America’s Cycles of Change

America as Rome, Part 2: The Secret Scandals of Tiberius, John F. Kennedy & Lyndon Johnson

Wed, 12 October 2016

General of the Army Dwight D. Eisenhower, President of the United States from 1953 to 1961, was the model of propriety in private as well as in public. The second Roman Emperor Tiberius by contrast carried out so many inventive orgies on the island of Capri off Naples that they boggle the mind.

But Rome had a scandalous “freedom of the press” (sort of). After Tiberius’ death the historian Suetonius in The Twelve Caesars chronicled his private excesses – and assassinations – in terms that would do the National Enquirer proud.

John F. Kennedy and Lyndon Johnson continued the Tiberius model of combining public propriety with private scandal and excess. Then came open scandal and abuse of power.

Tiberius’s Caligula was a raving lunatic and psychotic killer. He did not harm the wider empire but bankrupted the treasury and waged a needless and ridiculous war: Lyndon Johnson and Richard Nixon anyone?

At least Caligula waged war against an opponent capable of restraint. He declared hostilities against Poseidon God of the Sea and had the Roman Army collect seashells along the Atlantic Coast.

Nixon continued LBJ’s real war in Vietnam, killing three million Asians and 58,000 Americans and still both of them contrived to lose.

Caligula was assassinated by a veteran officer: Nixon was squeezed out in the Watergate scandal.

Both were succeeded by supposed dunderheads and fools who were in practice wise, experienced and even kindly men – Claudius in Rome and Gerald Ford in Washington, eventually followed by Ronald Reagan and George Herbert Walker Bush in the United States. Empire seemed like a good idea again.

Then came Nero.

Next: Why a dynasty of emperors from Nero to Bill and Hillary Clinton is a Bad Idea

America as Rome, Part 1: Emperors in Rome and the United States: At First They Seemed Like a Good Idea

America as Rome, Part 2: The Secret Scandals of Tiberius, John F. Kennedy & Lyndon Johnson

America as Rome, Part 3: The Clintons and Nero

America as Rome, Part 4: A Century of Good Emperors – and Less Good Presidents