An American Philippic
Posted Nov 06, 2016
“He hit my hands. Nobody has ever hit my hands. ‘If they’re small, something else must be small'.”
Earlier this year, in a Salem, Virginia speech, Marco Rubio went after Donald Trump. He called him a swindler, a con artist, an outsourcer, and a man with small hands. Months later, there was the hot mic. And the sexual harassment allegations picked up.
2059 years ago, Marcus Cicero read his first Philippic to the senate. He went after Marc Antony—the last man standing in the civil wars against the man-who-would-become Augustus, the first emperor of Rome. And he didn’t mince words. Antony was a gladiator. He was a gambler. He was an alcoholic. And he was a sexual predator. No better than a common prostitute (volgare scortum), he took up with an actress, and had her carried around in an open litter, followed by (comites nequissimi) an iniquitous retinue. In Rome, his bedrooms became brothels as his dining rooms became bars; and it was the same on his Monte Cassino farm, where mothers of families (matres familias) consorted with (scorta) whores. As Cicero summed up: “While all slavery is wretched, it is especially intolerable to be slaves of a man debauched.” Cicero read his last Philippic on 21 April in the year 43 BC; on 7 December, Antony had his head cut off.
20 years earlier, Cicero had had better luck. He’d exposed the revolutionary ambitions of Lucius Catiline in a terrifically succinct speech. It went something like this: “Our cause is respectable, theirs disreputable; ours decent, theirs obscene; ours trustworthy, theirs fraudulent; ours patriotic, theirs traitorous; ours determined, theirs hysterical; ours honorable, theirs infamous; ours a model of self-restraint, theirs given up wholly to lechery.” Catiline died fighting in Tuscany; and they started to call Cicero the Father of his Country.
Hundred of years before Rome became an empire, at the beginning of history, and at the end of their 40-year trek across the desert, Moses warned his people about judges. If they had to set up an overlord, could they please pick a good one. “He shall not multiply wives for himself, lest his heart turn away; nor shall he greatly multiply for himself silver and gold” (Deuteronomy 17:17).
Generations later, after they’d crossed over the Jordan, the people of Israel were warned again by Samuel, who anointed their first king. “These will be the ways of the king who will reign over you,” he began. “He will take your daughters to be perfumers and cooks and bakers. He will take the best of your fields and vineyards and olive orchards and give them to his סָרִיס, or eunuchs. He will take your menservants and maidservants, and the best of your cattle and your assess, and put them to his work. He will take the tenth of your flocks, and you shall be his slaves.” Then the prophet rubbed it in: “And in that day you will cry out because of your king, whom you have chosen for yourselves; but the Lord will not answer you in that day” (1 Samuel 8:11-18).
A generation ago, when Bill Clinton was in office, there was troopergate. Then there were sexual harassment allegations, or worse, by Juanita Broaddrick, Kathleen Wiley and Paula Jones. Then there was Monica Lewinsky, and the president was impeached.
Whatever else happens this Tuesday, the American electorate will put a sexual predator in the White House. He might walk in on the arm of his steadfast wife; or he might take the oath of office raising his small right hand.
Either way, we’ll have come a long way from 2008. And many of us are sorry about that.