The 95th post from the Journal of American Greatness originally published in May, 2016.
Friar knocks us—we mean that in a friendly way, as he is a friend of JAG—for inappropriately comparing Trump to Sulla. We fear that he misunderstood our point, or that we made it with insufficient clarity, or both. So let us clarify.
The more apt comparison to Sulla—which we made in an early post—is to Reagan. That might offend Friar even more, but we meant it in a very narrow sense. (And I am indebted to my colleague Plautus for this brilliant, mischievous suggestion.) Reagan was of course (leftist calumnies aside) not the bloodthirsty monster that Sulla was. But he appears to have been, and may turn out to be, the last president who seriously tried to restore the old Constitutional order to its proper functioning. The resemblance to Sulla on that score is unmistakable—as is their joint failure.
In the Sullivan essay to which Friar objects, we mentioned Sulla only twice: the first time, as one of the very few seizers of absolute power who has ever given it up voluntarily; the second time as the first “winner” in Rome’s conflict between the optimati and the populari. Friar seems to think that we meant to compare Trump to Sulla—in method, intent, or something else.
Nothing could have been further from our minds. The first reference was meant to illustrate how rare it is that tyrants ever leave power. If Trump is a would-be tyrant—as many allege—then he is unusual in having shown no sign of wishing to remain in power for life. The second was to show that if America is truly in its “late republican” stage, then Caesarism is inevitable, but which side Caesar will be on is not. The actual Caesar who founded the Roman Empire was of the party of the populari, but he won on a fluke (or to say better, the imprudence of others). And before he won, Sulla—of the opposite party—had won first and resigned, thinking (mistakenly) that he had restored the orders he sought to revive.
None of that is to say that Trump favors proscriptions (though we at JAG could accomplish a lot with George Soros’ money, ahem) or any of the rest of Sulla’s rather nasty methods. It’s just to say: if this is really the end, it’s not inevitable that the anti-Western, anti-American left will become the monarch of the coming degraded imperial age. A “right” whose priority is the interests of the historic American nation might also—and perhaps even more likely—end up in the curile chair.
It’s a depressing thought, to be sure, but these are depressing times. Let’s hope things do not come to that. The implementation of the Greatness Agenda might help to see that they don’t.