COVID-19: Donald Trump’s Caligula Moment

John Wight sizes up the tragedy and farce embodied by the U.S. president and notes that Britain has its own problems with leadership by disordered minds.

By John Wight
in Edinburgh, Scotland

For four years between 37 and 41 CE the Roman Empire was ruled by one Gaius Julius Caesar Augustus Germanicus. He is known both to history and infamy as Caligula, an emperor whose wanton cruelty, barbarity, caprice, sadism and perversity is immediately suggestive of a grotesquely disordered mind.


Among his more outlandish ideas was his plan to make his horse a consul — in other words a high official within his retinue of officials and advisers. Caligula, somewhat inevitably, was assassinated, hacked to pieces by his own Praetorian Guard in his own palace.

History repeats itself, Marx famously opined, the first as tragedy, then as farce. In the personage of Donald Trump, the 45th president of the United States, tragedy and farce are both present.

The tragedy was his election in 2016, which marked the nadir of this grand experiment in placing democratic lipstick on the pig of a state then empire forged in genocide, ethnic cleansing and human slavery.

It was a victory for anti-intellectualism and mass ignorance, of which both prevail in large parts of this ill-starred land. They say that you can’t blame a mushroom for growing in the dark, which is true, and the intellectual and cultural darkness in which millions of Americans exist is evidenced in a gun culture that connotes societal madness, along with a hatred and fear of the other that blows out of the water any vestige of social cohesion.

President Donald J. Trump, May 5, 2020. (White House, Shealah Craighead)

Within Trump we have embodied the Trail of Tears, the overseer’s whip, the Klu Klux Klan, the Pinkerton detectives sent to crush the Homestead strike, along with too many others to mention during the U.S. Labor Wars of the late 19th and early 20th century. Within him, too, is embodied the police batons of Jim Crow, the slum landlordism of urban America, the electric chair and the gas chamber.

In other words, Donald Trump is the land of the free with its mask removed.

His daily press briefings have also left no doubt that he, like Caligula, carries all of the symptoms of a disordered mind. His assertion that disinfectant could be injected or ingested as a potential cure for Covid-19, as his advisers looked on with the po-faces of shuffling courtiers, was a moment of peak insanity and crack-pottery, even for him. We can only hope, metaphorically speaking, that the Praetorian Guards in Washington are now astir.

This having been said, we in Britain, we are obliged not to forget, have our own problems with disordered minds in our midst. With a clutch of fanatical ideologues at the helm, led by a prime minister whose practiced buffoonery and nuttiness has quite literally got more people killed in this past month than can be put down to events, we find ourselves cursed with the worst possible government upon whose lap has landed the worst possible crisis.

Dominic Cummings.

Learning as we just have that Boris Johnson’s brain — the other-wordly and decidedly dangerous Dominic Cummings — has been sitting in on meetings of the government’s top scientific advisory panel should be grounds for public alarm. Firstly, it confirms that the medical and scientific advice that the country has been receiving has been politicized, and thereby compromised, throughout. Secondly, Cummings is a man who eclipses every Bond villain ever created in the sinister stakes, a malign character whose approach to politics is that of a mad scientist conducting mad experiments in a laboratory of the damned.

British Labour leader Keir Starmer.

But have no fear, because Keir is here, what with his “constructive opposition,” “forensic” questions, and the “functioning opposition” to the government he’s leading. Indeed our centrist/Blairite chorus was in full orgasmic voice in response to this trusty knight of the realm’s debut at Prime Minister’s Questions.

It didn’t exactly hurt that facing him at the despatch box was a political pygmy in the shape of Dominic Raab. It likewise didn’t hurt that the newly elected leader of the opposition enjoys the full-throated support of the entire media class all the way from Guardianista liberal to Thatcher-loving right. Call me old fashioned, but when a former Tory chancellor such as Gideon Osborne — the man who injected the country with the anti-people poison of austerity — endorses the leader of the Labour Party, it’s a party headed at warp speed for perdition.

When it comes to the comparing of Keir Starmer and Dominic Raab at what was the first PMQs both men conducted, one is reminded of the sage words of Gore Vidal:

“One does not bring a measuring rod to Lilliput.”

John Wight is an independent journalist based in Edinburgh, Scotland.

This article was first published on Medium.

The views expressed are solely those of the author and may or may not reflect those of Consortium News.

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30 comments for “COVID-19: Donald Trump’s Caligula Moment

  1. May 8, 2020 at 12:15

    My brother in law has lived in the USA for 30 years or so. I asked him after the 2016 election what went on there he said ” a country of 350 million souls and we had to choose between 2 candidates that didn’t have a soul. ” Not a shred of humanity in either he said. Anything to attain power and hold on to it.

  2. Vera Gottlieb
    May 8, 2020 at 11:29

    Trump and Johnson: two peas in a pod.

    • May 9, 2020 at 20:09

      The global movement of men and women whose efforts have focused on gaining the righteous freedom of Julian Assange must now directly confront Donald Trump and Boris Johnson, – and with the maximum moral force available, demand Mr. Trump and Mr. Johnson immediately release genuine hero and peacemaker Mr. Assange.


  3. Giovanni Ra
    May 8, 2020 at 09:26

    Hunker down in your bunker
    An Old Rosary in your hand
    So we can understand
    The promise we missed
    Was it a lie or a Judah’s kiss
    In all our promised lands
    Vampires and Bats rule the night
    Where the Congress of birds and rats
    Rule the nights
    To crush the poor and keep us under
    In the City that never sleep
    We now learn how to cry and weep
    We don’t give a damn to see or to be seen
    But we know the Emperor is naked
    With only one task
    Begging for a paper mask
    In our daily confusion
    In a Macabre dance
    The Empire dies
    On the stage of illusions
    Sometimes in bed
    Sometimes on the Battlefield
    With a Crown on the Head
    But rarely with a Corona instead
    Please, let us go to the drawing board
    And put Man at the center
    We know our home is the World.

  4. Jeff Harrison
    May 7, 2020 at 16:58

    Caligula was only one of several deranged Roman emperors in the twilight of the Roman Empire of the West but the western empire didn’t die for another couple of hundred years.

    • May 7, 2020 at 20:00

      It is not true. Deranged or not, it was still the growth period of the empire. “Couple of hundred years” is enough to cover the rise and fall of the British Empire, to give a comparison. Fast forward, replacing a number of Senators with horses could improve the average level of intellect in the house of Congress.

  5. Tim
    May 7, 2020 at 13:10

    “Call me old fashioned, but when a former Tory chancellor such as Gideon Osborne — the man who injected the country with the anti-people poison of austerity — endorses the leader of the Labour Party, it’s a party headed at warp speed for perdition.”

    I couldn’t have put it better myself. May I pinch that sentence for future use? Priceless!

  6. Andrew Thomas
    May 7, 2020 at 12:08

    We would be better off with any quadruped as Secretary of State than Mike Pompeo. Horses have many fine attributes, among which is the lack of ability to make deranged threats. Just sayin…

  7. Tom Earls
    May 7, 2020 at 11:57

    In Hillary vs Trump we had an election wherein both candidates were the only leaders of their parties who could have lost to the other. Conversely, they were also the only opponent they had any chance of beating. And it looks as though we are bound to repeat that example. The Republicans had an excuse in 2016 because the quality of Republican candidates nationwide has been so unworthy of public office as to make Marco Rubio and Ted Cruz contenders in their 13 candidate primary. But no such excuse can be made for the Democrats. They had a candidate in Bernie Sanders who in 40 years of public life had never abandoned the long held principles of his party whereas his opponent had proven herself to be a war monger of the first order and as such should have been unworthy of any consideration for higher office. But then as now, in 2020, there were shaky voting irregularities which gave us every right to question the legitimacy of the primary results. So we are stuck with Biden. But there’s one scenario which could change that and that falls to the delegates at the Democratic Convention. If, due to the accusations of sexual impropriety and the scenes of Biden’s taking advantage of the closeness to females old and young given him during photo opportunities and other public gatherings. the Convention should say “enough” and deny him the nomination, the Democrats and the country could have one candidate of being the leader of the free world. Thank you Democrats.

  8. May 7, 2020 at 11:47

    It’s probably unwise to call for a ‘pretorian guard’ action against the president, “metaphorical” or otherwise. Like it or not, he was elected and the way to get rid of him is to run a decent, popular candidate against him. Sigh…

  9. Zeke Krahlin
    May 7, 2020 at 11:37

    > Yes he’s not eloquent, but he’s not an idiot.

    Funniest thing I’ve heard in a long, long time. Thanks!

  10. Nancy Elkins
    May 7, 2020 at 10:56

    That was brutal! Good analysis.

  11. Gregory Kruse
    May 7, 2020 at 10:54

    He didn’t say people should drink bleach, and I wonder why there has been no disclaimer from his supporters and deputies, but he was suggesting that bleach could somehow be converted from an external virus killer to and internal virus killer. That might seem like a thought outside the box and suggest that the thinker is an idea guy, but in fact it is a thought that a 4-year-old would reveal to his parents with no bad consequences. But he is the president of the empire and he revealed the thought spontaneously on world television. What’s more, he apparently doesn’t regret it in the least. As a 4-year-old would, he withdraws and pouts while scheming revenge against whosoever might have said a critical word about him. Converting external UV radiation is more problematical because nobody can imagine how that could be internalized, at least I can’t.

    • Skip Scott
      May 8, 2020 at 08:25

      Great comment!

  12. Richard E Browning
    May 7, 2020 at 10:52

    I agree with Elise Villemaire. Hillary Clinton may very well have been worse than Mr. Trump. The problem is that because the candidates are selected through the primary process, the final vote for president comes from those that seek power and are willing to favor those with money. This has been true for all of this century and most of the last century. When your only option it the bottom of the barrel this is where you usually find the scum.

  13. Gregory Kruse
    May 7, 2020 at 10:47

    He’s waiting to get reelected.

  14. pasha
    May 7, 2020 at 10:08

    “we find ourselves cursed with the worst possible government”

    Well no, not exactly. the UK knowingly and willingly voted Tory, despite knowing what Bojo was, despite knowing who his cronies were, despite the experience of ten years of Tory rule destroying everything that Britain once held dear. The UK didn’t sleepwalk into it. The Uk, with its nightmare death toll, disintegration of social cohesion, racism, thuggish police, destruction of free speech, oligonazi captains of industry, batshit imperialist yearnings, US arselicking, politicisation of the justice system, secrecy, clownish bloodsucking aristocracy, and all the rest, FREELY VOTED FOR IT.
    All the UK’s difficulties are self-inflicted.

    • Peter in Seattle
      May 9, 2020 at 17:49

      British mass media appear to be as fully captured by corporate interests and billionaires as American mass media are, and you know what they say about democratic elections and data processing: garbage in, garbage out. In fact, British media may be more fully captured, and consent more effectively manufactured, since the plutocracy apparently doesn’t have to rig elections to get the result they want over there … yet.

  15. Auwal
    May 7, 2020 at 10:07

    A Beautiful piece……. Trump as the leader of the most powerful country is Crazy….

  16. Donald Duck
    May 7, 2020 at 10:01

    Good quote from Gore Vidal, here another one. Reference to the US’s conspiratorial elites. ”It would be wrong to describe them as conspirators ‘ it’s just that they all think the same.”

  17. Hayden
    May 7, 2020 at 10:01

    More a screed than a reasoned essay. First, Annie above is quite right in her assessment of Trump’s now infamous press conference: He was saying something on the order of “wouldn’t it be great if we could” not “you should do this.” I’m no defender of Trump, but one should never twist someone’s words to fit one’s own narrative.

    Second, dismissing Trump’s supporters as anti-intellectual, ignorant, racists is unjust. Try this narrative instead: Millions of Americans were sick to death of America’s wars and intervention in the Middle East. These Americans knew they had been duped to support the war in Iraq because no WMD’s were ever found. They were also deeply suspicious of a collusion between their political leaders and a hidden oligarchy–the Deep State, as they’ve come to be known–who together had propagandized Americans to support these wars as their patriotic duty. They wanted someone outside the system who might get us out of our feckless and bloody engagement in the Middle East. Furthermore, these wars had been defended on the grounds that “it is better to fight them over there than here at home.” What other reason could there be? So these Americans thought, “Let’s just keep ‘them’ out through tighter immigration policies. That way we don’t have to fight them over there.” Such an attitude, paradoxically, is antithetical to racism, unless one thinks it is better to slaughter people in their countries than it is to bar them from entering one’s own. Trump seemed to be the only candidate who might actually get American troops out of the Middle East, both through his stated opposition to the wars and through his immigration policies. Hillary was almost certain to continue the policies of regime-change and intervention. The fact that Trump failed was not their fault.

  18. Annie
    May 7, 2020 at 01:27

    Trump did not say that one should drink disinfectant, as many claim. Yes he’s not science literate, but he certainly wasn’t saying drink Clorox, as some proclaim, or a similar disinfectant. He was taking about an internal substance that could be used as a disinfectant, well, an antiviral in this case. Others complained he was talking about using UV light internally, and UV light is an electromagnetic wave, and we use radiation for cancer, so in his mind he was thinking of some form of energy that could be used to target the virus. I heard him, and that was my take on it. Yes he’s not eloquent, but he’s not an idiot.

    • bobzz
      May 7, 2020 at 10:19

      You are right Annie. He did not positively say one should drink disinfectant. But he did turn to pose it as a serious question to Deborah Brix sitting to his right. Could it not be beneficial? It left Brix struggling, squirming, to disavow such an idiotic suggestion while trying not to antagonize his excellency.

    • Tom Earls
      May 7, 2020 at 12:03

      Are you really saying that just because Trump didn’t actually mean to tell people to ingest bleach that he’s not an idiot? What about North Korea. And every issue we have with China and his withdrawal from NATO and the universally agreed Climate accord. I can excuse the bleach, but all the rest? Really? Not an idiot? Wrong.

    • May 7, 2020 at 19:13

      You are a rare creature indeed- You claim to know what Trump was thinking. Wow

  19. May 6, 2020 at 23:28

    I still don’t know if electing Hillary might not have been far worse! Please note that the incredibly horrible Trump has yet to start his own war. (Trump 0, qBush 2, Obama 5!)

    Queen of Warmongers Hillary would have wasted no time.

    And now we are faced again with this terrible choice.

    • Odyssois Reux
      May 7, 2020 at 10:29

      ‘Trump has yet to start his own war.’

      He’s had no need to. He was bequeathed an embarrassment of wars, including that on ‘terror’. Not, still, that on plague.

    • May 7, 2020 at 11:10

      The explanation for that may be that we have used up all those nations that are warable by prior administrations and have nowhere left to war.

    • rosemerry
      May 7, 2020 at 15:10

      Don’t forget that “sanctions” are as devastating and lethal to many as “boots on the ground” wars, and of course save the lives of more of “our boys” who bravely defend us from terror.

    May 6, 2020 at 22:12

    “Donald Trump is the land of the free with its mask removed.”

    A great and true line.

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