Power is hard-won and not easily handed over. History is littered with victims of the transfer of power; sometimes, these are other aspirants to the throne, ministers, or military men. Sometimes, it is the people, the innocents, who merely supported one person over another.
A media tempest is brewing, demanding that President Trump relinquish his throne and accept Joe Biden as his successor. We are told by gasping pundits that Donald Trump is refusing to hand over the power that has been taken from him in a legitimate vote and that by refusing to do so, he endangers the very Republic.
Not Yet President-Elect
Casting aside the hyperbole for a moment, the Electoral College electors have not yet cast their votes, and numerous lawsuits are underway across the country. No matter how many media outlets refer to Joe Biden as the “president-elect,” and no matter how many backdrops the former VP stands in front of emblazoned with the words “office of the president-elect,” the Democrat candidate does not yet hold that title.
Has Donald Trump refused to handover power that is no longer his? In the words of the late Ruth Bader-Ginsburg: “The president is elected for four years, not three years, so the power he has in year three continues into year four.”
Even if Joe Biden has won the election fair and square, he is not yet the president and does not become the president-elect until the exact same process that has happened every four years plays out. That his surrogates so desperately want to shirk both tradition and law perhaps tells us something that may not have been apparent; they stink of desperation.
Those of a more conspiratorial mindset might presume that those behind the Joe Biden presidency need to cut off power to the president before he can invoke Mark Antony’s plea upon the death of Caesar “cry ‘Havoc!’ and let slip the dogs of war.”
Although these were Shakespeare’s words, the Roman Republic (and later Empire) provides us a wonderful example of what can happen when power changes hands. Though the circumstances of Caesar’s assassination are well known, the aftermath is something we rarely hear discussed.
A Cautionary Tale From Rome
When Marcus Brutus and his brother-in-law, Cassius Longinus, began plotting the murder, they sought to build a coalition, a group of respected senators and officials to take part in order to show that it was not petty revenge for Caesar’s relationship with their mother, Servilla. They thought that with a united front, the people of Rome would accept that Julius Caesar had to go. What their cohort of conspirators didn’t count on was the backlash.
The conspirators, who said their reason for killing Caesar was to save the Republic, were responsible for its downfall. Romans were furious that this small group of elites conspired and brought down their popular leader. Mark Antony sought to harness this anger and use it to bring down the political faction known as the Optimates. And this may well have happened if it weren’t for Caesar naming his grandnephew Gaius Octavius as his heir.
Octavius went to war using the enormous inheritance and the political power he could call upon by forming the second Triumverate of himself, Antony, and General Lepidus. The second civil war began. Antony and Octavius took their 45 legions and utterly destroyed the opposition, leaving the conspirators either dead or removed. But at what cost to the Republic?
Eventually, Octavius adopted the name Caesar Augustus, and with it, became the first Emperor of Rome. The very term “Emperor” comes from “imperator,” which meant “successful general.” The Republic was no more.
“Nearly all men can stand adversity, but if you want to test a man’s character, give him power,” said Abraham Lincoln, and he wasn’t wrong. When power is gained – either through honest means, trickery, or even brute force – the true nature is revealed. Wielding power strips away the facades, the different layers of spin that have been built up, and show the real faces of those in power.
What Is Power?
In America, we have leaders who espouse peace and international cooperation, yet they allow themselves to be led into wars or continue ongoing wars when elected. Imagine a politician facing the public in the run-up to the election and saying: “I will, as probability shows, lead us into another war for which nobody voted. Also, I will continue to engage our forces in theaters that we have no way of actually winning.” Good luck getting elected on that platform. Yet this is what reality gives us – almost every time.
The Nobel Peace Prize was awarded to Barack Obama. He ramped up indiscriminate drone murders to an unprecedented level and had American troops engaged in theaters worldwide with no sign of them coming home. He used the Espionage Act to harass journalists and the IRS to go after political opponents. Yet, he is still regarded as a man of peace by those who wish to capitalize on his legacy.
The Greek philosopher Plato wrote that “The measure of a man is what he does with power.” Well, our leaders have been measured, and they are found wanting.
There’s an old gag about Stalin and Krushchev. Knowing that his time left in office was short and that Nikita Krushchev would soon be assuming the mantle, Joseph Stalin offered his successor some help. He handed him two letters and said: “Open letter one when things seem bad, the first time you are facing serious trouble. And then, when the second serious crisis comes around, open the second letter.” Khrushchev started off well, but things soon mounted up, problems in every area, so he opened the first letter. All it said was: “Blame everything on me.” So he did – and survived the crisis. A little while later, things were getting bad again, so Krushchev opened the second letter. It said: “write two letters.”
Power is a privilege, but it’s also a burden. As each politician can only blame the past for so long before they must accept their own failings, and, like Marcus Brutus when captured after the Battle of Pillipili, must – metaphorically – fall on their sword. Julius Caesar was told to “Beware the Ides of March,” the 15th of the month; a day when in Roman society, all debts were to be repaid. Those who seek power today had better ensure that when the final bill comes due for their conduct in taking power, they can pay the piper.
Read more from Mark Angelides.