A Roman We Must Go

I haven’t felt this confused since I watched Donny Darko.  What on earth just happened?  When you toss a coin, you either call it ‘heads’ or ‘tails’.  Nobody expects it to land exactly on its side. Whilst the dust is still in the process of settling, it’s apparent that the three regional former National Party MPs (who – for ease of reference – I shall refer to as ‘Paper’, ‘Rock’ and ‘Scissors’) wield an almighty degree of power.

It’s a lot of responsibility for so few shoulders.  Where do you begin?  Do you make a choice about which party to support in the formation of the government based on who has the greatest number of seats, primary votes or two-party preferred votes?  Or do you throw conventional wisdom squarely out the window and support the party that showed the most restraint in the use of ‘Photoshop’ technology for their campaign posters (let’s be honest – in some instances the difference between the picture on the placard and the actual candidate can only described and ‘gapingly, gob-smackingly enormous’).  Perhaps it would be best to flip a coin and shout ‘heads’ or ‘tails’ but, then, that’s what gave us our current predicament.

The temptation to go overboard must be huge.  In less disciplined hands, I can imagine a list that includes demands for a monster truck, the removal of all brown M and Ms and a public holiday in honour of their pet Spoodle.  In fact, perhaps we ought all be impressed that the demands of the regional independents do not, to date, resemble Van Halen’s tour rider.  It’s a reminder of what a fragile and unpredictable thing democracy can be.  Which is fair enough when you consider how long it has taken to perfect.  Although democracy was invented by the Greeks, it was the Romans who really took it up a notch.  

Although famous for its Senate, democracy had fallen from favor in Rome.  It made a comeback after the tyrannical Emperor Tiberius was succeeded by Gaius Julius Caesar Augustus Germanics (also known as ‘Caligula’ to his friends – of whom he had many) in 37 AD.  Notwithstanding his later reputation for being as mad as a cut snake, Caligula’s ascension was greeted with joy by the Roman people, largely because they now had an emperor who wasn’t Tiberius.

He got off to a roaring start.  He reintroduced democratic elections and commissioned work on two new aqueducts as well as tax reform.  But in spite of his devotion to public works, there were early signs of trouble.  In 39 AD, he ordered the construction of a temporary floating pontoon bridge across a bay – a distance of two miles – so he could ride over it on a horse whilst wearing the breastplate of Alexander the Great.  He did this solely to antagonize a soothsayer named Thrasyllus of Menda who had once declared that Caligula had as much chance of becoming emperor as he did of riding a horse across the Bay of Baiae.  No doubt Caligula took great delight in declaring ‘In your face Thrasyllus!’ as he reached the other side.

Then trouble struck.  Caligula started having difficulty with the Senate, but rather than dissolve it, he retaliated by forcing senators to perform acts of servitude such as running along side his chariot.  Worse still, the power started to go to his head and poor old Caligula began to believe that he was a god.  But, classy guy that he was, he didn’t come flat out and declare it – he dropped hints, such as turning up to work dressed as other gods such as Mercury, Apollo and Hercules.  It is a shame, I think, that people rarely make their point through outrageous costumes.  Bob Katter excepted.

Caligula then demanded that the heads of statues be removed and replaced with his own head.  As you do.  Then things really went off the rails.  Legend has it that he once threw an entire section of the crowd into an arena to be eaten by wild animals because he was bored.  Historians regard this event as the very first example of a citizen’s assembly going horribly wrong.  He then attempted that most herculean of political tasks – reforming the Senate. Thank goodness he had the costume for it.  But rather than change the manner in which voting occurred, he tried to appoint his horse, Incitatus.  Presumably, he wanted to increase the ‘Nay’ vote.

By 41AD, he was declared an enemy of the State but before assassins could carry out their grisly task, Caligula committed suicide.  A sad end, no doubt.  Within four years, he’d gone from reforming hero to despot and his name forever associated with villainy.  However, not all democratic stalemates are resolved in so dramatic a fashion.  A few years later, Nero responded to plummeting popularity by singing in public.

Who knows how the current impasse is to be resolved?  Personally, I’m quite taken with the singing idea. It could be just like an Idol audition – starry-eyed hopefuls would be wheeled in before a table at which the country independents are seated, before giving it their all.  Then again, maybe it’s all too difficult and we’ll be returning to the polls sooner rather than later.  There’s at least one up side that I can think of.  If nothing else, another election means one thing: a second sausage sizzle.  This could well be the greatest and most unexpected boost to educational budgets in living memory.

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