Honestly, even I’m not so sure how I made it from John Kelly’s views of the US Civil War to Diocletian. But I did. It was nice to take a break from Saudi Arabia with a nice palate cleansing, and profoundly odd video. Comparing US history to Roman history is a profoundly silly thing to do. The systems are just too different. But sometimes the echos are so obvious I can’t help myself. I hope you enjoy this video as much as I enjoyed making it.
Video Transcript after the jump…
Hey there! As long time viewers of the channel know well, I’m a big fan of Roman history. People can push comparisons between Rome and the United States too far, and I usually try to avoid them, but there’s one that’s just stuck in my head right now, and I can’t get it out.
Donald Trump is Diocletian. Diocletian was easily one of the most important and powerful Roman Emperors. That pretty clearly does not make me think of Donald Trump, one of the weakest presidents we’ve ever had. But what makes these two figures similar is the fact that they are both massive Culture Warriors. Trump sees himself as fighting a war against Political Correctness This is actually a very politically correct way to describe one of the main roots of Trump’s support. Please note that I say one of the roots of Trump’s appeal, there is always more to the story, but this is the part of the story I’m focusing on today. There are a lot of white people in the United States who feel like their position at the center of US culture is being threatened. And they’re right. Trump is fighting against this, and losing, in every arena he can.
Diocletian was also a culture warrior. He too was fighting against a change that was sweeping the old Empire he knew and loved. He was fighting Christianity. He stood for the old ways, and the Roman Pantheon of gods. These Christians wouldn’t participate in the old rituals and they were getting more powerful. They refused to worship his holy statues. So he initiated what is still remembered today as the Great Persecution. He made a bunch of Christian martyrs, he closed some churches and he appropriated a lot of Christian property.
Diocletian’s culture war is famous, but much like Trump’s, it wasn’t very effective. Within 20 years Rome had a Christian emperor, and within 50 years Christianity was the official religion of the Empire. I think that’s pretty much how Trump’s battle for white America is going to go as well. A better, more diverse United States is here to stay, no matter what the Orange Hate Muppet does.
Now I wasn’t going to make this video, mostly because Diocletian is a much more impressive guy than Trump is. Diocletian ended something that’s called the 3rd Century Crisis. Throughout the 200s Rome just fell apart. Emperors came and went very quickly, the barbarians were invading, and warlords set up their own little empires throughout Roman territory. Diocletian put a stop to all that, and gave the unified Empire another century or so of life. Diocletian ended the Roman Civil War. The Trump Diocletian Culture war comparison is cute. But I didn’t see a good civil war comparison.
Now I do, and I’ve got to thank White House Chief of staff for putting the other part of this story in place for me.
I would tell you that Robert E. Lee was an honorable man. He was a man that gave up his country to fight for his state. Which 150 years ago was more important than country, it was always loyalty to state first back in those days. Now it’s different today. But the lack of an ability to compromise, let to the civil war, and men and women of good faith on both sides made their stand with their conscience, had to make their stand…
If you read the history books they will tell you that the US civil war ended in 1865. The shooting stopped then, but reconciliation is a project that has lasted for a century and a half. In 1865 we had to do two things. We had to figure out how to welcome African Americans into our society on equal terms. That’s a project that continues today, and I’ve got a loong series of videos on the topic. But we also had to reincorporate the white losers from the south. That’s where the bullshit story John Kelly was spinning comes from.
Southern presidents like Woodrow Wilson, with the full cooperation of Northern elites, worked hard to craft this new legend of Southern honor and nobility. Racist movies like Birth of a Nation, and somewhat less pernicious ones like Gone With the Wind perpetuated the idea that the Southern traitors were good guys too. It is to our eternal shame that this project was so deeply linked to white supremacy and perpetuating the misery of African Americans. But it may have served its purpose. White supremacist or not, myths of Southern nobility created a unified culture for the United States. The 19th and 20th century success of the US may not have been possible without it. The civil war ended in 1865. But the civil war over the civil war continued.
The Trump administration may be ending it. Trump’s bluntness is making the racism at the heart of these comforting southern myths very very obvious. 150 years after the shooting stopped, we can now safely abandon the myth of Southern nobility. The Clown in the white House is accelerating this process. This is a very good thing. It may be uncomfortable for some in the South, but they’re not going to take up arms over it.
So Donald Trump is Diocletian. He’s fighting a losing culture war, and he is unintentionally clearing out the debris from a much older Civil War as well. I think this is a reason for profound hope.
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