(Feb 14): The outcome of the US Senate’s trial of Donald Trump, following his impeachment by the House of Representatives, was a foregone conclusion. But it nonetheless laid bare the president’s win-atall-costs approach to governing. The fact that Trump escaped punishment at the hands of the Senate and even saw a bump in his poll numbers suggests that his obsessive concern with image and ruthless treatment of enemies are effective strategies. They are reminiscent of a Roman emperor.
To see this, look no further than Gaius Suetonius Tranquillus’s Lives of the Caesars, one of the most shocking accounts of bare-knuckled leadership ever written. Presenting the biographies of 12 Roman emperors, Suetonius shows how these men used their extraordinary power to indulge their own passions and peccadillos, no matter how weird or reckless. Suetonius, for his part, mostly deplores the emperors’ transgressions – like Nero’s singing during the Great Fire or Tiberius’s all-night drinking parties. Yet, for all these figures’ outrages, Suetonius also seems to appreciate their political instincts.
America’s own caesar seems to have taken some of the “leadership” lessons highlighted by Suetonius on board. For starters, you should find a way to hide the fact that you are bald. Julius Caesar, a tall and muscular man who liked to flaunt his good looks, was distressed by nothing more in life than the premature loss of his hair, especially because it gave his opponents something for which to mock him. At first, Caesar relied on a comb-over, before finding a better solution: he convinced the Senate to grant him the right to wear a laurel crown on all occasions. The brutal Caligula took a more drastic approach as his bald spot grew: Whenever he ran into a handsome man with a full head of hair, he ordered the offender shaved immediately.