The Political Class Murders Itself

The Political Class Murders Itself by The Zman

The point at which the Roman Republic moved from republic to empire is generally placed at the point when the Senate granted Octavian almost unlimited power and he adopted the title Augustus. Some historians argue it was when Caesar crossed the Rubicon or when he defeated Anthony at Actium. The implication is that once the transition was started, there was no turning back. The more useful analysis is to think of it as a process, with roots in the Republic, that evolved to the point where dictatorship was inevitable.

The die was most likely cast when the Republic began to compromise its own rules for limiting and distributing power. The system they had created was a reflection of the tribal realities of the early republic. In order to keep any one family from gaining too much power, they systematically limited the time anyone served in office. The system also forced an apprenticeship on those who went into public life. This had the benefit of making public men buy into the system. Therefore they were willing to defend it.

That meant the system had a policing mechanism to sort out enemies before they could cause trouble. An ambitious young man could not skip any steps on his way up the ladder, so once he got up the ladder, he was not agreeing to any changes in the process. Defending the system was a way to defend one’s prerogatives, but also a way to defend the system from lunatics. Verpus Maximus may be smart and talented, but he was not only going to wait his turn, he was going to do all the jobs necessary to prove his worth.

This system started to break down with the rivalry of Sulla and Marius. Sulla was the first man to hold the office of consul twice. He also got away with marching an army on Rome itself, in order to defeat his rival, Marius. Both of these acts were supposed to be disqualifying, but exceptions were made for expediency. Sulla sided with the Senate so the Senate bent the rules to serve themselves. A good case can be made that this is the point when it was all over for the Republic.

It was just a matter of time before someone used Sulla as a precedent.

It is a good lesson to keep in mind as the politicians in the Imperial Capital wrangle over what could be a very dangerous scandal for them.

House Intelligence Chairman Devin Nunes declared Wednesday that members of Donald Trump’s transition team, possibly including Trump himself, were under inadvertent surveillance following November’s presidential election.

The White House and Trump’s allies immediately seized on the statement as vindication of the president’s much-maligned claim that former President Barack Obama wiretapped Trump Tower phones — even though Nunes himself said that’s not what his new information shows.

Democrats, meanwhile, cried foul.

Rep. Adam Schiff of California, the top Democrat on the intelligence panel, cast doubt on Nunes’ claims in a fiery statement and blasted the chairman for not first sharing the information with him or other committee members.

Schiff also slammed Nunes for briefing the White House on Wednesday afternoon given that the Intelligence Committee is in the middle of an investigation into Russia’s meddling in the 2016 election, including possible collusion with the Trump team.

The political class chased Nixon out of town for talking about the use of the FBI and CIA as weapons against political opponents. The rule in politics has been that the use of the IRS or the intelligence agencies was expressly prohibited. There could be no exceptions for obvious reasons, as it would give these bureaucracies dangerous power. That was the lesson of Hoover. If the CIA or IRS are allowed to use their powers to gather dirt on elected officials, then they can control elected officials. That’s the end of democracy.

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