His inexperience followed after a philosopher/intellectual leader who while being amazingly successful at maintaining the land’s essential values and ideals, was often involved in conflicts at the edge of his realm which kept him away from solving the country’s main issues at home. But he was well loved and had a reputation for standing up for the heart of his country. The country had been involved for years in border disputes, conflicts and generally difficult challenges in its trade relationships. But it was growing and sharing its successes as it spread across the lands. The philosopher leader maintained the best of his country’s ideals. This old leader was steady and thoughtful and rarely wasted money.
The country had a very entrenched legislative body. Their main method for being part the legislature was how successful they were at managing extreme wealth with support from donors while maintaining their own power base at each of their individual estates, which was spread throughout the country. Trade was steaming along, people paid taxes on trade, and the elder statesmen generally supported the supreme leader’s commands. While the legislature was entrenched, they at least got things done and represented their constituents well. The people were cared for in general.
But then the inexperienced supreme leader came to power when the elder philosopher statesman died. The legislators were already lining up against him before his reign began, warning the previous leader that his heir was unqualified. But once the inexperienced leader took over, the legislators quickly supported him, even though he refused to listen to their advice. If they did not support him, these representatives were replaced by yes men who supported the supreme leader. This young leader stacked the government with his own people who agreed with him or just used him for favors.
The young leader based his rule on spectacles and grand events where he would declare what was true whether it was or not. He published his own words in direct opposition to the news of the day, and suppressed anything that did not agree with his view. He raised statues and monuments to his own name up to and including changing the names of famous buildings, streets, cities and even months of the year to include his own precious name.
He pulled away from protecting the borders from enemy incursions in favor of business at home, where he made sizable income because everyone was required to get his approval for contracts. He began to see aspects of his country as wild, untamable and foreign rather than the tradition of honoring diversity throughout his empire. He trusted a very small group of close advisors all of who were on the take in some manner. He ended up killing them off as they betrayed him. These advisors went so far as to remove or kill off much of the lower government’s opposition through corruption or shady deals.
Ultimately the only thing this inexperienced leader had was his public spectacles which he planned in great detail to make himself look good to the general public. As time went on, he became a player in his own games and events so the people would cheer him on all the more. He became the consummate actor while robbing everyone economically of their wellbeing. The rich became richer while the poor suffered all the more. Throughout his reign plagues broke out, starvation was rampant and public works broke down. His response was to blame others and create scape goats all to feed his expensive spectacles and displays of false power. He rarely listened to the truth. His words became truth, reality and law. He eventually declared himself a god, and son of a god, and savior of the people.
This leader was ultimately overthrown by his own ego. He was killed by his own friends and lover. Historians count him as the worst of all this empire’s leaders and ultimately the beginning of the fall of his country, culture and way of life which eventually led to what became called the dark ages.
His name was Emperor Commodus of the Roman Empire.
After him, the empire went through a succession of bad and even worse emperors. The bar was set, so why not reach higher! There was an increase in blame for everything wrong on sub-cultures and new religions. This decline and oppression of sub-groups and cultures took another 140 years before the empire was split and then later Rome fell to invasion from the very group that Commodus refused to pay attention to from the north and east.
I write because this story is so familiar to students of political history. Historical memory records the same story government after government, culture after culture, time after time. A culture becomes stale in the manner in which it chooses its leaders, the system becomes overloaded with an entrenched bureaucracy, and the people become overwhelmed by constant corruption such that the least common denominator takes all their focus – the common spectacle. For Commodus the spectacle was becoming a gladiator in the Colleseum. In all cases throughout history, there is a leader who digresses into self-absorbtion and self-importance. This leads to a general collapse in the government and culture from within.
We stand on the cliff right now. Our Marcus Aurelius is leaving office, his general philosophical and reflective mood being replaced by the spectacle of our -modern day Commodus. Our Senators, entrenched and incapable of real policy making any more, are lining up in teams and taking sides with or against the emperor of our day. The closest advisors are being appointed and are nothing more than cronies from the same business as the emperor himself. We are paying little attention to the reality of our borders and scuffling about the imagined threats. We are ignoring the enemies at the gates and calling them friends. We are deluding ourselves about the reality of our economic system and the perception of made up words about the state of the world.
All of these things are warning bells to the student of history. Commodus would be proud of our current imperial family. He would be cheering in hopes of the next spectacle and fanfare from the common people. He would revel in the distractions.
But remember, Commodus became the name for an object we use every day, the commode… and upon which we sit in reminder that he was just that bad as a leader.
One can only wonder what will be named the Trump.