Mr. President, Your Toga Is Showing Christopher Buckley | The New York Times

Mr. President, Your Toga Is Showing

Christopher Buckley | The New York Times

President Trump’s assertion of his “genius,” athwart recent reporting that his inner circle describes him in somewhat different terms — “moron”, “idiot”, “like a child” — along with concerns about his mental health, awakened a dormant memory of a scene in the 1970s TV adaptation of Robert Graves’s classic novel of ancient Rome, “I, Claudius.”

The Emperor Caligula, played to deranged and very scary perfection by John Hurt, tells his uncle Claudius: “I’m simply undergoing a change. It’s the most momentous transformation that any human being has ever achieved.”   

Uncle Claudius’s frozen face is right out of Dorothy Parker’s “What fresh hell can this be?” He knows that this “change” portends no joy in Caesarville. But his life at the palace has made him nothing if not an artful survivor. Feigning delighted shock and awe, he tells his nephew: “I was blind not to see it instantly. You’re no longer human! May I be the first to worship you, as a g-g-g-god?”

Caligula replies with a weary air of menacing ennui, “It took you a long time to perceive that I’m no longer human.”

So begins the era of Caligula the God, and what fun it will be.

Mr. Trump’s declaration of his genius was of a piece with the sycophants’ rodeo in the White House cabinet room last June, when his consuls and lictors took turns lavishing praise on him in terms to make even Caesar blush.

Blowing into the pitch pipe, Reince Priebus, then the chief of staff, set the key: “On behalf of the entire senior staff around you, Mr. President, we thank you for the opportunity and the blessing that you’ve given us to serve your agenda and the American people.”

Vice President Mike Pence led the cheerleading with such interjections as, “You’ve restored American credibility on the world stage” and “You’ve spurred an optimism in this country that’s setting records.” All hail!

As the saying goes, history doesn’t repeat itself, but it does often rhyme. Curious, I pulled my Penguin Classics paperback of Suetonius’ “The Twelve Caesars” off the shelf and turned to the Caligula chapter. Let’s go to the text:

He invented besides a new kind of spectacle, such as had never been heard of before. For he made a bridge, of about three miles and a half in length, from Baiae to the mole of Puteoli.

Historians are uncertain whether this floating bridge to nowhere, for the sole purpose of Caligula joy-riding across it in pointless triumph, was ever actually built. They do however agree that it is evidence the emperor wasn’t playing with a full set of marbles. Some might discern a similarity between it and the $18 billion Mexican border wall we may be building, at a time of declining illegal border crossings.

In his temple stood a statue of gold, the exact image of himself, which was daily dressed in garments corresponding with those he wore himself.

See: Tower, Trump; décor of triplex therein; “A Time Magazine With Trump on the Cover Hangs in His Golf Clubs. It’s Fake” (The Washington Post, June 27, 2017).

The most opulent persons in the city offered themselves as candidates for the honor of being his priests, and purchased it successively at an immense price.

See: Priebus, Reince; Ryan, Paul; McConnell, Mitch; Senate, Republican; House, Republican; Mnuchin, Steven; Adelson, Sheldon; Carlson, Tucker; etc.

Being very desirous to have a senator torn to pieces, he employed some persons to call him a public enemy, fall upon him as he entered the senate-house, stab him with their styles, and deliver him to the rest to tear asunder. Nor was he satisfied until he saw the limbs and bowels of the man, after they had been dragged through the streets, piled up in a heap before him.

Good news for Senators Bob Corker and Jeff Flake — it could have been worse! But see: “Donald Trump Has Now Personally Attacked One in Five Republican Senators” (CNN, Oct. 4, 2017).

He aggravated his barbarous actions by language equally outrageous. “There is nothing in my nature that I commend or approve so much,” said he, as his “inflexible rigor.” Upon his grandmother Antonia’s giving him some advice, he said to her, “Remember that all things are lawful for me.”

“Crooked Hillary,” “Rocket Man,” “Dumb as a Rock Mika,” “Psycho Joe,” “Crazy Megan,” “Sloppy Steve,” “Leakin’ James Comey,” “Liddle Bob Corker,” “Al Frankenstien,” “Pocahontas,” etc.

See also, “Trump’s Lawyer Claims He Is Above the Law” (New York magazine, Dec. 4, 2017).

Among many other jests, this was one: As he stood by the statue of Jupiter, he asked Apelles, the tragedian, which of them he thought was biggest.

“This was the largest audience to ever witness an inauguration, period, both in person and around the globe.”(Sean Spicer, White House spokesman, Jan. 24, 2017).

“My hands are too big!” (President Trump, to crowd at a hurricane relief center in Houston, explaining why he cannot put on gloves. Newsweek, Sept.2, 2017).

Ironic footnote: “Caligula” means “little boots.”

“I too have a Nuclear Button, but it is a much bigger & more powerful one than his, and my Button works!”(presidential tweet, Jan. 2, 2018).

He added to the enormity of his crimes by the brutality of his language.

“Shithole countries” (reference to Haiti, El Salvador and African nations, Jan. 11, 2018).

“Get that son of a bitch off the field right now. Out!” (suggestion for how N.F.L. owners should deal with protesting players, in speech, Sept. 22, 2017).

“I said, ‘Who the hell wants to speak about politics when I’m in front of the Boy Scouts?’ Right?” (speech to Boy Scouts of America, July 24, 2017).

See also: “Pussy, grab them by.”

In his behavior toward men of almost all ages, he discovered a degree of jealousy and malignity equal to that of his cruelty and pride.

“Donald Trump’s Worst Offense? Mocking Disabled Reporter, Poll Finds” (Bloomberg, Aug. 10, 2016).

“Donald Trump’s Cruel Streak: For Decades, the Candidate Has Willfully Inflicted Pain and Humiliation” (The Atlantic, Sept. 26, 2016).

He often talked of the lawyers as if he intended to abolish their profession. “By Hercules!” he would say, “I shall put it out of their power to answer any questions in law, otherwise than by referring to me!”

Donald Trump “is openly calling for the Department of Justice, which he controls, to put his political opponents in jail.” (The New Yorker, Jan. 2, 2018).

“‘Very Frustrated’ Trump Becomes Top Critic of Law Enforcement” (The New York Times, Nov. 4, 2017).

He was tall, of a pale complexion, ill-shaped, his neck and legs very slender, his eyes and temples hollow, his brows broad and knit, his hair thin, and the crown of the head bald. The other parts of his body were much covered with hair. His countenance, which was naturally hideous and frightful, he purposely rendered more so, forming it before a mirror into the most horrible contortions.

“President Trump Staffers Claim He Scowls and Squints in Photos Because He Thinks It Makes Him Look Tough ‘Like Winston Churchill’” (, March 22, 2017).

What most of all disordered him was want of sleep, for he seldom had more than three or four hours rest in a night …

“Donald Trump’s 4-Hour Sleep Habit Could Explain His Personality” (Daily Beast, April 2, 2016).

… and even then his sleep was not sound, but disturbed by strange dreams, fancying, among other things, that a form representing the ocean spoke to him. Being, therefore, often weary with lying awake so long, sometimes he sat up in his bed, at others, walked in the longest porticos about the house, and from time to time invoked and looked out for the approach of day.

“Is Chronic Sleep Deprivation Impairing President Trump’s Brain, Performance?” (USA Today, May 31, 2017).

To this crazy constitution of his mind may, I think, very justly be ascribed two faults which he had of a nature directly repugnant one to the other, namely, an excessive confidence and the most abject timidity.

“Few, if any, administrations have done more in just seven months than the Trump A. Bills passed, regulations killed, border, military, Islamic State, Supreme Court!” (presidential tweet, Aug. 25, 2017). [Trump Administration Bills passed?]

“Donald Trump’s Draft Deferments: Four for College, One for Bad Feet” (The New York Times, Aug. 1, 2016).

So there it is, or as Suetonius might say, Res ipsa loquitur. Whatever the similarities, Mr. Trump certainly differs from “Little Boots” in one respect:

Unlike the emperor, he hasn’t undergone a “momentous transformation.” The record indicates that he has always known he’s divine.

As to how — on earth — we arrived at this point, here, perhaps, a note of consolation, in an earlier scene in “I, Claudius.” Caligula’s great-uncle Tiberius, another beauty of a Caesar, informs him: “I will make you my successor, Gaius Caligula. Rome deserves you.”

“Is that a joke?” Caligula replies.

“Not yet, but it will be.”

Christopher Buckley is the author of the forthcoming novel “The Judge Hunter.”

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  • Clyde Duncan  On 01/19/2018 at 11:54 am

    “I will make you my successor, Gaius Caligula. Rome deserves you.”

    “Is that a joke?” Caligula replies.

    “Not yet, but it will be.”

    Ivanka Trump wants to be the first female USA president. Perhaps she already is

    Arwa Mahdawi | The Guardian UK

    Michael Wolff’s explosive book about Donald Trump’s White House exposes the ambition of the First Daughter. But with the power she already has, why bother with a tedious election?

    Ivanka Trump and Jared Kushner are quite the adorable pair, aren’t they?

    Their relationship is truly something to aspire to. While other couples spend their evenings eating dinner and watching TV, Javanka, it would appear, bond over intimate strategy sessions where they draw up detailed plans for world domination.

    According to Michael Wolff’s new book, Fire and Fury: Inside the Trump White House, Ivanka and Jared have their futures all figured out. Wolff writes that the couple have “made an earnest deal” that Ivanka will run for president before Jared.

    “The first woman president, Ivanka entertained, would not be Hillary Clinton; it would be Ivanka Trump.”

    There has been much guffawing over Ivanka’s apparent political ambitions. Does a woman who sells strappy sandals and Instagrams motivational quotes while dabbling in an unpaid internship in the White House seriously think she deserves the highest office in the world?

    It’s almost as ludicrous an idea as a reality-TV star with no political experience becoming president! – NO CHANCE.

    Republican strategist Rick Wilson told CNN, for example, that Ivanka “is much more likely to be driving a Volvo … to visit her husband in a correctional facility than she is to be president of the United States at some point”.

    While I would love to think that Ivanka’s future might consist of Volvos and orange jumpsuits rather than Air Force One and the White House, I’m not so sure that will be the case.

    Indeed, I think the First Daughter is probably right: if there is going to be a female president of the USA anytime soon, it will be Ivanka Trump. One could even argue that Ivanka is already the first female president of America. Since entering the White House in a capacity no one seems to really understand, Ivanka has made herself a fixture on the world stage.

    She sat in at the G20, for example, discussing African migration with the Chinese, Russian and Turkish presidents, German chancellor and Theresa May.

    She travelled to India to co-host a Global Entrepreneurship Summit alongside Indian prime minister Narendra Modi. She launched a fund for female entrepreneurs with the World Bank. She is basically a part-time president and now she seems to be vying for the full-time gig.

    Ivanka may project a saccharine-sweet image – the doting daughter, nurturing mother, and loving wife – but she has proved herself to be more than a little ruthless when it comes to furthering her ambitions and ensuring that her brand is not tarnished by her father’s actions.

    Wolff’s book reports that Steve Bannon accused Ivanka, who he nicknamed “the queen of leaks”, of routinely leaking information from the White House to make herself and Jared look good. This would certainly seem to be the case.

    Every time Trump does something which might hurt his daughter’s reputation among the New York liberals from her social set, reports in the media from mysterious sources suddenly appear, detailing how Ivanka and Jared are valiantly working day and night to make things right.

    It was widely reported last year, for example, that Javanka were instrumental in stopping Trump from overturning an Obama-era order that protected LGBT rights in the workplace.

    The queen of leaks’ reputation control strategy seems to have successfully stopped her brand from sinking. While Ivanka has started to draw a lot more criticism from the liberal media now than she did during Trump’s campaign, she still appears to have bipartisan appeal.

    A Politico/Morning Consult poll conducted last July found that 44% of US voters view Ivanka favourably.

    And research published by YouGov late last year found that the perception of the Ivanka Trump clothing line among consumers who vote Democrat has been moving in a continuously positive direction since late spring 2017.

    As Ivanka’s clothing brand is intertwined with her personal brand, that would suggest her stock among Democrats seems to be going up.

    Of course, if Ivanka does run for president, it will likely be on a Republican ticket and she will have to abandon her current pretence at mild progressiveness.

    Just look at the UK: there is a reason the only two female prime ministers we have had have both been Tories. Electing a woman who is also liberal as leader seems to be far too much for the British establishment to handle.

    In the more religious, less tolerant USA, it is even more of a challenge. Hillary Clinton may have won the popular vote in 2016, but the levels of misogyny directed against her made it clear that the USA establishment still finds it near-impossible to stomach the idea of a female head of state. And certainly not one who is a Democrat.

    But perhaps Ivanka will not have to deal with tedious things such as democratic elections, as Clinton did. Perhaps Trump, in his typically innovative manner, will simply change the constitution and appoint Ivanka Empress of America via a 3am tweet. It’s not beyond the realm of possibility.

    After all, it’s still very early in an already exhausting 2018. Basically, anything could happen.

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