If he is elected President in November, Donald Trump will be the first of a succession of American Caesars. The blueprint for why he is popular and what this portends for the American Empire can be read in the fate of Rome.
The City of Rome was a republic for hundreds of years, until the rent-seeking culture took hold. That was when civil society started to come apart. Corruption was institutionalised. The rule of law fell into disrepute, and it was only a matter of time before governance became the plaything of authoritarian personalities with overblown egos.
The reign of the Caesars was based on the cult of personal power; but the economic underpinnings of that phase of dissolution is key to understanding what happened then, and why it is unfolding now.
The pillage of the people began as an internal phenomenon, with free peasants losing their lands to those who appointed themselves as nobles. As the landless flowed into the city, the unemployed had to be preoccupied with bread-and-circuses. The Caesar syndrome provided the means for containing the mob. It did so by reaping yet more rents.
With all the home-grown rents under their control, the Caesars had to turn outwards for more spoils. Thus was launched the phase of empire-building. Territories were captured, from which to extract the rents that could fund the bread-and-circuses back home. This set in train the process that would lead to the inflow of the barbarians – economic migrants – and the Sack of Rome. From then on, the fall of the western half of the empire was unstoppable.
And so to the present.
The pre-conditions for a take-over of power in the West have been in the making for at least a century. It was just a matter of time before a Donald Trump-type personality would emerge, displaying all the characteristics of the narcissism that characterised Rome in its phase of decadence.
It is no accident that Trump is the archetype land speculator. Rent-seeking is our dominant cultural doctrine. In the UK, it’s called “getting on the property ladder”. Many people feel uncomfortable when they heard Trump utter his inanities, but they do not link his demeanour to the something-for-nothing culture of rent privatisation.
Trump’s is a bid for personal power. He is not interested in the discipline imposed by the Republican Party. He keeps reminding us that he is his own man. He used his own money – made from land speculation – to fund his bid for high office. He has made it clear he will not conform to conventional party politics. He wants power to “Make American Great Again”. This resonates with working class whites who have lost their secure, well-paid industrial jobs; with the footloose “trailer trash” families desperate for the leadership of a Strong Man; and with the middle class folk whose spending power has been diminishing for the past three decades.
If Trump triumphs in November, he will end the American Dream. Few people will notice, for he will launch a massive programme of bread-and-circuses. The mob will have to be kept quiescent as he launched forth on the construction of a new territorial empire. From where else could he draw the rents that American needs to keep its rent-seeking culture afloat?