Caligula resides in history as perhaps the most evil Emperor, other than Nero, to ever head the Roman Empire. Born August 31, 12 A.D., he rose to power after the death of Tiberius Caesar on March 16, 37 A.D. According to most ancient historical accounts, the first several months of Caligula’s rule were marked by great prosperity, including giving raises in pay to soldiers, ending treason trials, and initiating tax reform.
However, things changed in 37 A.D., when Caligula was either poisoned or became ill. After his recovery, he made his mark as an insane, bloodthirsty beast, having anyone he deemed a threat to his rule put to death outright, including many of his own family members. He imagined himself a god, sometimes being referred to as Jupiter, the supreme god of Roman mythology. Caligula was also known for his sexual deviancy, committing incest with his three sisters and, according to surviving historical texts, prostituting them out to other men.
In modern times, the world has seen its share of dictators, authoritarians, and heads of state with very active cults of personality. Kim-jong Un. Rodrigo Duterte. Vladimir Putin. Pol Pot. Joseph Stalin. Adolf Hitler. The world rightly denounces these monsters, and through sanctions have weakened the influence they could have on the world at large. And for decades, most if not all Americans would shun the idea of any type of dictatorship ever reaching our freedom-loving shores. After all, our three Branches of government–Judicial, Legislative, and Executive–are supposed to serve as checks and balances, ensuring no Branch can be above the law, abuse their power, or become derelict in their sworn duty to uphold and defend the Constitution. By design, the Executive Branch is supposed to hold the least amount of power of the three, being unable to make law in and of itself.
But what happens when a President is elected who has absolutely no desire to abide by the rule of law? What kind of functioning government can exist when the Legislative Branch, with a party staring down the barrel of their own political irrelevance in a changing country as its majority, refuses to do its duty to be a check on the power the Executive has at its disposal? What freedoms and rights can be preserved and codified when the Judicial Branch of government refuses to interpret the law fairly, instead being full of people altogether willing to do the Executive’s bidding?
Enter one Donald John Trump, who to the dismay of the Founders of this Nation, has brought us to the point where none of our institutions are willing to serve as a check and balance to Executive power. Indeed, the Legislative and Judicial Branches seem all too willing to enable this beast, and elevate Trump to a position of power unheard of in this country: that of an autocrat. To borrow from Scripture, Trump is fast becoming a law unto himself.
Yesterday, former CIA Director John O. Brennan’s security clearance was unilaterally revoked by the President, in blatant retaliation for being one of Trump’s most high-profile critics. In a tweet, Trump also listed several other people whose security clearances he threatened, with an official enemies list to boot. From the New York Times:
[Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee] Sanders said the president was also considering yanking the security clearances of other former officials and one current Justice Department official, all of whom have angered the president. The group includes Michael V. Hayden, the former head of the National Security Agency who was made C.I.A. director under George W. Bush; Susan Rice, a national security adviser under Mr. Obama; James R. Clapper Jr., the former director of national intelligence under Mr. Obama; and Ms. [Sally Q.]Yates.
Others who no longer have a clearance might lose the ability to have it reinstated, the president warned. Mr. Comey and Mr. McCabe, neither of whom currently have a security clearance, are part of the list.
It is not enough to point out Trump’s extreme racism, his insane quest to end any and all Obama-era policy, or his hatred of media coverage he deems unfavorable to him and his cultish base. By revoking the security clearance of John Brennan, and threatening those of others who were part of the investigation into his now-obvious ties to the Russian government, Trump has become an American dictator, faithfully executing the duties assigned to him by his Soviet handlers with great relish. Not only has this illegitimate president obstructed justice in broad daylight, he and his cabinet have put in danger the most important of our institutions: the First Amendment.
Throughout American history, we have had overt racists (Woodrow Wilson), corrupt crooks (Richard Nixon), slave owners (Thomas Jefferson), and ethnic cleansers (Andrew Jackson) in office. We have had true patriots and statesmen who have served in the White House as well. But none ever had the tilt towards true authoritarianism that Donald Trump so espouses. His unilateral policies, including the dismantling of nearly everything Barack Obama did to protect the working class and the disadvantaged, have exposed him as petulant and childish, with no regards for the rule of law.
Our existence as a true democracy is in danger. As Trump accrues more power, and the country at large becomes increasingly desensitized to his boorish, reprehensible behavior, the more our liberties are left in peril. In order for this country to remain true to its promise to be a place of liberty and justice for all, the American people must soundly reject this slouch towards authoritarianism at the ballot box, and demand the Legislative Branch take up its duty to be a check and balance against this administration.
The freedoms we enjoy depend on it.