I’ve always liked Robert Graves’s historical fiction, even though Graves himself thought the books were popular claptrap. I’m not ashamed to admit it. Anyway, I’ve been remembering the part of the story involving the mad emperor Caligula from I, Claudius, as narrated by his clever uncle, who was later to be the emperor Claudius. By Caligula’s reign the old Roman nobility had already been degraded, but Caligula (at least the fictionalized Caligula) shamed and humiliated them all. He made them worship him as a god. He would prostitute Roman matrons to common men. He forced the Senate to admit his horse, Incitatus, as a Senator. And he married off his old uncle, the crippled, stammering Claudius, to a beautiful maiden, Messalina, for his own amusement. Everyone knew he was crazy, but he had some popular support and no one was brave enough to call him out. Finally, the honorable Cassius killed him, showing that the emperor had no clothes. But along the way Caligula sullied what was left of the Roman elite.
I almost think I should end this post here. You know where I’m headed. It is difficult to see the Attorney General, his deputy, and the acting director of the FBI ritually humiliated each day. It is difficult to see Sen. McCain dragged back to Washington right after significant surgery so that the Senate can debate an incoherent, purely partisan health care proposal (which is giving the majority a bit too much credit, as it seems clear they don’t know what their own proposal is). It is difficult to see the Chief of Staff and the former Press Secretary humiliated by someone called “the Mooch,” who gave the most outrageous and foul interview yesterday to a reporter for the New Yorker and then complained when the reporter reported what he had said. It’s difficult to see the Secretary of State with nothing to do. President Trump making major military policy changes on Twitter is like the Emperor Caligula giving Cassius, the honorable soldier, ridiculous passwords of the day (“buttercup,” or whatever) for his own amusement.
We are in deep trouble. When Graves’s Claudius ascended to the throne, he wanted to restore the Roman Republic, but the people had lost their civic virtue and the German mercenaries who made up his guard just laughed at his pie-in-the-sky dream.