In talking to some liberal friends recently, I was quite surprised many were strong advocates of the “Trump should do more” mindset. Some have even gone so far as to say President Trump should have assumed “emergency powers” to force the country to shut down to stop the coronavirus.
Really? Is that what we all want? A dictator?
Let’s define what a dictator is. Back in ancient Rome, the citizens recognized there were special times when one person was needed to blow through all the bureaucratic mumbo jumbo and get things done. This was usually a magistrate in the Roman Republic who assumed the responsibility, such as during a military emergency, or to do a specific job.
According to the Livius website, the word dictator means “the one who dictates” or “gives orders.” Usually, these guys served for six months or shorter and then voluntarily gave up the job.
In our modern vernacular, we ascribe very negative connotations to the word and put Hitler, Stalin, Pol Pot, and Kim Jong-un in the category of “dictator.” We accuse people we don’t like of being “dictators.”
We Americans bristle at the idea of unrestrained power. We insist on checks and balances to assure that one person does not ascend to the heights as a “dictator.”
Our U.S. Constitution does not contain a provision for the creation of a dictator. Our founding fathers were highly aware of the Roman republican system and modeled most of this document after their example. I wonder why this dictator thing was left out?
Two words: Julius Caesar. Old Julius got appointed dictator two or three times but then kind of forgot to resign. He had unmatched power and influence to drive through any change he wanted. See that Julian calendar on your wall? Thank Caesar for that.
He also defended Rome from numerous Gaulic invasions and paved the way for the later Pax Romana. Some even argue that western civilization would not be possible if it were not for Julius Caesar.
But Julius effectively ended republican Rome and ushered in the empire. Think “Star Wars” but with togas.
But, Thomas Jefferson, James Monroe, and others also knew that democracies and republics are weak forms of government, especially in times of crisis. But they trusted that the Constitution was strong enough to allow the American people to take the actions needed in an emergency without a dictator.
However, in 1976, President Gerald Ford signed into law the “National Emergencies Act” which grants emergency powers to the president. Sixty emergencies have been declared with 30 still in effect today.
Just for giggles, the champion of emergency declarations is Bill Clinton with 17 followed by Barack Obama with 13. Near the bottom of the list are the leftists’ favorite hate targets of Ronald Reagan (six) and George H.W. Bush (four). To be fair, Carter did two. Trump has only done five.
Now, we can kind-of see why liberals like the idea of a dictator because that is how a democratic president tends to behave.
But, this is an odd conundrum because I have heard liberals scream that President Trump is a dictator and must be stopped. Well, liberals, which is it? Is Trump a dictator who must be stopped or a dictator you secretly long for?
For me, I’ll stick with the Constitution. But, that brings up the next question: What are we willing to give up to keep our freedom, our republic, and our way of life?
Our country is the envy of the world. Don’t believe me? Then, why do so many people want to come here? They know that the United States means laws, opportunity, education, capitalism and a chance of a good life.
We talk a great deal about the lives given in wars to protect our country. We owe an unpayable debt to our military folks who have died in the line of duty. But, are we willing to give up civilians in this same cause?
If we create a Caesar, the actions the dictator could take may save tens of thousands of lives, possibly more. But we also take the risk that our dictator, like Julius Caesar, will say, “No, I think I like this power,” and end our 250-year-old experiment.
How does this end? I don’t know. But rest assured that we must not allow ourselves to be fooled into thinking a dictator will be our savior.
Unless you like wearing a toga.
Steve Lunetta is a resident of Santa Clarita and likes yelling “et tu, Brute?” out his front door for no good reason. He can be reached at [email protected]