Bread and Circuses—Ancient Roman Politics and Donald Trump’s Rally-based Campaign

Bread and Circuses—Ancient Roman Politics and Donald Trump’s Rally-based Campaign

The media have continued their complicity, acknowledged or unwitting, in Donald Trump’s use of a variant of the Roman “bread and circuses” process for getting the support of the “mob” in Rome for the Roman version of elections. For a moment, think of a Trump rally as the modern equivalent of the way Roman politicians “bought” the support of Romans. These featured mass executions of wild animals, prisoners, and political opponents, as well as re-creations of Rome’s battles against its enemies. Appeals to anger and emotion have always worked in some circumstances, especially when a demagogue has the resources and the cunning to exploit them
Seem familiar? Trump did not execute his 16 opponents in the Republican primaries. The debates were not rallies, but he did verbally “assault” them, call them names, humiliate, abuse, degrade otherwise destroy their credibility in the “arena.” Once he disposed of them, you will note, he increased his use of “rallies.” (Read as—FREE entertainment of a violent nature.)He is now working on doing the same thing in the “main event.” Be aware that his most recent selections for manager and advisers are the clearest sign so far that this “metaphor” for Trump’s strategy is “spot on.”
Though some in the media DO “get it,” and try to “opt out” of the process, the self-interests of the majority—the networks, the sponsors, the producers and especially the commentators—find it too enticing and almost impossible to avoid without losing income or status with their peers. To extend the metaphor, the media are the “supporting acts” to the main events—the rallies that are made to appear as so much more than they actually are that many (but not enough of) Americans “turn them off.”

The extension of arenas—from single venues to the living rooms of millions–make Trump’s “bread and circuses” even more dangerous to the nation than did those of the ancient Romans. A “sound-bite” from a single appearance can be reproduced millions of times, for audiences hundreds or thousands of times larger than any time before broadcast media was invented. And the apparent “helplessness” of the media makes it even more pernicious. Despite the FACT that Trump lies dozens of times at EVERY rally, the media broadcast most of it with NO identification of the “truth, falsity, or question-ability” of what was said, and BROADCAST.
The complicity of the media is usually “excused” by their unwillingness to assume sufficient social responsibility for disseminating what they should know is NOT factual. In addition, the media’s penchant for the “false equivalence” process (where they try to include some “opposite” view, regardless of its truth, falsity or irrelevance) makes ludicrous the media’s claim of objectivity and factual accuracy.

As long as the media continue to broadcast live Trump’s Rally events as NEWS, regardless of their PRE-KNOWLEDGE that much of what he says is untrue, twisted, misleading or otherwise NOT news, they will be, in my view, violating their promise of providing the truth to their listeners and viewers. The Print media, too, are guilty of some of this; they are too willing to use “the other view, RATHER THAN THE FACTS” even when they KNOW them. This “complicit dishonesty” has become common, and not unnoticed or unremarked upon. Long-term media credibility is, at stake, and the only question is, can it ever be recovered.
The test, though, in the short run is NOT media credibility but how alert a majority of voters will have been to the phony “conflation” of Trump’s “bread and circus rallies” with the reality. Clearly, the rallies are a media entertainment, a “show,” put on by a miniscule group of “unrepresentative” (let us profoundly hope) uninformed people, “Mobs” behave predictably—the Romans, and countless examples of more recent mindless and destructive actions—reveal the gullibility of those who respond to appeals to their emotions and anger—e.g. Germany, Italy, Bosnia, Egypt, Iraq,–and perhaps the EU as well. How will our American “mobs” respond? Are there enough of them to elect Trump?

John H. Langer, JD, Ed.D. Retired Federal agency manger, former professor of education, public school administrator, and writer of a number of articles and publications on education, public affairs, substance abuse and social issues. In writing a book on attention and memory as it relates to education, this blog is helping to focus attention n current issues, and hopefully, add something useful as well.

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