Three bloody mass shootings have taken place in the United States in less than a week, killing dozens of people, and the entire nation seems to have taken a darkened mood as we quietly try to figure out how we got here and where to go from this point. I think we all recognize that we’re treading into dangerous territory, a dark place that there may not be any turning back from. We’ve approached the Rubicon, much like Julius Caesar did before he launched the Roman Civil War on January 10th of 49 B.C.E.
The Senate of Rome had told Caesar that his tenure as a military commander was up and he needed to disband his army and return from Gaul to Rome. Caesar was to leave his army behind and make his way home. The army stopped at the border of Italy, at the Rubicon river, and uttered the words, before ordering his army to cross and invade Rome, “Alea iacta est.”
“The die has been cast.” He meant, of course, that he’d made his decision to overthrow the Roman republic. But, how did Caesar come to his decision?
Julius Caesar, however, was nothing like Donald Trump, who much more resembles the later Emperor Caligula: indulgent, short-sighted, emotionally volatile, and only politically savvy to the point that it meets his immediate needs. Both men attained power entirely through historical accidents, rather than their own merit, hard work, foresight, and determination, as Caesar had. At some point, the idea must have crossed Caesar’s mind that he was more powerful than the Senate of the Roman Republic, and he understood that his army was composed of some of the hardest and most seasoned veterans in any Roman legions. Importantly, he had men willing to kill for him with him, men, who were willing to die for him. Every political power-move in history has relied on having able-bodied men (and sometimes women) willing to die for the person who set it off — even so-called peaceful revolutionaries were prepared to back their ideas up with force or martyrdom, if need be.
As the rest of us try to pick up the pieces of the shootings in Ohio, California, and especially Texas, where the gunman posted an online manifesto espousing Trumpism, often borrowing word-for-word Trump’s rhetoric that takes place at the massive political rallies of the sitting president of the United States, I’m wondering what might be going on in Trump’s mind. In a nation of mass shootings, this mass shooting, in particular, is different: it feels different, politically, there’s a darker undercurrent of thought running beneath it and most don’t know quite what to make of it. It’s co-signed by the very philosophy that is espoused by the President of the United States, a President who’s rejected even the most basic facts and replaced the long-standing members of what serves as our equivalent of the Roman Senate with his own puppets and “acting” officials. In short, the United States government is demonstrably weakened, as is evidenced by its constant impotence in bringing this president to justice for high crimes and misdemeanors, but most importantly, Trump has to now understand in his core that his supporters are willing to kill and die for him. While the President is outwardly disowning the incident, at least somewhat, he either can’t believe in literally any of his hateful rhetoric that’s taken place over the last four years or he’s secretly overjoyed with a sense of schadenfreude, a sort of Trumpian malicious joy that’s delighting in the fact that others are willing to kill people over his ideas.
Just like Caesar’s men, at least some of Trump’s supporters are willing to kill in the name of their leader, especially if it corrects for what they feel is a sense of deep injustice — this is powerful and shouldn’t be underestimated. This should also be clear as day to anyone with a brain. Frankly, this could be the single most dangerous and ominous moment in the entirety of Donald Trump’s presidency. The MAGA hat has now been inextricably linked to the automatic rifle thanks to the shooter in El Paso. While the alt-right who generally tends to support the President unwaveringly has always been no stranger to violence, this is the first time that a mass shooting has taken place with the President’s signature on it. These are dark times, indeed.
The die, for Donald Trump, may have been cast when a supporter executed over a dozen of his political opponents in his name.
Do you think Trump grins with a malevolent glee when 27-year-old supporters of the President jump out of a truck and attack 61-year-old men, punching them in the face to demonstrate what they want us to see as the awesome power of Trump? The intimidation tactics don’t stop at mass shootings and they didn’t start with Trump, they started a long time ago with the belief that “the South will rise again,” that, “we need the guns so we can overthrow the government,” and all other sorts of passive-aggressive threats which imply that a day of reckoning is in order, according to them. For the far-right Christian Conservative movement, such a move would imply doing God’s work, a scene we’ve seen played out in history all too many times.
This is why all of this violence, tension, aggression, and both overt and covert hostility has all taken place with the support of the Republican Party, amidst not-so-funny and low-key scary jokes about Donald Trump serving a third term. If the Donald wanted to take over the United States and not give up the seat of power when the time came, I absolutely know the Republican Party would take his side on the issue. The Triumvirate of Caesar is now an entire political party, which raises the question: where does political conspiracy end and being a unified political party begin?
Now, I don’t mean to suggest that Trump, like Caesar, could or would pull off an American coup d’état; after all, the police state is much stronger than it was in Caesar’s time, with much more powerful technologies, as well as the fact that not only are his supporters scattered about the nation, but his disposition is, as I’ve mentioned, much more like the Roman Emperor Caligula, in all of his grandeur and haughty indulgence than he is a regular Julius Caesar, a powerful, politically-savvy and wise political leader. Simply put, Trump isn’t exactly methodical enough to be a Caesar, but the history of the world has seen much stranger accidents take place than the stars aligning just right for Donald Trump to command people to commit mass murder in his name. I’m not speaking of the likelihood that this will happen again, but I am saying that, at this point, Trump has to know that his words have the power to kill…and that is terrifying.
If I were reading this story in history books, I would naturally intuit that at least an attempt at a government takeover on the behalf of the leader of a personality cult was about to transpire. If I was reading this in a book about any other nation than the one I’m living in, that would be what I was anticipating as the conclusion. Even a self-absorbed twerp like Caligula was able to commit untold horrors and unleash havoc on the Roman Empire during his short tenure as emperor, with the right blind support from the Roman aristocracy and a significantly weakened Roman state still reeling from the death of Augustus and the damage caused by Emperor Tiberius.
We could easily liken this to the untimely deaths of Senator John McCain and former President George H.W. Bush, as well as the large-scale failures of the Obama administration that the current President ran on undoing.
The fact is, just because someone like Trump couldn’t successfully create a police state that dissolves the old structures of power, doesn’t mean that he won’t try, and if we take this presidency so far as an example of how such a thing would play out, Donald Trump has and will likely push the envelope continually, just to see what he can get away with. Once you understand that you’re above the law and slow-moving Democrats will do nothing besides try to vote you out (with significantly weaker candidates than you are), you just might get a sense of invincibility, becoming drunk with power. He’s also in charge of the most expansive and powerful arsenal the world has ever known.
I can only urge that the leaders in charge of our national security begin treating this problem of violent extremist conservativism like the domestic terrorist issue that it is, rather than treating it like a one-off tragedy committed by a lone wolf. I’m very afraid that there may be more to come. These people need to be observed by an entity powerful enough to stop them should it come to that point. Time will tell if this instance emboldens Trump, as his flagrant and open flaunting of the law with impunity seemingly has. Time will tell, indeed.