Fresco of St. Constantine and St. Helena
Those who do not know their history are doomed to repeat it.
What do you remember from your school history classes about the Byzantine Empire? Anything?
If you’re of Greek extraction, you’re probably proud that the empire lasted for over a thousand years.
If you aren’t Greek, it’s possible that you might vaguely recall that the Byzantine Empire came into being when the Roman Emperor Constantine established a second capitol in Constantinople (which is Istanbul, Turkey today). Eventually the cultural and political divides became large enough that the empire split in two.
You may even say, “Byzantine–what? And why is this important?”
Oh, good question!
The Byzantine Empire adopted the Roman legal structure and system of government because they considered themselves (at least at the outset) to be a continuation of the Roman empire, albeit no longer worshiping the pagan Roman/Greek pantheon of gods, or emperor-gods (like mad Nero), but instead the state religion became Christianity.
The ruins of Yedikule Hisarları (Seven Towers Fortress) in Istanbul, Turkey with modern high rises in the background
Unfortunately, because of political infighting, the vast majority of the Byzantine emperors after Constantine the Great were murdered or died in prison after being overthrown. Few of them died in their beds. In many cases, their entire families were murdered along with them!
The office of Emperor went from being a post awarded by merit or heredity (or both), to being a bloody political prize awarded to the most violent of men! The empire succumbed to rot from within and eventually became too weak to protect its borders from invaders.
Fast-forward from the fall of Constantinople to the Ottoman Turks in 1453 A.D., to the founding of the United States of America:
Our country’s founders looked back across history, and–being well-read, they understood all too well the rise and fall of the great civilizations that had gone before them. They wanted our government to be secure and stable. They understood that they needed to make the office of president strong enough to allow a president to fulfill his duties, but also balance it out with limitations on his power, and with powers granted to the other two branches and also to the states, to limit the ability of a president to become a tyrant or dictator, or even worse, an emperor.
This wasn’t just because it’s healthier for us as citizens to have our rights safeguarded from tyranny, but because it is also far, far safer for our nation’s presidents if they aren’t perceived as occupying a plum position of strength that can be taken and held by a bloody show of force!
Fast-forward to recent events:
President Barack Obama
Obama was elected and served for two terms. In our nation’s history, no other president has been able to enact or implement social programs on the scale that Obama did. Also our nation’s debt approached $21 Trillion before the end of his presidency. The tax and regulatory burdens left behind, especially in the form of the Affordable Care Act, are also unprecedented in scale and scope.
All of this led to the frustration and anger of voters, who flocked to the polls to elect Donald Trump!
All previous presidents have left Washington, D.C., and found hobbies or other interests to occupy their time outside of the political arena. While they might occasionally appear to fund raise for candidates for office, they have made a deliberate decision not to interfere in their successors’ governing.
But not Obama!
He says he wants to protect his legacy. He’s made it clear he wants to undermine Trump’s ability to govern.
But he doesn’t understand the lessons of history, and why we are all safer and much better off, including him and his family, when FORMER PRESIDENTS DON’T DO THAT.
He’s forgotten the lessons our nation’s founding fathers learned from the history of the Byzantine Empire about how not to create a thousand year bloody free-for-all for positions of power!
And sadly, even if anyone explained it to him, I doubt that he would care.
Author’s Note: Because I write fantasy, the history of the Byzantine era is a treasure trove of really neat stuff for me: like the candidate for empress who nixed her chances by saying the wrong thing and wound up a nun, and the ‘throne of Solomon.’ I also believe in the time-tested maxim that those who don’t know their history are doomed to repeat it.
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