I am a history nerd who took Latin throughout high school, so I feel like it would be a sin if I didn’t cover Caesar on the Ides of March. For those who don’t know, Julius Caesar was murdered by members of the Roman senate on the Ides (a calendar structure signifying the middle of the month that fell on either of the 13th or 15th of each of the 10 Roman months) in 44 B.C.E. The senate took this very drastic measure because of the power than Caesar had consolidated, and because they viewed him as a threat to the republic, which was the present governmental system Rome used.
As for how this relates to today’s society, there are in fact some eerie parallels, and one big lesson to be learned.
In the past few months we’ve had an elected official refuse to peacefully give up power, instead trying to use populism to maintain his position. While what happened to Donald Trump was certainly not what happened to Caesar, Trump did eventually vacate the leadership position, much to the excitement of those in favor of continued democracy. Many voiced their opinions on how democracy had been saved, and it is certainly true that the imminent threat was averted, but I think now it’s time to take a look at how the Roman republic panned out after the senators did what they did.
Allow me to introduce you to Augustus, the first emperor of Rome. He was Caesar’s adopted son, and it’s fair to assume he shared a lot of beliefs with his adopted father, given that when he chose the name Augustus when he became emperor, he added the name Caesar in his honor. Augustus’ rule marked the true end of the Roman republic, which had lasted for almost half of a millennium, and it began the era of the Roman empire. This regime change was drastic, and happened despite the senators’ actions. In the case of Rome, the idea lived on after the man, and simply silencing the voice of one human man did nothing to change the course in the long run. The Roman empire went on to last for centuries, and the Republic structure never made a comeback in the nation at all.
Now, in the U.S., we stand at an important moment in history. Trump has left the highest seat of elected office, but now we can already see the group forming, waiting to see if someone will get to be his Augustus. The ideologies of Trumpism are alive and well in Josh Hawley, Ted Cruz, Nikki Haley, Tom Cotton and the rest of them, it is important to understand that those who would oppose democracy are too numerous to be simply pushed out of politics; in order to keep the republic as our system of government and to protect peoples who would be harmed by these ideologies, the ideas themselves must be discredited.
Another thing to remember is the power that martyrdom holds. Stories like those of Julius Caesar, Jesus Christ or a more modern figure like Abraham Lincoln all became much more potent in rallying support due to the untimely death of the leader of each respective movement. Now, Trump was not killed, but some of his supporters have still tried to bring a martyr narrative to his story. Outcry over his Twitter ban and a larger crusade against ‘cancel culture’ have graced many conservative headlines since Jan. 6, and this effort cannot go undealt with.
In the next four years, there will be an attempt to swing the pendulum back to where Trump and his followers aimed to put it. Currently, the pendulum is only beginning to swing in the direction of progressive reform, and any efforts to impede that course could prove dangerous. No matter what happens, I think that the most important thing to take away from the story of the beginnings of the Roman empire is that there were 17 years in between Caesar’s death and Augustus’ ascent to the throne. Those years in the middle were a period of wrestling for power that got very bloody, and if we’re going to evade a long, drawn-out conflict of some kind, we need to get the ideas of hate and prejudice out of the lexicon, not just get the people out of power.