The connection between Kyle Rittenhouse’s trial and Julius Caesar’s rise

If you accept the indisputable fact that the U.S. republic is modeled on the Roman republic and that the two republics are sufficiently similar that we can draw historic lessons, then the question we should all be asking ourselves today is this: what caused the fall of the Roman republic?

People often conclude that Julius Caesar caused the fall of the republic, as if you could go back in time, assassinate him as a young man, and change history.  We see this idea expressed in fictional films about the assassination of Hitler.  But Caesar, like Hitler, was only a symptom of the political environment and not the cause.

Caesar was the culmination of a populist movement that began with Rome's first populist politician, the legendary Tiberius Gracchus, when he brought forth controversial land reform legislation.  This populist movement continued through his brother Gaius, through Marius, and then through Caesar.  This period lasted nearly 100 years and was filled with unprecedented political turmoil and repeated, violent civil wars.  When Caesar finally declared himself dictator for life in 44 B.C., a people who had known only civil unrest felt a sense of relief.

I submit that the cause of the fall of the Roman republic was state-sanctioned political violence, which began in 133 B.C., when the Senate and the mob it directed violently killed Tiberius Gracchus and nearly 300 of his supporters.  Up to that point, for hundreds of years, political violence was an unacceptable tool in the Roman republic's political institutions.  Thereafter, using mob justice gained much wider acceptance and became an important tool to accomplish political outcomes.

We are told that January 6 was a turning point for the U.S.  I disagree.  Though opinions differ widely on the meaning and significance of the events at the Capitol on January 6, no one disputes that once the protest escalated beyond control, the government acted decisively to quash it and dealt severe punishments.  The message was clear: this will not be tolerated.

Image: Kenosha burns in August 2020. YouTube screen grab.

I submit that the actual turning point (the beginning of the fall of the republic) started last year with the BLM riots — from Portland to Seattle to Minneapolis to Kenosha to Louisville to Atlanta and to many other cities across America.  This wasn't the first time we saw rioting in American history, but it was the first time we saw the governments allow riots to go unchecked.  This was the formal introduction of state-sanctioned violence against American citizens for political outcomes.  

These riots terrified the citizenry and resulted in several murders and maiming as well as billions of dollars in property damage.  While the state institutions enforced lockdown orders related to COVID, these same institutions provided special exceptions to allow the riots.  Many state officials glorified and encouraged the riots, legitimizing them as civil protests.  State and local governments did not attempt to secure law and order, did not offer protection to the citizens, but instead proclaimed allegiance to the rioters.

Since 2016, there has been a growing trend by politicians and media alike to paint any political opponent as a racist or a "deplorable" not worthy of polite society.  The trend has been to marginalize and delegitimize half the country.  Political violence is a natural progression.  We recall Maxine Waters urging mobs to "stay on the street" and "get more confrontational" during the George Floyd trial.  In one famous speech, she urged people to harass opposing politicians: "If you see anybody from that Cabinet in a restaurant, in a department store, at a gasoline station, you get out and you create a crowd and you push back on them, and you tell them they're not welcome anymore, anywhere!"

It is debatable whether the Democrat Party saw this form of political violence as the necessary means to bring an end to another populist leader who shall remain nameless in this post.  But it is indisputable that this sanctioned mob violence is now commonly used as a tool to intimidate and influence other political institutions such as the Judiciary.  Our justice system is founded on the idea that an impartial jury of a defendant's peers will administer justice based on credible evidence.  But we are seeing more and more how political violence and intimidation are used to thwart a jury's impartiality, most recently with the trial of Kyle Rittenhouse.  And because this case in particular involves the trial of a citizen who acted to protect and serve where the government had prevented the police from doing so, many are concerned that this case could set precedent for what constitutes the appropriate punishment for resisting state-sanctioned violence.

So the question remains: where do we go from here?  Can we rely on our institutions to bring sanity and stability back?  It's an important question.  When the institutions sanction the very harm they were established to protect us from, how can we be expected to rely on them?

If you agree with the premise that human nature is the one constant throughout history, then you must agree that history is our guide.  We must learn the lessons of the Roman republic.  In my view, there is still time to change course.  But we must recognize that political violence is the issue, that it is unacceptable, and that it needs to be addressed urgently.

Postscript: I finished writing this moments before the Rittenhouse verdict.  That verdict supports an argument that there is hope.

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