2024: End of the Republic
The Roman Republic
Alea iacta est “The die is cast.” So said Julius Caesar on January 10, 49 BC as he, accompanied by a single legion crossed the Rubicon. His destination — Rome. It is a bold and unprecedented act. The river located north of the ancient city serves as the de facto boundary for Italy proper. It is unthinkable not to mention unlawful for any Roman general to lead his troops across this small body of water. For many of Rome’s leading citizens Caesar’s actions are considered an act of war. And so begins Caesar’s Civil War.
Pompey’s defeat at Pharsalus in August 48 BC, his subsequent assassination in Egypt (Pelusium to be exact) a month later and the defeat of his followers over the next three years ends the crisis. In 45 BC the Senate declares Caesar — “Dictator Perpetuo” (dictator in perpetuity) or “Dictator for Life.” On March 15 (The Ides of March) 44 BC Caesar attends a meeting of the Senate in the Theatre of Pompey located in the Curia of Pompey. He is assassinated. He was 55 years old.
Caesar’s assassination ignites a second civil war and the formation of the Second Triumvirate in 43 BC consisting of Caesar’s close allies Mark Antony and Marcus Lepidus. His adopted son and heir — Octavian completes the trio. In the ensuing years Lepidus, falls out of favor with Octavian and is stripped of his lands and powers. He is sent into exile in 36 BC. He lives out the rest of his life in relative obscurity.
In October of 43 BC Antony and Octavian join forces to defeat the murderers of Caesar. The decisive battle takes place at Phillipi in Greece. The peace between the two allies last until 32 BC when Octavian declares war on the Egyptian queen Cleopatra — the former lover of Caesar, now the wife of Antony — Octavian’s chief rival.
The armies of Cleopatra and Antony are defeated in the last civil war of the Roman Republic. The Battle at Actium — a naval battle, takes place in Greece on September 2, 31 BC. It ends in victory for Octavian in August 30 BC. Soon thereafter, Cleopatra and Antony die by suicide upon returning to Egypt.
On January 16, 27 BC the Senate bestows upon Octavian the title of “Augustus” and grants him extraordinary powers. The Roman Republic is no more. After 482 years its days as a nation run by representatives of “the people” (i.e. the landed elite and business class) is at an end — forever. It is now an empire ruled by a single man — the first Roman emperor — Octavian. Known to history as Augustus.
While Caesar’s audacious act in 49 BC sparked an extraordinary chain of events that ultimately led to the collapse of the Roman Republic, history confirms that the fall of the Republic was not caused by any single event. It was gradual in nature. Preceded by an internal rot — social unrest, appalling greed, incessant corruption, and most notably a crisis in leadership.
The Weimar Republic
Unlike the five century old Roman Republic the Weimar Republic lasted less than two decades. Following its defeat in World War I — the Great War, and the abdication of Kaiser Wilhelm II on November 9, 1918 Germany held a constitutional assembly from February 6 to August 11, 1919 in the city of Weimar. Friedrich Ebert was elected the first president of the new republic on February 11, 1919.
From the outset the Weimar Republic was faced with many challenges. Primary among them was economic instability due in large measure to a massive war debt of 132 billion gold marks — equivalent to over half a trillion dollars in today’s economy. The debt was imposed by the Allied Powers (Great Britain, France, Russia, Italy, Romania, Japan and the United States) via the Treaty of Versailles signed on June 28, 1919.
In addition to imposing reparations on Germany the Allied Powers demanded that Germany take full responsibility for all damage and losses associated with the war. Germany was also forced to cede nearly 28 thousand square miles of territory that included nearly seven million people.
In 1914 the German mark had an exchanged rate of 4.20 marks to the dollar. By 1922 it fell from 162 marks to the dollar to 7000 marks to the dollar. In 1923 a brewing crisis with France led troops from that country along with Belgium forces to invade and occupy the heavily industrialized and resource rich Rhur Valley due to Germany’s failure to pay reparations.
The French blockade caused the mark to depreciate to 160,000 to one U.S. dollar in July of that year. By October the mark depreciated yet again to 240,000,000 to the dollar. For perspective — during this period of hyperinflation it cost over four million marks to buy a loaf of bread in Germany.
In addition to the economic crisis the government had to confront the rising political extremism from both the left and the right. In November 1923 two thousand members of the National Socialist German Workers’ Party (Nazi Party) and their leader — a relative unknown Austrian born, German politician by the name of Adolph Hitler attempted to seize power by force. This incident became known as the “Beer Hall Putsch.” The effort failed miserably.
Hitler was arrested and tried. The trial garnered him national attention and despite over a dozen deaths associated with the failed coup he was sentenced to only five years in prison. He served nine months. While in prison he wrote his autobiography — Mein Kampf (My Struggle). The book became a best seller. Upon his release he denounced armed force as a means of securing political power and sought to do so by “legal” means.
President Ebert’s died on February 28, 1925. Field Marshal Paul Von Hindenburg was elected in his place. The former head of the German military during WW I and staunch monarchist was not trusted by those on the political left. His royalist ties also caused a great deal of apprehension abroad.
Nonetheless, Hindenburg proved to be an effective leader. However, the prosperity experienced by Germany (mostly due to short-term foreign loans) from his time in office until 1928 quickly vanished with the crash of the New York Stock Exchange in October 1929. Unemployment rose dramatically, bankruptcy filings increased substantially, and wages fell.
In 1930 the Chancellor (i.e. head of government) at the time Heinrich Bruning, appointed by Hindenburg, imposed austerity measures (i.e. cut unemployment pay, wages and other expenditures). This was a disastrous move. When he was unable to get the Reichstag (the German Parliament) to endorse his economic agenda Hindenburg used what was known as “Article 48” (it allowed the President to declare a state of emergency and rule by decree) and passed the legislation.
The middle class, which felt the brunt of the economic cuts began to support the extremism on the right. The huge increase of support among workers for the German Communist Party (KPD) alarmed many wealthy business owners and industrialists. They now recognized the Nazis as their only real hope against the communists. With the financial backing of wealthy Germans the Nazi Party became the most popular political party in Germany.
In March of 1932 Hitler along with three other candidates challenged Hindenburg for the presidency. Hitler received over eleven million votes. Hindenburg received over eighteen million but not enough to prevent a runoff between himself and Hitler. In April another election was held and while Hitler gained an additional two million votes the eighty four year old Hindenburg polled over nineteen million votes to win a second term.
Shortly after his victory Hindenburg dismissed Bruning as Chancellor and named Franz von Papen to take his place. In July 1932 the Nazi Party made substantial gains in the Reichstag election winning 232 seats. Von Papen was unable to secure the support of the Nazi Party in his government.
Von Papen’s failed effort combined with the political intrigue of Kurt Von Schleicher, a chief advisor to the president, in undermining him — caused him to resign in December of 1932. Von Schleicher became the new Chancellor.
As Chancellor he too attempted to gain the support of the Nazis and even offered Hitler the position of Chancellor in exchanged for his appointment as defense minister. Hitler refused. And thus von Schleicher was unable to form a government.
In a desperate attempt to get revenge against von Schleicher, von Papen met with Hitler and offered his support to help him become Chancellor. Von Papen would become Vice Chancellor. Von Papen persuaded Hindenburg to make the appointment by promising to keep Hitler in check. The cabinet proposed by von Papen would largely be composed of non-Nazis. He would soon realize his colossal miscalculation. Hindenburg was persuaded and asked von Schleicher to resign.
On January 30, 1933, President Hindenburg appointed Hitler Chancellor of the German Reich. On February 27 1933 a suspicious fire engulfed the Reichstag. The fire was blamed on a communist sympathizer. Many believe this was a “false flag operation” — one in which an act is committed with the intent off disguising the source and blaming someone else. Hitler blamed the KPD.
Immediately thereafter Hitler convinced the president to issue the “Reichstag Fire Decree.” This decree grounded in Article 48 effectively suspended civil liberties and fundamental rights throughout Germany. The state went on the offensive. Communists, Jews, labor leaders, and journalists deemed unfriendly to the Nazi Party were the primary targets.
On March 23, 1933 the Reichstag deputies passed a constitutional amendment — ‘Act for the Removal of the Distress of the People and the Reich.’ This law basically allowed Hitler and his cabinet to bypass all checks and balances even the powers of the president and rule by decree. This decree would never be rescinded under Nazi rule. In a matter of weeks Germany — a modern European state was transformed into a totalitarian nation. The Weimar Republic was effectively dead. Slaughtered in its cradle.
On August 2, 1934 Hindenburg died. Hitler illegally merged the offices of the Chancellor and the President. The Wehrmacht — the German military, in exchange for Hitler’s willingness to decapitate the leadership of the Nazi’s para-military arm — the Sturmabteilung (SA) or Brownshirts, pledged its unequivocal allegiance to the new President.
Adolph Hitler, a failed artist and one-time vagabond, was now Supreme Commander of the German military and the undisputed leader (i.e. Fuhrer) of Germany. He would later plunge Europe into World War II — culminating with the untold suffering and death of tens of millions. He would die by suicide on April 30, 1945.
The American Republic
According to the “Global State of Democracy Report 2021” issued by the Stockholm-based International Institute for Democracy and Electoral Assistance (International IDEA) the United States has been, for the first time added to the list of countries of “backsliding” democracies. Kevin Casas-Zamora, the organization’s secretary general referenced “the increasing tendency to contest credible election” and “the efforts to suppress” participation in elections as “the most concerning developments.”
The organization measured the global state of democracy in 2020 and 2021 using 28 “indicators” of democracy based on five “core pillars.” The core pillars were representative government, fundamental rights, checks on government, impartial administration and participatory engagement.
Annika Silva-Leander, who authored the report stated “[w]hat we find when we look at data globally is that lower levels of public support for democracy often coincide with increasing levels of polarization and voters turning to parties that have a lesser commitment to democratic values.” The report indicates that the backsliding began in 2019 with clear signs as early 2016. I propose an even earlier date.
On January 21, 2010, the United States Supreme Court issued a ruling in Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission. The 5–4 decision overruled an earlier decision in Austin v. Michigan State Chamber of Commerce that disallowed expenditures by corporations in political campaigns. This ruling stated “the First Amendment prohibits limits on corporate funding of independent broadcasts in candidate elections.”
The decision basically asserts that corporations are people and effectively placed the fate of election outcomes, particularly at the national level in the hands of the nation’s oligarchy — the “one percent.” This has led to the creation of super PACS controlled by wealthy donors and special interest groups and has given rise to mega donors and the use of “dark” money in political campaigns.
Shelby vs. Holder
The Voting Rights Act was signed into law on August 6, 1965. The purpose of the Act was to enforce the voting rights guaranteed by the Fourteenth and Fifteenth amendments to the United States Constitution. The Act is considered the most powerful and effective pieces of civil rights legislation in the history of the country.
On June 25, 2013, the United States Supreme Court ruled in a 5 to 4 decision that “[s]ection 4(b) was unconstitutional because the coverage formula was based on data over 40 years old, making it no longer responsive to current needs and therefore an impermissible burden on the constitutional principles of federalism and equal sovereignty…”
Section 4(b)’s coverage formula pertained to jurisdictions that utilized a test or some other dubious mechanism as a prerequisite to voting and had a turnout or voter registration that was less than fifty percent. The numbers were based on the 1964 presidential elections.
Section 4(a) provided a “bail out” (of pre-clearance) provision for those covered jurisdiction which made sufficient progress in ending discriminatory practices in voting.
Section 5 of the Act is known as the “preclearance” requirement. It provides that “no covered jurisdiction can change its voting procedures without approval from either the United States Attorney General or a three-judge federal court in Washington D.C.” The decision in Shelby rendered this particular section moot.
It has been eight years since Shelby was decided and according to the Brennan Center for Justice as of March 2021 “more than 361 bills [intended] to restrict voting access have been introduced in 47 states.” These bills include: strict voter photo ID laws; no early voting; harsh requirement for those groups engaged in voter registration; polling place relocations; excessive voting purges; disparate racial treatment at polling places; student voting restrictions; language discrimination; no disability accessibility; voter intimidation; complicated absentee ballot requirements; etc.
The Shelby decision should be viewed as an attack against both the Fourteenth and Fifteenth Amendments to the constitution and should serve as a critical warning that American democracy is in trouble. If the advent of voter suppression laws doesn’t give one pause to consider the danger facing the republic the events that unfolded on January 6, 2021 certainly should.
The Failed Insurrection
On November 3, 2020 the general election for president of the United States (and other national, state and local offices) was held. By November 7th most media outlets had projected Democrat Joe Biden the winner. He had clinched enough electoral votes (270) to be declared the President-elect. But his opponent was not having any of it. Almost immediately following the vote then President Donald Trump claimed that the results were fraudulent. In the coming weeks/months his election team would file 62 lawsuits contesting the election results. 61 of the lawsuits were found to be frivolous. Only one, which had no bearing on the election outcome was found to have any merit.
After failing to convince select state legislators not to certify the elections results he turned to the Justice Department. However the acting Attorney General Jeffrey Rosen and the acting Deputy AG Richard Donoghue would not go along with the shenanigans. Neither would discredit the election results.
We now know through congressional testimony that Trump planned on firing Rosen but such a move would have unleashed chaos at the Justice Department. So he chose to forego this plan. This left his vice president — Mike Pence, as his final option. Trump wanted the Vice President, usually an unapologetic sycophant of the former president, to claim some kind of unilateral authority over the electoral vote count and declare him the winner or hand the process to the House of Representatives where the Republicans had more delegations than the Democrats. Pence refused to act in accordance with Trump’s wishes.
Pence’s refusal coincided with a massive rally on Capitol Hill. Thousands of the president’s supporters from all walks of life and from across the country, including veterans and active duty military personnel, stormed the Capitol. The goal — to intimidate members of congress. Many were egged on by Trump, who spoke earlier in the day at a “Stop the Steal” rally organized by his supporters including, it is alleged, some members of congress.
The riot caused the Capitol Complex to be placed on lockdown and lawmakers and their staff were evacuated. Some barricaded themselves in congressional offices and hid under desks fearing the worse. In the end five deaths were attributed to the mayhem. Dozens were injured including scores of Capitol police officers who were tasked with holding off the unruly mob. Congressional offices were looted and vandalized. Gallows were erected on the Capitol grounds and chants of “Hang Mike Pence” were shouted by the crowd. Pence barely escaped the clutches of the mob.
Thus far over 700 individuals have been arrested for their role in the riot. This number represents nearly a quarter of those listed as suspects for their involvement in the attack. As the January 6 (congressional) Committee hearings/investigation continue to seek out those responsible for this spectacular breach of American democracy, many continue to wonder aloud if the arrests and convictions of hundreds will serve to deter any future attempt to undermine the democratic process. I doubt it. One could even argue — the events of January 6, 2021 were simply a test run.
It is instructive to note, three retired generals have warned of a potential military coup following the 2024 election. In an opinion piece that appeared in the December 17, 2021 edition of The Washington Post, retired Major Generals Paul D. Eaton, Antonio M. Taguba and retired Brigadier General Steven M. Anderson wrote they were “increasingly concerned” about the “potential for lethal chaos inside our military, which would put all Americans at severe risk” following the 2024 election. The three generals even suggested that today’s military leaders “war-game” an attempted coup just to be prepared.
Many Republican controlled state legislatures appear to be laying the legal ground work for a successful coup in the future. Barton Gellman’s piece — “Trump’s Next Coup Has Already Begun,” which appears in the Atlantic magazine — is worth reading. Also, as previously discussed, the use of voter suppression laws and the reconfiguration of local election boards and election entities aligned with the former president is happening at breakneck speed.
Additionally, if historical patterns hold true, the House of Representatives will flip in the 2022 midterm elections and a Republican majority will take the reins of power following the election. Given such a scenario the 2024 presidential election can very well usher in a radical transformation of the American government.
In the end, barring a major disruption of the economic order, the outcome will in all likelihood be decided by the oligarchs of both major political parties. The preservation of their economic interest will be the deciding factor. Of course this should provide the vast majority of the American people with very little hope that the republic will survive.
The oligarchy of the ancient Roman Republic known as “the Optimates” and the wealthy industrialists in the Weimar Republic both aided the rise of authoritarian figures. And in both cases their respective republics met a catastrophic end. Will this be the fate of America? Time will soon tell.
Just a few short years ago the dissolution of the United States and its constitution — as a possibility — would have been laughable — unthinkable even. Not anymore. The balkanization of America appears to be on the horizon and the mere threat of such an occurrence demands the immediate attention of the American public.
Rosa Luxembourg, the founder of the German Communist Party once said “the most revolutionary thing one can do is always proclaim loudly what is happening.” The die has been cast!