The Revenge of Mortimer Snerd

  • Posted: March 1, 2021
  • Category: Politics
  • 1 Comment
Print Friendly, PDF & Email
Print pagePDF pageEmail page

What is a retired gentleman, and I use the term advisedly, to do about the bewildering montage of the bizarre lately befallen our beloved Republic? With far too much time on my hands, and I admit to guarding those minutes like a miser with his pennies, my life long habit of following the news fuels a vision of The Fates, capricious goddesses rolling the dice of our fortunes. I can see those sisters of destiny licking their lips in anticipation of the imminent arrival of their feral cousin, Chaos. I see our feckless leaders banging sticks on fences where sleeping dogs lie, throwing rocks into the caves where ravening wolves are deep in slumber.

My familiarity with the annals of human history leaves me even more deeply troubled as I monitor the talking heads directing our lives, unable to turn away but aghast at the obtuse blathering masquerading as the talk of serious people. I am shaken by the New York Times, a once revered standard bearer of American journalism as its editorial staff descends into the dark depths of doctrinaire agitprop.

In earlier times even at its best, the NY Times had a soft spot for the idyllic visions of Communist utopia, blinding them to the brutality reality of the Left’s fever dreams. Thus a small smile hidden in the present madness is the delicious irony of the Times now forced to experience the reality of humorless commissars in their own newsrooms, morphing the newspaper into a droll parody of the now defunct Pravda, even more dismally dull than its Soviet mentor.

I have an inescapable sense of impending tragedy, fearing for the futures of my children and grandchildren. Driven to a pedestrian but nevertheless meaningful metaphor, I feel in my stomach the sense of that final second on a rollercoaster’s ascent. I am in the calm of the moment, but the precipitous drop is now both inevitable and at hand.

Our assembly of deliberative men and women, the Congress of the United States, was recently deep in the drama of impeaching a former President – unsuccessfully for the 2nd time. To what end served by this, this farce, was difficult to see. The ominous clouds of war gather, the open floodgates of dollar creation have already lit inflationary wildfires as yet unseen, an avalanche of regulatory overreach threatens life as we know it. And yet the time and attention of our elected representatives has been focused on what can only be called, the Revenge of the Adorable Mortimer Snerds.

Of course, the more astute among us realize this odiferous bubble of Washington’s intestinal gas is only a sideshow, something to keep the rubes occupied while the pickpockets in the crowd go to work. What took the Soviet Ministry of Education decades to achieve, our own Ministry of Silicon Valley did in a matter of weeks. The flurry of Executive Orders along with the on-coming Covid Aid Plan, HR-1, would reshape America, a package warming the heart of bureaucratic oligarch’s everywhere.

It beggars the imagination to believe that the most educated population in the history of the human race might be said to be ignorant, and yet . . . . . .

It is said that –

“Those ignorant of history are doomed to repeat it”

The origin of this quote is attributed to so many sources that one might reasonably assume it an obvious truth, and yet . . .  . . . .  Our current generation seems hell bent on proving both assumptions – our own ignorance as well as the truth of history’s repetition.

The experience of the past four years, endless accusations of barely disguised Fascism in the agenda of Trump and his minions, inevitably draw one’s attention to the enemies of historical Fascism – the Communists. After all, one cannot have yin without yang. As the fascist governments grew in the 1930’s, their mortal ideological enemies paralleled that growth in the Soviet Union. The resemblance of Donald Trump’s Impeachment Trial, both the risible first and the bathos of the second, to the Show Trials of Soviet Russia during those bygone times is impossible to miss.

But indiscriminate use of the epithet, “fascist”, not only debauches its meaning but brings up thoughts of its etymology. Perhaps you had forgotten that I am of the nerd persuasion? (Insert smiley face here.) The term, fascist, despite its abhorrent usage in the 20th Century, is simply a modern rendering of an ancient symbol, the Fasces of Rome. The Fasces consisted of wooden rods bound together encircling an axe. Much like our Seal of Office, the Fasces was the symbolic representation of the Roman Republic’s governmental authority. Public appearances of elected senior governmental figures were accompanied by special attendants known as lictors walking before them bearing the Fasces.

Plunging with mad abandon onto the rabbit trail introduced by such pedantry, one can follow it even further into the thickets. The present impeachment drama of Donald Trump, private citizen, eerily echoes another Show Trial, not the previously mentioned ones of Soviet Russia during the 1930’s, but to another nearly 2,100 years old.

It was the year 63 B. C., a year of severe financial crisis and political unrest for the Roman Republic, one more milestone in the increasing turbulence of the Republic’s final years. Marcus Tullius Cicero had been elected Consul, Rome’s chief executive. Cicero, whose voluminous surviving writings provide virtually the only contemporaneous account we have, was the premier trial lawyer of his time. Articulate and masterful in the public arena of Rome’s Forum, Cicero was also supremely self absorbed, sycophantic in his relationship with Rome’s powerful and as I have always thought, a close approximation of our own Barack Obama.

In the closely contested and bitter consular election of 64 B.C., Cicero had narrowly won out over Lucius Sirgius Cataline, a popular but decidedly unsavory “champion of the poor”. But Cicero’s election did not end the crisis, alleviate the financial and political strains of the time or the intense divisions between the men and the backroom interests they represented. How like our own recent election.

And then – in one of those moments that stand in sharp historical relief, Cicero publicly denounced Catiline before the Roman Senate. Cesare Maccari painted a dramatic depiction of the scene, a print of which hung in my office at work and now has pride of place in my woodshop. Cicero’s oration was a masterpiece. It’s memorable lines, “O Tempori, O Mores!!”, have been quoted ever since, at least until Critical Race Theory replaced Dead White Males in our schools. A roughly translation of Cicero’s words might be – “Oh what times we live in, oh what morality is allowed!”

At least that is what Cicero later published. In his surviving private correspondence, he admitted to editing his actual speeches, perhaps what he should have said rather than what he actually said, a bit like my own writing in that respect. In his speech, Cicero accused Catiline of seeking to assassinate Cicero and his administration, overthrowing the duly elected government of the Republic. Shades of the Capital Riot!

The truth of Cicero’s accusation is still hotly debated today among the rapidly dwindling band of historians not caught up in the conflagration of “wokeness”, hurriedly scurrying deep in their library’s stacks to research learned articles on the racism, white privilege and patriarchy endemic in Rome. Whatever the actual facts were, Cicero, claiming an “emergency”, used his “executive authority” to suspend the basic rights of Cataline and his “supporters”, who were forced to run for their lives.

Temporarily safe out among his supporters in the countryside, dare I say Deplorable Rome, Cataline tried to raise support. Attempting to make present day Adorable/Deplorable comparisons in the Roman Republic is tempting but definitely a bridge too far. However there are strong echoes of Republican Rome in present day America to be sure.

In any case, those few that rallied to Cataline, died along with him. On Dec. 7, 63 B.C, perhaps another Day of Infamy, Cataline was either captured and executed, or in other accounts died bravely, sword in hand. In any case he was dead, his head returned to Rome where it was impaled on a spike in the Forum of Rome, a warning to future “troublemakers”. All of this was done without a trial, without anything more substantive than Cicero’s unsubstantiated accusations.

Enabling the Roman Republic’s long life was its supreme respect for law, for the civil rights of its citizens. A republic that stood for almost five hundred years had a system of law and jurisprudence unmatched in the ancient world. The laws of Rome evolved as time and circumstance changed, as Rome grew from a small farming community to a pre-eminent power stretching from Britain and the Rhine to the Middle East, but that system of laws and government was the guarantee of every Roman citizen.

But now in the First Century before Christ, that system of law had become politicized and corrupted. In modern parlance it had become “weaponized”. Cicero and the Catalina Conspiracy as it came to be known was a flagrant escalation but only the latest in a long series of increasingly serious “irregularities”.

As with any stretching of boundaries, by teenagers or politicians, the ambitious, the unscrupulous or the ignorant will continue to stretch those boundaries. And so it went with Rome. In only a few short years, prosecution of elected officials leaving office became almost a rite of passage in public life. After the Cataline Conspiracy, virtually every elected official in the Roman Republic was prosecuted in the law courts for “malfeasance in office” by their political opponents after their term ended.

Given this rough and patently unfair treatment given to officeholders, a reasonable person might ask, “Why would anyone want to run for political office?” Good question with no real answer. But the constant persecution and threats posed by successful prosecution, did serve to winnow the field of candidates at the same time as hardening those who remained. The men who followed Cicero into the consulship increasingly came to resemble either pigs or wolves.

One such hardened survivor of the Roman political snake pit, definitely of the wolf variety, had been an ambitious younger senator sitting in the back rows listening as Cicero denounced Cataline. It was rumored that this young man was a close friend of Cataline and had been forced to pull a great many strings to prevent his own head from gracing a Forum stake. In any case, one can assume with great certainty that this younger senator learned a lot from this incident, a post-graduate seminar in high stakes politics.

Fourteen years after Cataline’s head graced a spike in the Forum, on a cold January night in northern Italy, this young senator, now a grizzled veteran of war, government and political intrigue played for the highest stakes, pondered his future. Having served as Consul and then Proconsul for the past eleven years, as of the recently passed Jan. 1st he was simply a private citizen, man without the protection of political office. He stood on the bank of the river marking the boundary between Rome and the province of Transalpine Gaul (modern southern France) of which he had been Governor.

He could no longer stay in Transalpine Gaul without being declared an exile, a man without a country. But one could hear the knives of his enemies being sharpened even up here in Gaul. As a younger man it was difficult for me to understand the intense personal hatred that this man drew from his enemies. But the past four years of Donald Trump and Adorable America have given me insight, an understanding that comes only from experience. As soon as this man crossed the river into the Roman homeland, his enemies would stop at nothing to bring him down.

While fame and fortune are the ambition of many, the words and actions of this man always revealed his ambition to be different. He had fame and he had fortune, but he longed to be “primus inter pares”, first among equals and – most importantly – be acknowledged by the “pares” as such. He also had a wicked sense of humor which he used to great effect, pricking the egos of the good and great. In some ways, he resembles our own Donald Trump.

Perhaps that is why he drew such hate. Unlike Trump, it was indeed patently obvious to all that this man was indeed “primus inter pares”, but like Trump, it was indeed patently obvious that a sense of humility was not included in his many gifts. And now, in this January of 49 B.C., the lion must confront the packs of jackals slavering for the revenge of the ordinary over the extraordinary so long delayed.

But this man was not without recourse. Beyond his own considerable abilities as a politician and orator – rivaling even the incomparable Cicero, he had the loyalty of perhaps the finest army Rome ever fielded, complementing his own historic talents as a general.

Even now, this army’s new commander – Lucius Domitius Ahenobarbus, a man of distinguished family but decidedly mediocre in his own talents – was on his way north from Rome to replace him. But these hardened veterans of the legions were self-described “his boys”, incredibly loyal, not to Rome but to this man pondering his future on the northern bank of the Rubicon River. He had only to give the word and they would march with him, his personal bodyguard.

But to do so was treason. At the age of 51, he had served Rome faithfully for his entire life. He wore the Corona Civica with pride, Rome’s Medal of Honor for bravery on the battlefield. He could trace his family’s lineage back to Rome’s very founding. To commit a deliberate act of treason would go against everything he had stood for. And it would mean civil war.

And so considering the alternatives, treason or a public trial with a preordained outcome, on the night of January 10, 49 B.C. Gaius Julius Caesar crossed the Rubicon River along with the XIIIth Legion. In Suetonius’s biography of Caesar, he records Caesar’s words crossing the river, “Alea iacta est”. Some translate his words as “The die is cast”. Others translate the phrase as “Toss the dice high”.

Either way, Caesar’s crossing the Rubicon River with the vanguard of his army began a vicious and brutal civil war, a war of brother against brother, father against son. The war stretched across Europe and the Middle East, not ending until the Roman Republic was well and truly dead. Eighteen tragic years later, on Sept. 2, 31 B.C., Julius Caesar’s adopted son and grand-nephew, Octavian ended the 500 year existence of the Roman Republic in a naval engagement at the entrance to the Ambraciot Gulf near the small town of Actium in Greece. Virtually all of the players in the dramas of Cataline’s Conspiracy including Cicero, as well as Caesar and his enemies, had joined Lucius Sirgius Cataline on the far bank of the River Styx.

Rising from the ashes of the Republic like a phoenix was the Roman Empire presided over by this same Octavian, who took the name Caesar Augustus styling himself First Citizen rather than Emperor. This Roman Empire would exist for many more centuries, its eastern capital at Constantinople (Istanbul) continuing until its conquest by the Ottoman Turks nearly fifteen hundred years later in 1453 A.D., but the Roman Empire was a very different place than the Roman Republic.

This road our best and brightest seem determined to travel is well worn. Donald Trump did many good things. He may even have loved his country but he was in fact a scoundrel. And like Julius Caesar, he drove his opponents mad with anger.

Of course comparing Donald Trump to Julius Caesar is that of the noonday sun to a candle. But there will be others. Trump’s enemies are now ascendent, but in the years to come? The tide will turn and the anger will be returned – with interest. Members of the Republican Party already speak of a Republican House in 2022 bringing Kamala Harris up on charges, very similar to those leveled at Donald Trump.

Will decorum and probity, not to mention grace and mercy, once more return to American politics? I hope so, but hope is hard to find. In the past drama of the 2020 Election and Impeachment Farce, I can think of only two individuals acquitting themselves with honor, Mike Pence and Mitch McConnell, and they will probably pay a high price for it. As in the Rome of Cicero and Caesar as well as the Chicago Cubs of Leo Durocher, “nice guys finish last”. One suspects that even now, some young wolf is watching, learning, planning.

The Apostle Paul gave those of us seeking a peaceful life good advice for such a time as this – or for any time. Rather than watch this tragic season unfold on Fox or CNN, he advises us to:

“Finally brothers, whatever things are true, whatever things are noble, whatever things are just, whatever things are pure, whatever things are lovely, whatever things are of good report, if there is any virtue and if there is anything praiseworthy – meditate on these things. The things which you learned and received and heard and saw in me, these do, and the God of peace will be with you.”

Good advice Paul, and I try to follow it, but it is easier said than done. I do desire “the God of peace to be with me”, but I pray also for peace in my land. And I fear I must contend with my own need to rattle a small stick against the picket fence of the woke toy poodles imagining themselves to be fierce sheep dogs. As you can see, even now I cannot stop.

Pondering the agonies of this country I hold so dear, I am saddened even as I try to follow Paul’s admonishment. I find great comfort in listening to a song now popular on Christian radio, especially its repeated chorus; Tasha Layton and “Into the Sea”

“Though the mountains may be moved into the sea

Though the ground beneath might crumble and give way

I can hear my Father singing over me

“It’s gonna be ok, it’s gonna be ok””

 

 

 

One Response to “The Revenge of Mortimer Snerd”

  1. Chip Burkett says:

    A wonderful read, sir. God bless you and yours!

Leave a Reply to Chip Burkett Cancel reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

  • Email Updates

  • Categories

  • What I’m Reading

    What I’m Reading

    The Twelfth Department
    By William Ryan

    What happens when we forget, or never bothered to learn, what we believe in and why we believe? What happens when the emotional whirls of Facebook and Twitter are the depths of our understanding? Evil, great evil, is regularly found lurking in the unexamined depths of good intentions. Mathew Arnold put our present political climate in memorable words years ago:

    And we are here as on a darkling plain
    Swept with confused alarms of struggle and flight,
    Where ignorant armies clash by night

    Novels, good stories, provide a lens to see life, including our beliefs, without camouflage. As an example, JRR Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings trilogy is one of the finest Bible commentaries ever written. Progressive political ideals may lack in recent electoral success, but have undisputed possession of today’s moral high ground. And while death and taxes may be the only sure bets, the eventual victory of those holding the high ground have very good odds in any battle.
    And so fiction provides a look at eventual victories. There is no question that the outlines of today’s progressive agenda can be clearly seen in other times and places. William Ryan takes us to a time and place fondly imagined, idealized at the time, by the forefather’s of todays progressive leadership. In The Twelfth Department, we see a police captain in 1930’s Moscow. Captain Alexei Korolev is just a man trying to be a good father, a good citizen, a good police officer. In many ways Alexei is a fortunate man, with a good reputation and many more material advantages than the average citizen. But a high profile murder brings him into ambiguous circumstances. The tone of the book is respectful of life in Moscow, with no axes to grind. It is just a portrait of a man trying to do his job, bringing a gruesome killer to justice, among ordinary human beings seeking only to live normal lives in a progressive paradise.

  • Recent Comments