To the editor:
When I was a kid in grade school, my teachers acquainted me with the rudiments of ancient history, including that of Rome. I read about many of the old Roman leaders, including one who, 2,00 years later, is still known around the world: Emperor Nero.
We were taught that Nero “fiddled while Rome burned.” While the details of the actual event in July of 64 CE are hazy, the point was that during an existential crisis that threatened the city, the emperor (already despised by most of the populace) failed to exert leadership. As the city burned, he dithered, he complained, and he took no decisive action. His lack of leadership was so egregious that we remember him as one of the worst national leaders in human history. Today he’s a household name, but only because of his negligence during the fire. Had he done his job, Nero would have been long ago forgotten to everyone except historians.
As a kid in school, I marveled at how awful it must have been to live under such a leader as Nero. Those poor Romans, to have endured such a lazy, self-absorbed do-nothing! Thank goodness, I told myself, the people of the United States would never elect such a feckless boy-king to be our president. We were much too smart for that!
When Donald Trump assumed the presidency in 2017, he made it clear that he saw himself as one of the great presidents. He has had no problem comparing himself favorably to Washington and Lincoln. He wants to be exalted and revered in the same way as they are.
Trump will get his wish, but his name will not be linked to Washington or Lincoln. His name will be said in the same breath as that of Emperor Nero. We are witnessing a legend in the making, but it’s not a great legend, it’s a terrible one. Decades, perhaps even centuries from now, schoolchildren will learn about the dismal days of 2020 and how the leader of the United States was neither Washington nor Lincoln, but a wannabe Emperor Nero named Donald Trump.