The American Republic will end someday. That isn’t a particularly novel or edgy observation. It’s quite banal. “Greece fell, Rome fell….” (China hasn’t fallen yet, but its longest lasting dynasties seem to have a shelf-life of “only” a few centuries, so maybe that counts.)

For me the question is when, not whether, the Republic will fall. I don’t know if a Trump presidency will bring about the fall, but it might. Or it might set the Republic on the course toward its fall. Maybe Trump would do it with a bang so loud we’ll know it’s happening.

Or his election will be one more step in legitimizing a “church and king” faction that perhaps has always been latent in American political politics.

Legitimization is not a yes or no proposition. It happens by degrees and in stages. A formal nomination by a major party can legitimize this faction even if the nominee will never win. I’m not the first to make the comparison, but while here was no way Jean-Marie LePen was going to win the French presidency in 2002, getting to the runoff gave him and his constituency a big boost. If that analogy holds for Trump, then his presumptive nomination is a bad thing indeed.

But maybe t the Republic has already fallen. This “church and king” faction–well, maybe it’s not a faction, maybe it’s a “style” of politics–certainly had its antecedents.  Maybe the deal was sealed at some point. Maybe Wickard v. Filburn. Maybe Korematsu. Maybe the Cold War national security state and military industrial complex. Maybe the Espionage, Sedition, and PATRIOT Acts (or maybe the Alien and Sedition Acts). Maybe the milling factionalism in our politics and the thousand pinpricks into civil society and individual privacy and democratic governance that might very well be the inevitable consequence of what some call “modernity.”

I once attended a presentation by a professor on Augustus and the end of the Roman Republic. According to him, when Augustus seized and consolidated his power, he did so on the fiction that Rome was still a Republic. Romans still spoke as if they lived in whatever had passed for a Republic ca. c.e. 0. But they also knew who was calling the shots. It was only in retrospect that people saw his reign as the beginning of something new.

Trump is no Augustus. Or at least I don’t think so. I don’t fear or dread Trump as much as the #NeverTrump people seem to. If his nomination–and possible election–augur ill for us, it’s one step of a process that depends on decisions we have already made and on decisions we will make in the future.

Category: Statehouse

About the Author

17 Responses to The end of the American Republic

  1. Murali says:

    The worry, is not so much that Trump is Augustus, but that he is Caligula

    • Maybe, but then you’d need an Augustus first….which, I guess, is the point of those who say “if the presidency didn’t have so much power, it wouldn’t matter as much.” In other words, the Republic has already fallen.

    • Brandon Berg says:

      At this point, it’s not clear that a horse in the Senate would not be an improvement.

      • Everybody wants horses in the Senate, but no one wants to pay for the clean up.

        • Brandon Berg says:

          Do we have horses in the Senate already? That would explain a lot of its output.

        • Brandon for the win!

        • Brandon Berg says:

          Congress-bashing. The one thing we can all agree on, as long as it remains sufficiently vague.

        • Mike Schilling says:

          But it’s kind of unsatisfying, because Mark Twain did it first and better.

          “It could probably be shown by facts and figures that there is no distinctly native American criminal class except Congress.”

          “I never can think of Judas Iscariot without losing my temper. To my mind Judas Iscariot was nothing but a low, mean, premature, Congressman.”

          “Suppose you were an idiot. And suppose you were a member of Congress. But I repeat myself.”

          “The lightning there is peculiar; it is so convincing, that when it strikes a thing it doesn’t leave enough of that thing behind for you to tell whether–Well, you’d think it was something valuable, and a Congressman had been there.”

  2. Michael Cain says:

    I’m not getting a very clear idea of just what you mean by the term “American Republic” here.

    • I’m not sure, either. I guess I mean “something that’s good enough that we’d like it to stick around and that can be replaced by something worse if we’re not careful.”

      As to what makes is “good enough,” here are some thoughts:

      1. Changes of government happen more or less peaceably and predictably.
      2. The rule of law is respected.
      3. Individual rights are respected.
      4. Economic liberty is respected.
      5. People are materially prosperous and secure.

      You (and I) could probably name many reasons why each of those things is not and has never been wholly true. I also realize that my “definition” isn’t bound up so much with the term “Republic” in the sense of “no monarchy.” I probably mean something more like a “common weal,” or a “res publica”: a “public thing” that is presumably good for all and worth keeping and improving upon.

      • Michael: I have a couple of thoughts Over There on whether I really answered your question:

        “in retrospect, I’m wondering if I’m off-base and making an idol of this thing I call the ‘American Republic.’

        “Maybe ‘it’ isn’t worth preserving so much as are peace, prosperity and securing others’ rights. Of course, we’ll haggle endlessly over what those things mean and over when, by what means, and for whom we’ll have obtained them.”

  3. mike shupp says:

    There’ll be a point perhaps in 50-60 years where a conflict or controversy arises between the US and China or India or some other power, where the Mandate of Heaven shifts, and Americans must accept that some other nation has become the planet’s leading superpower. A point where it becomes obvious that most other people, perhaps even most Americans, would prefer that some crises or some affairs would best be settled in accordance with Chinese or Indian wishes rather than our own. Some African war, perhaps, or some adjustment to global warming, or regulation of international commerce.

    America will cease to dominate the world. We’ll look back then in retrospect — our descendants anyhow — and say “This is where it changed. Things were different before 2065 than they are today.”

    I think that’ll be more important than the sort of changes you envision for the present.

  4. mike shupp says:

    England 1890’s (rise of USA)
    France 1870’s (rise of unified Germany)
    Spain 17th century (decline of Habsburgs, rise of France)

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

If you are interested in subscribing to new post notifications,
please enter your email address on this page.