Senators don’t wear togas anymore. They don’t glide towards the forum clutching six yards of white fabric rimmed in blood-red, but they are inheritors of the Roman legacy. They still carry that inheritance in their DNA. Candidus is Latin for “white.” A candidate is the one who wears a white toga, the official uniform of running for office. Senatus is Latin as well. When I was young, the giants traversing Statuary Hall seemed as large as the statues themselves.
There was John McCain and Ted Kennedy and Russ Feingold. They were like proper Romans: stoic, composed, and always just a touch removed. Then there were the women. Hillary Clinton and Barbara Boxer and Kay Bailey Hutchison. They were as familiar and as distant and as omniscient as your high school English teacher.
I’m betraying my own plumbable depths of nerdiness when I say that I wanted to be them. When I turned on my television, United States senators did bestride the narrow world like Colossuses. They had faced down the Soviet Union, the evil empire. This was the body that had ended slavery, granted women’s suffrage, declared war on Adolf Hitler, and ratified the end of every declared war in American history – every one a victory. They were legends.
The average senator stood ten feet tall, when it rained they didn’t get wet, and when they spoke, even the cicadas grew quiet in the heat of the summer. These are facts.
Then, Ted Cruz tweeted about Big Bird, Josh Hawley raised a flaccid fist to the insurrectionists, Mike Pence – president of the Senate – threw a hissy fit at a football game, and Mitch McConnell stomped tirelessly on every unguarded appendage of the Constitution.
From Trump’s villainous capture of the GOP in late 2015 until this day, the Republican senators have betrayed every virtue of a United States senator. They have openly lied, defied the Constitution, debased themselves, and abandoned their constituents. For God’s sake, Ted Cruz endorsed a man who insulted his wife. This is conduct unbecoming a grown man, let alone a senator of the greatest nation humans have ever produced. America is the last best hope for man on earth, and Ted Cruz is in Cancun. While this has been happening, the Democrats have grown vanishingly small and meek.
The inspiration for our government, the Roman Republic, fell apart because their senators became enamored with their own self-importance, their own money, and their own status. In a word, they surrendered to decadence. They squabbled with each other and squeezed the state dry. When the tyrant Julius Caesar came along, all of their democratic muscles had turned to flab, and they could do nothing but show him the country’s belly. Augustus fully brought them to heel and ended the Republic. This resulted in the worst possible outcome for a republic: the tyrant did a better job.
Is this how it felt as Caesar swept away Vercingetorix in Gaul and the Romans watched? Is this how it felt when the only senators remaining were Brutus, Cassius, Lepidus, and Casca – discount imitations of their ancestors? We don’t even have a Cicero remaining. Only Chuck Schumer. A weary republic trembles.
There will be no statues of Mitch McConnell. White horses will not pull Ted Cruz’s casket. No one will stand on a sidewalk and say “I didn’t know Josh Hawley but he knew me.” If America is to survive, these decadent cowards will be forgotten. And it’s what they deserve.