Foreign Policy Digital

James Mattis Is an Ancient Roman Action Hero

In dealing with President Trump, the defense secretary seems to have done his reading on Emperor Nero.

Since the 2016 election, comparisons between the United States and ancient Rome abound, motivated as much by President Donald Trump-Emperor Nero analogies as anything. Commentators have dwelled on the traits of theatricality, brutality, solipsism, narcissism, cruelty, and cowardice these men seem to share.

There’s a problem, however, with these comparisons: their source material. Most have turned to the work of Suetonius as their Nero-knowledge arsenal. Author of , Suetonius was antiquity’s Michael Wolff: a gossipy and glib chronicler of fear and loathing in imperial Rome. His account of Caligula planning to make a horse one of his consuls and Nero singing while Rome burned makes for sensational and spellbinding reading, just as does Wolff’s portrait of Trump eating cheeseburgers in bed and warning the maid not to touch his toothbrush in. Whether they are actually true is another, less promising, matter.

You're reading a preview, sign up to read more.

More from Foreign Policy Digital

Foreign Policy Digital7 min readPolitics
Mattis’s Successor Signals He Wants to End the Pentagon’s Long Silence
It’s been more than 14 months since a Defense Department press secretary stood on a podium and gave a televised press briefing, a regular practice in previous administrations from both the Republican and Democratic parties. But the long-empty Pentago
Foreign Policy Digital6 min readPolitics
Donald Trump And The War For Polish History
The Law and Justice party is trying to reframe the fight against the Nazis and communism—and the U.S. president is a useful pawn.
Foreign Policy Digital6 min readPolitics
Women Look to 2020 to Break the National Security Glass Ceiling
Advocacy groups see the upcoming election as an opportunity to boost the number of women in senior positions.