The Secret History Redux

Comparing one Great with another Great

Although the comparison I’m going to make between the recent ruler of the Empire of the United States and an ancient ruler of the Roman Empire is mostly based on the Anecdota or, as it is more commonly known, The Secret History by Procopius, “commonly classified as the last major historian of the ancient Western world,” it is important to remind one and all that evil deeds perpetrated by (mostly) men have been recorded throughout history, and one of the people who did this marvelously not so long ago was Henry Fielding. Besides writing hit novels which were turned into hit films, Mr. Fielding also wrote a study of evil genius with the title: The History of the Life of the Late Mr. Jonathan Wild the Great. I urge you all to read this wonderfully written history of a “Great” man. In fact, Mr. Fielding’s explanation of just how great the “Great” are, is quite enlightening:

“… a set of simple fellows, called, in derision, sages or philosophers, have endeavoured, as much as possible, to confound the ideas of greatness and goodness; whereas no two things can possibly be more distinct from each other, for greatness consists in bringing all manner of mischief on mankind, and goodness in removing it from them. … We hope our reader will have reason justly to acquit us of any such confounding ideas in the following pages; in which, as we are to record the actions of a great man, so we have nowhere mentioned any spark of goodness … .”

By the way, both of the precious histories mentioned are available from Project Gutenberg.

Now, having established that there is no goodness in greatness, I shall proceed with my comparison between Justinian I, also known as Justinian The Great, and the former ruler of the current world empire, Trump I, also known to himself and his loyal followers as Trump The Great.

While we wait with bated breath for The Secret History of the United States to emerge from the pen (or rather these days from the keyboard) of a born-again Procopius or Fielding, I’ll just make you aware of the superficial and yet most telling aspects that unite the two great men who are the subject of this comparison.

Justinian (real name Petrus Sabbatius), who was emperor from 527 to 565, actually started influencing the course of the empire during the reign of his predecessor Justin I, in a similar fashion to Trump (middle name John), who began influencing the political direction of the United States during the reign of Obama I. Both took advantage of the powerlessness of their predecessors, the one because Justin was not able to rule due to his lack of intelligence, the other because Obama was not able to escape the clutches of a Senate that would not let him rule for the good of the people – although there is no substantial proof, yet, to make us believe that Obama actually wanted to rule for the good of the common citizen.

The simple and obvious fact that both empires were, and had been for a long time, corrupted by money, is no longer a doubt in the thoughts of any rational person. And the fact that the corruption of the institutions of government were dramatically increased during the rule of Justinian and Trump, is also obvious. However, it is still instructional, for those who can be instructed by history, to make a comparison between the two great men, in which goodness never shows its face, or when it attempts to do so is slapped away by brutal anger.

Procopius begins his narrative with a preface which contains these lines:

“Who, among posterity, would have known of the licentious life of Semiramis, or of the madness of Sardanapalus or Nero, if no memorials of them had been left to us by contemporary writers? The description of such things, too, will not be entirely without value to such as hereafter may be so treated by tyrants; for unhappy people are wont to console themselves by the thought that they are not the only persons who have so suffered.” Hopefully this will be an impetus to whoever may write the new Secret History.

Procopius at first describes the weakness and corruption of Belisarius, the general who played such a major part in the wars of conquest of the empire. Belisarius was admired for his conquests (and reconquests), then disgraced, then returned to favor. “Belisarius, although none of the charges brought against him could be proved, was removed by the Emperor, at the instance of Theodora, from the command of the army in the East.” But then, as circumstances changed, he was able to get command of an army once again and tried his hand at reconquering Italy, which had fallen into the hands of the barbarians. His campaign there was unsuccessful and yet he didn’t go back to Constantinople in disgrace, as should have been the case.

The general closest to Trump, who also played a major part in the conquests (and reconquests) of the current empire, was Michael Flynn. Like Belisarius, Flynn was a successful general, disgraced because he lied to the FBI, then rehabilitated through a presidential pardon, which enabled him to become one of the key post-election advisors urging the use of military force to keep the loser of the election in power. Even though Flynn had a clean slate once again, he, like Belisarius, failed in his new mission of reconquest and, also not disgraced, has faded into shadows that may prove to be more dark and dangerous than the spotlight he was in before.

One of the basic tactics used by the Romans was “divide and conquer.” The United States, like the territories ripe for conquest, and like the Roman Empire during the time of Justinian, was (and has been for quite some time) in a similarly perilous state. Procopius writes: “In the former part of my history I have explained how the people had long been divided into two factions. Justinian associated himself with one of these, the Blues [the other faction in those days was the Greens], which had previously favoured him, and was thus enabled to upset everything and throw all into disorder.”

Trump associated himself with the current Red (not-communist) faction in the United States and was able, likewise to cause chaos and throw everything into disorder. And, as in the case of Justinian, not all members of the faction agreed with his methods. But, also as in the case of Justinian, Trump was able to terrorize the Red faction rebels into submission and thus gain dominance over the factions and impose his will. “Everything was everywhere thrown into disorder; nothing was left alone. The laws and the whole fabric of the State were altogether upset, and became the very opposite of what they had been.”

During the short, yet extremely destructive rule of Trump I, descriptions of the government such as those provided by Procopius were appearing in the writings of many in the opposition: “The government resembled a despotism, not a securely established one, but one which was changed almost daily, and was ever beginning afresh.” And as regards judges appointed by the Red faction in accordance with the will of Trump I: “The judges gave sentence on disputed points not according to what they thought to be lawful and right, but according as each of the litigants was a friend or an enemy of the ruling faction … .”

The new ruler of the Empire of the United States, an old man who has a younger person waiting in the wings to take over should he die or his mind fail, has extremely limited power to change the course of the ruination of the empire. Although the presidency is imperial and has been so for a while, it still depends on the Senate in order to enact major changes in the laws disfigured and corrupted by the previous imperial president. It is also doubtful if the younger person waiting in the wings will be able to do anything at all worthy of the descriptive “goodness” should death or loss of reason afflict her current imperial master. According to the mindset of the Red faction, she is considered unclean because she does not belong to their idea of a perfect American as regards color of skin. That, in addition to the fact that she is a woman, makes her totally unacceptable to the Red faction, and of course to a significant number of the powerful men in the Blue faction as well, which somehow allowed her to be the heir apparent because they still needed to convince many Americans with her skin-tones to side with the Blue faction against Trump I.

During the time of Justinian there was a ruinous plague, which Justinian caught and then recovered from, just like Trump I, and there was the same disregard from both men for the lives of the citizens ravaged by the plague. In all sorts of ways the two men were similar. Even in physical appearance. Justinian was “neither tall nor too short, but of a medium height, not thin, but inclined to be fat. His face was round and not ill-favoured, and showed colour, even after a two days’ fast.” The orange face of Trump I is never going to be forgotten.

Procopius does drift at one point into the non-rational, describing Justinian as a demon made flesh: “During his control of the Empire, numerous disasters of various kinds occurred, which some attributed to the presence and artifices of his evil genius, while others declared that the Divinity, in detestation of his works, having turned away in disgust from the Roman Empire, had given permission to the avenging deities to inflict these misfortunes.” But what Procopius describes as the workings of an evil spirit incarnate is relevant to bringing the point across to the many who have always been rather superstitious and gullible, like the current crop of MAGA Christian followers of Trump I. In their case, however, they don’t see him as a demon incarnate but as a savior who will bring on the Rapture.

Luckily, for the world, the tyrant Trump I was limited to ravaging the world directly for only four years. His legacy of evil will endure for many years still, but his direct influence is, for the time being, halted. Had he survived as Emperor until he was 83, like Justinian, it is doubtful if the world would have been able to ever recover from the devastation he initiated.

Procopius really does go on and on with his enumeration of the excesses and corrupt activity of Justinian, and without a doubt you have already spent hours if not days reading and hearing about the corrupt activities of Trump I. So, although I really could continue to show you the parallels between these two tyrants, I recommend that you read The Secret History for yourself and find the commonalities between these two “Great” men (and their wives, by the way).

Before I finish, I would like to leave you with one more quote from Procopius. To my mind it describes both tyrants to perfection:

“These excesses took place not only in Byzantium, but in every city of the Empire: for these disorders were like bodily diseases, and spread from thence over the whole Roman Empire. But the Emperor cared not at all for what was going on, although he daily beheld what took place in the hippodrome [today: television], for he was exceedingly stupid, very much like a dull-witted ass, which follows whoever holds its bridle, shaking its ears the while. This behaviour on the part of Justinian ruined everything.”

Danny Antonelli lives in Hamburg, Germany