowly actor and Bum boy”

          • I always though it was more Sancta Susanna – an early opera by Paul Hindemith in one act, its premiere was on 26 March 1922, at the Oper Frankfurt.

            Basically a tale about a female of the day experiencing hysteria* and infects an entire nunnery with it, after they tried to help her out …….

  1. If Trump was a little bit smarter, he could have offered the US generals bribes (Hawaii) to help him with the insurrection.
    The mob attacks the capital.
    Trump calls in the Military to stop the mob, and declares martial law.
    Trump then makes himself interim president until the mess is cleared up. (never)
    Seems like a coup of the US came very very close.

    • When the Generals Talk – Midnight Oil

      Up there on the platform
      He is speaking to the people
      The people are responding
      With clapping and a’cheering
      But the meaning of the message
      Not revealed to those assembled
      They’re taken for a ride
      Taken In his stride

      When the Generals talk
      You better listen to him
      When the Generals talk
      You better do what he say

      There’s a rumor in the ranking
      Someone’s talking insurrection
      So the General has a purge
      Cause he wants to win elections
      With the certain satisfaction
      That the people are appeased
      Long live the revolution
      The General’s very pleased

      Sitting on the fence both ears to the ground
      The fat cats still push the thin cats around

      • Introducing the new General
        Introducing the new General
        Introducing the new General
        Introducing the new General
        school of political diplomacy
        If you disagree, you get annihalated

        Only trouble is we haven’t got
        many Generals in Australia
        Oh, General Motors
        General Credit Corporation
        General Insurance
        They’re the worst Generals of all,
        you know!

        When the Generals talk
        You better listen to him
        When the Generals talk
        You better do what he say

    • Trump could not have said it better himself.
      Because he is borderline illiterate,
      and you idolise him…..

          • Sorry to butt in but I’d say seeing migs posts over the year has been one of the few interesting journeys on this site. at the start of my 12 months here he was a typical annoying self absorbed gen y , now with lockdowns he’s beginning to question who really owns his a$$ and his journey to the dark side has begun. It won’t be quick but he may get it some day

          • Mig’s been posting here on and off (depending on the banhammer), in basically the same way, for a decade.

    • Trump spent a lot of time sh!tting on the traditions and institutions of the nation. These are things the military tends to hold in high regards. Assuming he would find substantial support in its higher echelons is questionable.

      • Lol Trump shat on their tradition!! ROFLMAO – Biden has ordered US military to abandon all symbols and insignia that could be deemed sexist, rac!st or derogatory. Obama began the process of emasculating the US military, Trump merely halted it. Expect it to be turbo charged now – after he finishes weeding out those with problematic views all that will be left will be be pussy eating dykes and bitch titted soyboys.

        Those backs…. so many backs turned and turning away from the motorcade.

        Yup, they have Biden’s back…. looks like they’re gunna have to do a lot more weeding in the US Army.

  2. Jumping jack flash

    ““Post-truth is pre-fascism, and Trump has been our post-truth president.” If truth is subjective, force must decide.”

    What is truth? Who decides? Why has it come to this?

    In my opinion there are two main reasons. The first is Thatcherism.

    Government support of news was wound back resulting in the need for news to try and generate its own income.

    News quickly became an excercise in advertising revenue maximisation. And this was the birth of clickbait.

    Secondly, the New Economy of debt requires that everyone needs a colossal pile of debt. How can one become eligible for that debt pile they need if they earn their money reporting news? Not a lot of money in news. Dry old news. Hardly ever good. Who wants to pay for that?

    Again, advertising and clickbait is required.

    “If truth is subjective, force must decide.”

    And in this privatised world where clickbait is peddled instead of actual news, and news is dressed as clickbait, what is truth and who can actually decide? Truth has certainly become subjective.

    When search engines hide news outright due to economics and politics, and social media and search engines hide entries that may show alternative views than the mainstream, socially accepted narrative, what is truth and how can it even be found?

    If your “news” is catchy and clickable and conforms to social norms and expectations then that is accepted.

  3. The Rome Republic never solved the land problem and when certain people did try to solve the problem, they were knocked off. The main reason that power came to dwell with the army and not the Senate is because they did address the land issue ( for very selfish reasons ).

  4. Ah yes, that tribe bad my tribe good, only my tribe speaks truth (as if such a thing frequently dribbles out of the mouth of the elected class), everything that tribe did is of their own making, my tribe did nothing to help create it nor drive people to it. All of which applied equally to the political swamp Mr Wolf comments on and the media swamp he wallows in.

  5. The British Empire only ended when the Germans got to bomb London. Debt has little to do with anything, it’s the inability to protect the center of empire that gives the game away to anyone watching….

  6. Reus's largeMEMBER

    So the “adults are in charge now” the same ones that now say “amen” and “awoman” at the end of the morning prayer in congress, you would have to have a sub 80 IQ to not know that “amen” is a salutation and assigning gender to that is like assigning gender to the salutation “hello” or “goodbye”

    Expect to see “1984” rolled out to the woke while the real people fight back till they are put in “re-education” camps the likes of WWII style concentration camps!

    • Interesting that you bring up 1984 – Trump’s exhortations of “fake news” towards every media outlet who reported against him was gloriously Orwellian.

      • I don’t hate him per se, and I certainly don’t believe the media unreservedly, my issue with him was that, after listening to him speak for any length of time, the inescapable realisation dawns that the man’s a babbling imbecile.

        Plus, he’s always been a con man. But mostly, he’s a babbling loon.

    • Expect to see “1984” rolled out to the woke while the real people fight back till they are put in “re-education” camps the likes of WWII style concentration camps!

      Exactly ! Just like Bill Clinton Obama took everyone’s guns away and forced them to get poofta-married !

      • Survey: 20 Percent of Millennials Identify as LGBTQ

        I don’t blame them really – why go through the hard work of buying a house and raising a family and all the responsibility that goes with it, when those who now rule over our society have made it so hard for them to do so.

        Much easier to poke each other up the poop shoot and get a diversity promotion at work that you can spend all the extra cash going on hedonistic holidays, as opposed to kids shoes and education. Netflix and the Cartoon channel have been indoctrinating them since day dot – so it’s all perfectly natural.

        Culture matters.

        • Your hatred of people not conforming to your beliefs, and a society does not force them to, is particularly palpable of late.

          • The modern West and the values and morals that are being promoted share more than a passing similarity to those found in the late Roman empire. You should read up about it.

          • You don’t know much U.S. history let alone the romanticized version, albeit that is not the issue or actual thrust of what your selling. The anti intellectual reverse engineered esoteric world view is what your banging on about, its perceived authority and all ills attributed to lack of adherence.

          • In the later period of the Roman empire, when elites controlled the entire economy and extracted rents from every aspect of Roman life, the best opportunity for a young man without a family name was to assume the role of a catamite from a wealthy patron. Similarly young women without good family connections inevitably ended up as prostitutes for one deity or another…. how does that compare with culture of today, with young boys, with no opportunity of buying a house and starting a family choosing to but phuck each other and girls aspiring to have their own ‘Only Fan’s channel?

          • Young man buying a house and starting a family does not exist in the cannons …. more like obeying your master as you would your creator …

          • LOL.

            With moral panic like that, I think you’re the one who needs the fainting chair and smelling salts.

          • Moral panic?

            ” Exactly ! Just like Bill Clinton Obama took everyone’s guns away and forced them to get poofta-married !”

            No need for poofta re-eduction camps, as I said Netflix, Cartoon channel and advertising i.e. popular culture, is doing the work for them… 1/3 of young people now identify as LGBT.

            As I keep saying – Culture Matters !


          • Smithy, all a society is is shared beliefs people are indoctrinated in from birth.
            Ever wondered why society seems headed the way it is?

          • No need for poofta re-eduction camps, as I said Netflix, Cartoon channel and advertising i.e. popular culture, is doing the work for them… 1/3 of young people now identify as LGBT.

            LOL. Only in your fvcked-up “culture” would not shunning or punishing people for being gay, be the same as forcing them to be gay.

          • Smithy, all a society is is shared beliefs people are indoctrinated in from birth.

            Er…. And ?

          • There is a difference between accepting and promoting.

            Only in the phucked up Culture of a Goyim that defines your values, would you celebrate a cultural and social terminator meme being propagated throughout society.

            You’re not Australian, Christian or even secular – you are an EZFKA Goyim indoctrinated with all the values they prize in their cattle.

            “Don’t breed, accept everything and standby while you are replaced.”

        • Rikki StocksMEMBER

          To quote the late, great Terrence McKenna “Culture is not your friend”.
          I prescribe 2g of P.cubensis and a lie down with some good tunes.

  7. Mr SquiggleMEMBER

    Worrying signs already from Biden and leftist cheer squad. Just hours after his inauguration speech, talking up represntative democracy for Americans, he signs an executive order lifting travel bans from muslim countries and another about undocumented migrants.

    So people who have never had a vote before in the US or have never paid any taxes to Inland Revenue were at the top of his list. Sheesh…

  8. Christopher Kennett

    Democracy in the USA is now just an ethnic headcount. Voting is heavily aligned to race.

    The biggest mistake of the Republicans is not to court Asian-Americans. Indian-Americans are the highest earning ethnic group in the USA (Australian-Americans are #2).

    Even the Liberal party in Australia has succeeded in doing this.

    The next mistake is not to shift the entire migration system over to importing people who vote Republican. Maybe Poles vote Republican 90%? Ok, why is the USA not importing 1 million young educated Eastern Europeans per year?

    The Democrats seem to at least have a young (but ‘woke) core rising up inside it. The Republicans by contrast are just old white men and need rejuvenation.

      • Terrible that the descendants of the people who founded America still have the ability to influence the direction it heads – maybe they should introduce more racial quotas around voting – either that or just limit white voting to the University educated.

        But what of the Hispanics and Black Americans who voted for Trump? Don’t worry the Washington Post has an explination for that too – Multicultural ‘whiteness’

        One of the organizers of the “Stop the Steal” movement is Ali Alexander, a Trump supporter who identifies as Black and Arab…. What are we to make of Tarrio — and, more broadly, of Latino voters inspired by Trump? And what are we to make of unmistakably White mob violence that also includes non-White participants? I call this phenomenon multiracial whiteness — the promise that they, too, can lay claim to the politics of aggression, exclusion and domination.

        The problem isn’t White American voters – it is people who seek to divide American up into races and categories.

        • Have you seen Kamala Harris in action? I was shocked… she’s a piece of work and she’s going to be a big player in whats to come.

          • Of course – I called her out as a hollow Ring Wrath of a woman months ago. She is a person who stands for absolutely nothing beyond what will get her into power…. but the deranged muppets who are so cooked up on TDS and what the MSM have spoon fed them for the past 18 months think they are getting Eva Peron instead of a XX chromosome version of Stalin.

          • She’s the woke Hillary Clinton and the real candidate all along. Got destroyed in the primaries with only 3% of the vote, got headshotted by Tulsi Gabbard in the debates and her performance as California DA speaks for itself. Yet the progressive tools still fawn over her because she’s not Orange man and has XX chromosomes.

            Bidens history is incredibly dark as well but let’s just wash over that. I agree, stormclouds ahead. Trump managed to delay a lot of this by 4 years as if Hillary had won we’d be well into chaos territory by now.

            Southern border is going to be a disaster all by itself.

          • She is a person who stands for absolutely nothing beyond what will get her into power

            Ah, so she’s your typical politician.

        • ErmingtonPlumbingMEMBER

          Dividing American up into races and categories along an Intersectional hierarchy of Victimhood is exactly what is going to continue to Protect American Plutocracy from any kind of real Democratic redistribution and accountability.
          Solidarity is the primary threat to Plutocracy thats why nearly all Elections come in so close these days, across the world.
          Power doesn’t like to share and divide and conquer seems easier to engineer than ever before.

          • Diversity makes us stronger and more united…. has been the chant of elites since time eternal.

            But Sennacherib, king of Assyria, had already come, and through his policy of forced population transfer he had scrambled all the nations of the lands, as it is stated in reference to Sennacherib: “And I have removed the bounds of the peoples, and have robbed their treasures” (Isaiah 10:13).

            Multiculturalism has been a long-running experiment, which was introduced as a competitor to pluralism and cultural blending, and it has failed utterly. It doesn’t work. The mutual sharing of cultures within a single polity produces innovation…. MultiCult is simply a social cancer and ultimately leads to civil war.


            Once again they’ve opened the gates of Toledo and betrayed the people who welcomed them in.

          • Bezos is another scumbag. Lockdowns are being used to crush small business and consolidate corporate assets. Private equity firms all sitting on the sidelines ready to buy distressed assets on the cheap a la 2008. Black rock must be amazed they have been able to pull the same scam twice in ten years.

            And the whole foods leaknis spot on, diversity is all about division and distraction from greatest wealth transfer in history, as well as the added benefit of crushing unions and working conditions.

  9. Gave up reading the FT years ago. It’s a bloody rag. They consistently push their editorial view which has been very much in sympathy of big business and oligarchic capitalism and has been persistently pro-China.

  10. Their articles are written in a patronising tone of the lecture of parent telling their silly little children why they’re wrong.

    • chuckmuscleMEMBER

      +1 To further the analogy, the parent also can’t see the enormous hypocrisy in what they are saying either. Children dismiss the parent, lose respect and stop listening over time.

    • FT is ok, i’ve not found them pro-China or CCP, here’s Philip Stephens today: “America has a new president, and the west needs a new China policy…The more useful starting point is consistency. What’s needed is a set of policies — economic, security, diplomatic and military — that point in the same direction.” Sounds sensible given what EU just did on trade.

  11. UK Variant of the Chinese Virus

    The democrats spent 2016-19 claiming the election was stolen. Trump just wanted the irregularities and big statistical anomalies investigated properly which they weren’t.

    He’s gone no everyone can calm down. Mexico approve because Biden has already said he’ll stop building the wall (one of many that already exist) so that Mexicans can illegally enter the USA again. China is building a 2,000 km wall along their border but not a peep from anyone about that.

    • Trump just wanted the irregularities and big statistical anomalies investigated properly which they weren’t.

      Of course he did. That’s why he only wanted anomalies investigated in states where he lost, tried to pressure people into ignoring the votes and assigning him the winner, and then incited a riot when none of those things happened.

      Those are clearly the actions of a man prioritising the integrity of the voting process. 🙄

      • …and yet mysteriously a week before the election all rioting stopped. George Floyd is still dead, the cops who were involved in his arrest are out on bail and likely to be found not guilty, ‘whiteness’ is still here – yet the rioting stopped.

        They can arrest and track down the organisers of a single ‘riot’ of supposedly Trump supporters, but do you think they can find and arrest a single person who was involved in all those ‘spontaneous’ coordinated riots that raged through the US for 4 months? Why aren’t AntiFa and BLM mugshots gracing the pages of the major newspapers?

        Weird that – but dare suggest that BLM or AntiFa were proxies of the DNC and watch how fast your comment gets deleted.

        • Reus's largeMEMBER

          Funny also that the poster boys for the “trump” incited riot “horn boy and Chewbacca bikini” were both BLM and antifa supporters who had been arrested before for the BLM riots and let out, so no the person saying “march peacefully and protest” did not incite, it was probably arranged by Soros to derail things

      • LOL.

        So much for “Trump just wanted the irregularities and big statistical anomalies investigated properly”.

        Look ! Over there ! A non-sequitur !

  12. David WilsonMEMBER

    Just anti Trump drivel…. and now a big step to the left … more illegal immigrants made legal to gain votes for the left, denial of a real look at the corruption of the voting process, denial of Biden’s corruption within his own family, more anti family and pro racism stances, more lgbti crap all whilst talking up god whilst ripping down all christian values.
    Trump had a terrible year on COVID and definatly shot himself in the foot and the USA folks with his terrible early handling and utterances early on with the pandemic however the total denial of a great deal of corruption around the voting machines, their lack of security , lack of control of postal votes, dead people voting etc something stinks but the swamp prefers it all to go away and let Biden spend, spend, spend giving everyone a feel good shot in their bank account meanwhile corruption of the financial sector continues and the big end of town make $$$$ billions … that is until the $$$ run out .
    God save us all as I see in Biden the same future that we had with Gough Whitlam which all ended in tears.

  13. Even StevenMEMBER

    Wow. I feel like I’ve entered the twilight zone with some of the comments here. I find myself trending ever more towards the ‘balanced middle’ (whatever the hell that is). I agree with some aspects of each, but strenuously disagree with other aspects.

    Just a sample:
    I really dislike “woke-ness”. It has gone too far.
    I’m a proponent of increasing equality (and adjusting taxes to achieve this) or else social cohesion will collapse
    I think a country should be able to determine the composition of its immigrants. Stewie’s right : culture does matter and the blind insistence on diversity (at the cost of everything else) is foolish.
    I’m utterly opposed to changing Australia Day to a different date
    Trump was a nutcase and unhealthy for the US, but there are some aspects I agree with (e.g. strong stance re: China)
    Most people are stupid but I still support their right to have a vote (because the alternative is too dangerous).
    The world is over-populating.

    • I think a country should be able to determine the composition of its immigrants. Stewie’s right : culture does matter and the blind insistence on diversity (at the cost of everything else) is foolish.

      When he says “culture” he means “race”.

      For example, he would not consider Black and White Americans to be part of the same “culture”.

      What does “blind insistence on diversity (at the cost of everything else)” even mean ?

  14. I’ve never been a big fan of Truth, to be perfectly honest I prefer the Australian version that we call Strewth.
    Strewth has a hundred uses but Truth what good is it? and whose Truth is it anyway?
    The middle aged white American Republicans that backed Trump know full well their fate (their Truth) if Trump’s voice is silenced, to put it mildly they’re F’ed six ways to Sunday.
    Now that’s the only real truth that one needs to understand.