Updated: May 20, 2020
We’ve all heard the story of how “Nero fiddled while Rome burned”. The implication was that Roman Emperor Nero stood idly by while his capital city was being consumed by flames. It has long stood as a model of incompetence when referring to those in charge.
The fact is, it is simply untrue. Nero wasn’t even in Rome when the Great Fire took place, and the fiddle had yet to be invented. It was an early form of political propaganda aimed at destroying the reputation of an unpopular leader.
With no records to dispute the account, the story spread (excuse the pun) like wildfire. So, opponents were free to spread whatever unsubstantiated rumors they wanted to without fear of contradiction because there was no way to dispute the voracity of their statements.
As a result, Nero has been relegated, however unfairly, to the level of a pariah. He stands as an example of what can happen when a weak leader is in charge during a crisis.
In Donald Trump, we have an American Nero. The difference, however, is we have the facts to back up his incompetence during this current pandemic. We have his own words, via his numerous press briefings and his countless Twitter rants, as a record of his administration’s inept handling of the worst health crisis in a hundred years.
Trump always will have his defenders; his die-hard “base” that stands by him, no matter what. They waver between “he tells it like it is” to “that’s not what he meant”, depending on his latest statements, even if those statements contradict something he said earlier.
This gives Trump the illusion that he’s actually “doing a great job” even as the death toll rises.
If Nero were around today, I’m certain his strategy would have been far different. Rather than explain the origins of the fire, he’d simply blame it on Caesar.
Similarly, Trump is trying to lay the blame for our current crisis on President Obama: “Obama left us nothing” to replenish supplies after the H1N1 crisis (Trump had three years to re-stock the shelves); Obama didn’t leave us with a plan (he did), and finally, “no one saw this coming” (Obama warned of this years ago). Trump is attempting to lay responsibility elsewhere, while saying he “take(s) no responsibility” for the current crisis.
Failing in that, Nero would shift his strategy by claiming Caesar has been undermining him for years, in an effort to deflect from the fire.
Trump is employing a similar strategy in perpetuating his “Obamagate” conspiracy theory which conveniently arose at a time when the economy, once seen as a means of catapulting Trump to a second term, suffers its worst performance since the Great Depression.
Douglas McArthur was called the “American Caesar” because, like Caesar, many saw him using his military career to promote his political aspirations.
In Donald Trump we have an American Nero. In a time of crisis, instead of leading, he is fiddling away with his Twitter thumbs, while America goes up in flames.