President in Name Only

Why have elections if the whole thing is nothing but a show?

In AD 65, unrest spread throughout the Roman Empire, in response to the increasingly despotic rule of Nero. It started with the Pisonian conspiracy, which was an attempt to restore the Republic. Nero’s suppression of it reduced his support in the Senate, which led to further instability. In AD 68, Gaius Julius Vindex rebelled against Nero’s tax policy in Gaul. His plan was to replace Nero with a provincial governor named Galba.

This revolt was put down by the legions stationed at the border with Germania. Vindex committed suicide and Galba was declared an enemy of the state. The instability opened the door for an ambitious Praetorian Guard prefect to launch a plot whereby the guard would shift their loyalty from Nero to Galba. Not long after, Nero committed suicide and what followed was the Year of the Four Emperors.

The relevance to this age is that what followed was a long period in which the real power in the Roman Empire had no official role. The Praetorian Guard could make or break an emperor, so they had real power, but they existed outside the rest of the political structure. The American Empire appears to have entered a similar period, in which it is not entirely clear who is in charge of the state.

This was made clear last week when Joe Biden held his first official press conference of his administration. Biden was disoriented and slow in his responses, even though the questions were submitted in advance and he had prepared answers. At one point he stopped pretending and just read a statement about North Korea off his sheet. His struggle to do that underscored the fact that he is president in name only.

Now, this is not a revelation. During the campaign it was clear that Biden was a shambling husk of a man. The internet was full of hackneyed jokes about his campaign being “Weekend at Biden’s” or operating out of a nursing home. It was clear that while Biden was the candidate, he had no role in his campaign, other than to shuffle out on stage when told to by his handlers. He was just a figurehead.

To be fair, few politicians in the modern age have control of their lives. They are more like prizefighters than political leaders. An organization exists around them that is composed of the interests financing their campaigns. The job of the politician is to perform when needed, but the day-to-day running of his office and political life is left to the professionals who manage him, just like a prizefighter. [ … ]

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