Beware the Ides of March

Some may look around the state of affairs in the United States and say that this country is mirroring “the fall of Rome.” It is a popular parallel to make. In the spirit of the Ides of March, the infamous day which saw Julius Caesar murdered by senatorial conspirators for overstepping his power, InsiderNJ takes a look at Rome and four top-level New Jersey leaders who might mirror some aspects of those figures long since turned to dust. These Romans are now remembered in ancient, chipped marble statues and in the books of countless libraries around the world. How might some of our officials today be remembered by distant generations to come?

First, some context. In the most practical senses, Rome was not like the US, and the US is not like Rome was. Americans have been spared the kind of actual political carnage the Romans endured and, on the whole, live unquestionably healthier, safer, more secure, and freer lives. Rome never had it so good.

The United States has never claimed to be the successor to Rome like other countries such as Russia, Turkey, Austria, and Italy, but the US was unquestionably inspired by the Eternal City. The Founding Fathers adopted many of the principles of the Roman Republic (which later morphed into the Roman Empire), hoping to infuse Enlightenment ideals with classical liberalism, not built around unstable Athenian democracy, but a Roman republican model. This would replace the British parliamentary constitutional monarchy the United States cast off in the Revolutionary War. The United States has adopted many of the symbols and images of the Roman Republic, including laurels, the eagle, the fasces, a Senate (which had been the unicameral legislature of the Roman Republic and Empire), and enthusiastically embraced neo-classical architecture. The president is an elected head of state like the Roman consuls were, and almost always a product of the political class, as all Roman consuls were themselves senators.

The Romans respected the “cursus honorum,” or kind of political office ladder an ambitious and aspiring politician would follow, winning elections to higher offices. The greatest achievement would be to culminate a career with a consulship. Today, we might think of it as working one’s way up the ranks of school board, town council, mayor, General Assembly, State Senate, governor or US Representative, US Senator, and maybe president. To defy this experience-building process could be un-republican. If someone decided to run for a lofty position without having worked up the ranks like the rest, such a person’s motivation or support would be suspect. Did they truly understand how to serve the people, or were they only looking to serve themselves or someone who could leverage power for them? In the worst cases, usurpers who took power and overstayed their constitutional roles asserted themselves by force, ravaging the Roman people until they inevitably met their own ignominious ends.

Rome and the United States have several things in common politically, not the least of which are their origins. Those familiar with Roman history know that the Republic emerged after overthrowing its Etruscan monarchy. The Roman Kingdom ended when the exasperated Romans drove out their abusive king and the Republic was born for the people—if not necessarily of and by the people.

Americans are proud to have a strong nation, and likewise are drawn to leaders who demonstrate “strength,” but they also have an innate distrust of power itself. During the early Roman Republic, the noble ideal of putting country above self was embodied in Cincinnatus. He was a man who was supposedly called from his farm to be a dictator in a time of emergency, led Rome through its dark moment, and immediately resigned his powers after the crisis had passed to return home. His story is that of the consummately virtuous citizen-in-politics, revered by the republican Founding Fathers of the United States and emulated by George Washington, who also refused to take total power for himself when he had an opportunity to do so during the Revolutionary War.

So far, the United States has avoided usurpers, although an unprecedented attempt to prevent the peaceful transition of presidential power took place with the January 6 Insurrection in 2021, a product of one of the most politically polarized periods of American history since the Civil War. The riot—which saw members of Congress of both parties running for their lives while Capitol police fought hand-to-hand with a mob of Trump supporters—was described a year later by the Republican National Committee as “legitimate political discourse.” The RNC did so while censuring Rep. Liz Cheney (R-WY) and Rep. Adam Kinzinger (R-IL) for participating in the House Select Committee on the January 6 Attack.

The Roman Republic was built on the premise that virtuous men leading virtuous people according to constitutional laws would ensure Rome’s liberty. The Roman Republic was founded on the rule of law—laws which 21st Century readers might find deeply flawed, but nevertheless, the law. Citizens were nominally equal before that law. In the Senate, the rights of the people were theoretically protected against the interests and designs of the wealthy by the unquestionable veto power of the tribune of the plebs. The tribune’s body was, in fact, sacred and inviolable. To harm a tribune of the plebs, and by extension the Roman people, was a crime and would surely invoke the scorn of the gods. And if the gods didn’t step up, then the people felt within their rights to exert their own wrath.

As the Roman Republic expanded in its endless wars, victories brought wealth and power which grew quickly, concentrated in the hands of a few. The ruling class was increasingly disconnected from the realities of life which everyone else endured. Discontent and crime rose as senators abused their privileges with impunity in the public eye. Instability ensued as the political apparatus of the republic began to crumble. Dictators emerged as consuls ignored the restraints on their power—the likes of Marius, Sulla, and later Julius Caesar. Proscriptions of political enemies became frequent. Civil war eventually shattered the republic as strongmen emerged: Julius Caesar, a wealthy populist, against Pompey Magnus, a traditional conservative. Pompey’s death in Egypt meant that Caesar’s path to power was clear if only he meant to seize it for himself, riding on a wave of popular support, promising subsidies, entertainment, riches, and a restoration of Roman grandeur. The dictatorship was a legal and constitutional role within the Republic, used for a fixed period in times of extreme or existential emergency. The dictator was also immune from prosecution while serving in that capacity, given a legal blind eye to do whatever was needed to save Rome. Caesar, however, sought to be made Dictator-For-Life, and had finally gone too far.

Caesar was dead but the problems in the Republic remained, and it was only a matter of time before someone else took up his mantle. His heir, Octavian, later known as Augustus, came out victorious in another civil war against Caesar’s former lieutenant, Marcus Antonius, or Marc Antony, lover of the Egyptian Queen Cleopatra. Augustus cleverly and stealthily consolidated absolute power while maintaining the image and function of the Republic. Unlike Julius Caesar, he never called himself a dictator or emperor, but simply the first among equals. In reality, the Republic was dead. The Roman Empire in the west would endure for another four centuries. It transformed from its origins as a pagan theocratic constitutional republic (disguising a military dictatorship) into a Christian theocratic military dictatorship trying to disguise itself as a constitutional republic. Unlike traditional monarchies, where succession is clearly understood along hereditary lines, the enduring republican influence of the Empire’s foundation meant that imperial succession was never a truly codified process. This led to a near-universal power arrangement of “might makes right.” The Empire was a state of men, not of laws. The Founding Fathers wanted to avoid this and employed their collective wisdom toward that end. As a republic, the United States has had its bumps over the centuries, but its institutions have so far proven resilient enough to ensure the peaceful transition of power consistently, despite a recent attempt to the contrary.

US Senator Robert Menendez is strategizing with the Emperor Aulus Vitellius in this InsiderNJ

U.S. Senator Bob Menendez says that he thinks Gov. Phil Murphy is right to make sure that whatever tax incentive program exists for the state benefits the people of NJ. This statement comes after George Norcross filed a lawsuit seeking to have the NJEDA Task Force investigation deemed unconstitutional.
Bob Menendez.

Ides of March tribute. Vitellius was a clever and successful consul and governor who was proclaimed emperor by his soldiers during the chaos of the Year of the Four Emperors, a civil war following the death of Nero and Galba. Like Vitellius in peaceful times, Menendez followed his cursus honorum to the letter, going from Union City School Board to Mayor of Union City, then entering state and later federal politics. He entered the US Senate after the senatorial career of Jon Corzine ended when the latter became governor of New Jersey. Riding high on power, Vitellius, for all his ambition, was said to have enacted some good and enduring policies, but contemporary historians reviled his lifestyle as decadent and proud. Vitellius was never wholly accepted as emperor and his downfall came suddenly, not unlike Menendez’s political career which has been cast down the Gemonian Stairs. He has been abandoned by his allies and surrounded by those looking to take his place. Branded “Gold Bar Bob,” charged with unlawfully receiving gifts and funds, allegedly working for the benefit of foreign powers, Menendez is seeking to make a political last stand as the city burns around him. He is running as an independent to retain his senate seat while his successors-to-be lay siege in the 2024 election. Vitellius is said to have cried, “Yet, I was once your emperor” as his enemies closed in on him. Perhaps Menendez might similarly declare, “Yet, I was once New Jersey’s senior senator” come the ballot tallies in November.

Tom Kean, Sr.

Gov. Tom Kean, Sr. is exchanging ideas with the ghost of Emperor Marcus Aurelius, best remembered as a wise and philosophical emperor who ruled from 161 AD – 180 AD. A Stoic and intellectual, Marcus Aurelius imparted his personal philosophy of self-restraint and moderation to steering the ship of state through extraordinarily difficult times successfully. Kean, a patrician in his own right with family extending back to the Revolutionary War, is a moderate Republican and a Princeton University and Columbia University scholar. Fortunately for all New Jerseyans, as governor, Kean, unlike Marcus Aurelius, did not need to defeat barbarian armies or deal with an empire-wide plague (that would be Governor Murphy dealing with the COVID-19 pandemic). Marcus Aurelius is remembered as a capable and just ruler who did not see Rome as his personal plaything, but regarded his office as a duty, that he was to be a steward and leader for the Empire. Kean served New Jersey with the state’s best interests in mind, winning a landslide election in his second term. He championed the Garden State as a desirable destination for tourism and business, promoted the arts, ably worked with Democratic partners across the aisle, and stood up for justice by divesting New Jersey financial interests in apartheid South Africa. Governor Kean’s insights and comments are sought by journalists and scholars long after his service in elected office has ended. Kean has also been a prolific writer, a trait shared with Marcus Aurelius whose works survive to this day.

Gov. Jon Corzine is sipping Falernian wine with the ghost of Marcus Licinius Crassus. The former

Jon Corzine.

Governor of New Jersey paved his path to the top with gold, perfectly willing to outspend and bury his rivals, harnessing his enormous wealth from his career with Goldman Sachs. Crassus was deemed in his time as the richest man in Rome, having doggedly acquired his wealth in real estate and property speculation. Crassus is said to have uttered, “Greed is but a word jealous men inflict upon the ambitious.” Corzine does not compare with the ruthlessness and callousness of Crassus, but he could stand alongside him as one who could apply his vast financial resources to achieve political gain. Corzine, seeking to succeed the retiring incumbent US Senator Frank Lautenberg, found himself running in a primary against former governor James Florio. Putting $35 million of his own funds into his primary campaign, Corzine was able to sweep the Democratic nomination from the tax-hiking former governor. Moderate Republican Bob Franks, running against Corzine and his progressive platform had accused him of “trying to buy the election” and promoting “big government spending programs.” As Crassus was grimly determined to win at all costs, employing his fortune or his armies as needed, Corzine marshalled up $62 million for his Senate election, just eking out a win with 50.11%, the most expensive US Senate campaign ever. He would spend another $38 million in his bid for governor in 2005, beating Republican Doug Forrester who had burned up $19 million.

Phil Murphy.

Gov. Phil Murphy is debating the nature of legacy with the Gracchi brothers. Tiberius and Gaius Gracchus are best remembered as reformer tribunes whose effects are the subject of significant debate. In the past, they were deemed as radicals whose political and land reforms to theoretically benefit the poorest citizens actually destabilized the Republic at a time of rural population decline. Historians since have been moderating their assessments. Gov. Murphy came to power on a progressive platform following the implosion of Gov. Chris Christie’s popularity, a factor which harmed Lt. Gov. Kim Guadagno in her race against the well-heeled big-government Democrat. Murphy promised “fully funded” schools, to broaden access for community colleges, and a host of progressive policies ranging from social justice to environment. However, like the more modern examinations of the Gracchi brothers’ advocacy and political reform, there is doubt as to how effective the governor’s policies have actually been for the state’s worst-off, where the cost of living and housing remains at a historic high. Only the distance of time will allow a more honest assessment of the Murphy Years, but the governor’s handling of the COVID-19 pandemic will forever be a chapter of New Jersey’s history. Progressive policies and allegations of sexism in his campaign took a backseat when Murphy took on the greatest public health crisis in the state within a century. As the Gracchi were accused of trying to undermine the Senate, Republicans accused Murphy of undermining the financial well-being of the state, passing the largest budgets in its history. The governor will also be remembered as the first Democrat to win re-election since Brendan Byrne and exerting such power over the Democratic Party itself as to set up the First Lady, who has not held public office before, on a campaign to displace US Senator Robert Menendez.

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7 responses to “Beware the Ides of March”

  1. Unfortunately, the New Jersey players are all criminals. Menendez has been bribed for foreign influence. Corzine somehow lost $2 BILLION DOLLARS under his Governor’s watch. Bet you a lot of that money went to Democrat campaigns, the state Democrat Party, and the DNC. And, Governor Phil KNUCKLEHEAD Murphy was the worst. He shut down the state’s economy during the pandemic lock-downs crushing the economy–especially small businesses, while states like Florida remained open and flourished. Murphy kept saying He was “following the science”. Well, the truth is out and it wasn’t science. It was science fiction and corruption in its highest form. He arrested and jailed people, and closed their businesses if they went against his tyrannical orders. And, he had a nurse (not even a doctor) running his Dept. of Health. What a joke!!!! Then Murphy blew over $1 BILLION DOLLARS in taxpayers’ monies on a failed offshore wind farm, while murdering dozens of whales and dolphins. He attempted to gut the 2nd Amendment with his Gun Control tyranny–which of course, was in violation of his constitutional oath of office to uphold, support & defend the U.S. Constitution–which includes the 2nd Amendment. His gun control is nothing more than a panacea for failed Democrat crime control. Democrats don’t blame the criminals and the crime; they blame the gun (an inanimate instrument that needs humans to pull the trigger in self-defense against criminals and government criminals). Won’t even talk about Murphy’s failures to cut the education taxes out of property taxes by more than 50% or 100%. And, won’t talk about Murphy’s new budget jumping $10 BILLION DOLLARS, while he gives illegal aliens-criminals $4-$5 BILLION/YEAR in free healthcare, free schooling, free housing, free legal services, free food stamps, free $6,000/month “mad money”, etc. Illegal aliens are already costing NJ hospitals and the National healthcare system BILLIONS in unpaid bills.

    Where is Brutus when you really need him??????

  2. Get a job, “Thomas Jefferson.” Spew your hate among your own, Neanderthal kind. Stop poisoning the comment section on this page with your nativist tripe and misinformation and lies. Did YOU lose anyone close to you during the pandemic? Do you know anyone who died due to covid? Did YOU practice safe practices like social distancing, wearing a mask? Re-read our 2nd Ammendment. It is PEOPLE WHO SERVE IN A WELL-REGULATED MILITIA that truly have the 2nd Ammendment right to “keep and bear arms.”

  3. Dr. Anthony Fauci fessed up during recent congressional testimony, that it turns out the six-feet social distancing rule had no scientific basis. He stated the development of the rule – “it sort of just appeared.”
    “Dr. Fauci acknowledged that the lab leak hypothesis is not a conspiracy theory.” This admission is four years after publishing the “Proximal Origin” paper, which he found impossible to defend the conclusion of the publication while simultaneously acknowledging that a lab-leak is possible.
    “Dr. Fauci admitted that America’s vaccine mandates during the COVID-19 pandemic could increase vaccine hesitancy in the future.” When the President makes a public announcement to our great nation that the vaccine will prevent you from getting or spreading COVID-19, all while knowing that was not true; I believe that is called “misinformation.” And the war between the vaccinated and non- vaccinated began.
    Dr. Michael Osterholm, very early on in 2020 , along with many other scientific minds, knew that the virus was being spread by the airborne route – the virus was a very tiny aerosol. Meaning by just breathing air, air that would move through a large room one had limited protection if any by wearing a porous cloth mask. “And yet we had many continue to use surgical masks, the kind of masks that are not tight fitting around the face. And while they may have thought they were protected or that they were protecting others, they really weren’t.” The masks became, nothing more than a security blanket and a foolish fashion statement, for many. And as the President stated with fury –
    ” Wearing a mask was a symbol of patriotism.”
    Dr. Osterholm , the director of the Center for Infectious Disease Research and Policy and an appointed member of the Transition COVID-19 Advisory Board to the President-elect Joe Biden, stated that we have lost a lot of trust from the public because we were not being truthful when we should have said we don’t know. And that is the most important lesson – the critical nature of humility.
    Augustus was a humble ruler, and seeker of preserving republic values. He lived,” a modest and frugal life,” and never actually claimed the emperor title for himself. Augustus restored peace and prosperity to the Roman state. Where is our Augustus now?

  4. O.Henry exposes himself as the Leftist-Communist “useful idiot” that he is. He starts with the name-calling calling me and 100 MILLION other American voters on the RIGHT side, Neanderthals. I am only responding to his personal ad hominem attack. As for losing anyone to the pandemic, yes I did. I lost my business partner. He fought it off 3 times and succumbed to COVID. I lost several friends, including one who was a health fanatic that watched what he ate, watched his weight, worked out, golfed 18 holes every day, ran 5K marathons, swam a lot, and was in excellent health. He happened to take the Pfizer vaccine. Two days after taking the vaccine, he was dead from it. Blood clots in his heart and arteries. After that I stopped wearing a mask, when the truth started coming out that it was totally ineffective and gave people a false sense of security. Same went for social distancing, since it was a fraudulent construct.

    I know you’re a left-wingnut when you say that the Second Amendment (Amendment is spelled with one “m” not 2 “m”s as you spelled AMMendment) is only for “PEOPLE WHO SERVE IN A WELL-REGULATED MILITIA that truly have the 2nd Ammendment right to “keep and bear arms.”” The U.S. Supreme Court already ruled that the SECOND AMENDMENT is an INDIVIDUAL RIGHT THAT CANNOT BE INFRINGED a multitude of times. Read the SCOTUS cases of D.C. v. Heller, MacDonald v. Chicago, Caetano v. Massachusetts, and NYSRPA v. Bruen. They all say the 2nd Amendment is an INDIVIDUAL RIGHT that cannot be Infringed, that everyone has the right to bear the commonly used firearms of the day (including AR-15s, AK-47s and the like; which there are over 25 Million of them in use in the U.S.A.).

    O.Henry, you exposed yourself as the “useful idiot” that you are. No turning back now. Keep on spewing your left-wing propagandist hate. We will monitor it, and will respond to it.

  5. It figures that a so-called business man who can’t accept reality would stoop to wrongly calling a progressive individual a communist. So I lose an argument on the 2nd Amendment because I added an extra m. Yeah. Sure. Your insurrectionist ex-President did not even receive 75 million votes in 2020, yet you would stuff those ballot boxes if you could to give him a hundred million this time around? So how many people have you treated fairly in your business dealings? If you have employees, how do you treat them? Do you stiff contractors? I truly am sorry for you and the other friends and relatives of your business partner and the other individual who died from Covid. There certainly were some unfortunate issues with the one-shot dose, with particularly young males. How old were these two individuals? It is true that Baseball Great Hank Aaron died within days of receiving a COVID shot. It is also true that he was well in his 80’s when he died.

  6. O.Henry: A little history: Progressive = Leftist = Socialist =Communist. Soviet Union Dictator Vladimir Lenin said: “The goal of Progressivism is Communism”. He went on and said of the promotion of Communism: “Progressives are ‘useful idiots’ for the promotion of Communism”.

    Please provide all of us the proof that President Donald Trump was ever charged, tried or convicted of insurrection. We’ll wait.

    Your personal attacks on my business and business acumen are laughable. Shows that you never had a business or ran a business, so you don’t know what you speak of.

    Those that were close to me that died from COVID were between 50 and 70. They were both given the vaccines–that were supposed to cure COVID.

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