Though Donald Trump is almost certainly going to be the Republican nominee for the Presidency, he is still accounted something of a buffoon. However, it is his very buffoonery that has brought him as far as this, enabling him to connect with the ordinary Republican voter, whose concerns he has enunciated so unerringly. But at the same time, to understand this phenomenon, it is best to go back to the history of the Roman Republic. It is worth seeing, in that, how a democracy such as Rome was converted into a monarchy, when Augustus Caesar became the first Emperor. Rome was not a simple city-state, but a city-state with vast overseas possessions. The Empire already existed. It got an Emperor, because the Republic could not run the Empire efficiently.

The USA is something like Rome. Its predecessor as a global empire, Britain, is a little like Rome’s predecessor as the pre-eminent representative of the Mediterranean civilization, Greece. The analogy gains strength from the fact that the first unifier of the Mediterranean civilization, Alexander the Great, was not Roman, just as much as Trump was preceded by Adolf Hitler. Hitler was not British, but he was German, while England has a strong strand of German origin, through the Saxons.

Writing around the time Hitler rose to power, Arnold Toynbee in his monumental A Study of History postulated that the civilization was ruled by a creative minority, and passed through a Time of Troubles which saw the emergence of a universal empire. He postulated that Alexander was the military figure thrown up by the Time of Troubles in what would become the Roman Civilisation, and Augustus Caesar the figure who created the universal empire of that civilisation. It should not be forgotten that Toynbee was by training a Classical historian, and he let the flow of Graeco-Roman history shape his theory. One result is that, whatever the applicability of his theory to other civilisations, he is pretty accurate when dealing with Graeco-Roman history, which is perhaps the most influential history of modern Western civilization.Toynbee’s classical scholarship was because that was the prevalent mode of education. One result was that no matter what country they came from, empire builders had the same attitude, derived from seeing themselves as the successors of Romans, and their subjects as Roman subjects. It should not be forgotten that the USA is the result of an Enlightenment project that also saw the French Revolution, a liberal, modern project which looked to classical models to replace the ornateness of the preceding Rococco, Baroque and Gothic. It is no coincidence that the USA and post-Revolutionary France took their inspiration from Classical Greek and Roman models.

One of the major concepts inherited from the Greeks was that of democracy. However, Roman history provided the story of democracy turning to monarchy. How exactly did that happen. That is a relevant question for any state, but it would be particularly relevant for any civilisation that based itself on the Classical model, as the present Western civilisation does. Within Toynbee’s model, Trump would fit the Augustan example, Hitler the Alexandrine.

Augustus was not essentially a military man, while Alexander is ranked with the great military geniuses. Trump too is being compared to military men, even though he has never served with the colours, (having dodged the draft during the Vietnam War by four academic deferments and then a medical exemption), when it is not that he has never previously held elective office. The only other American Presidents never to have held elective office were generals, all being Republicans, the last being Dwight D. Eisenhower (1952-60), the World War II general, who was Supreme Allied Commander Europe and Commander-in-Chief of NATO when he left service to campaign.

Indeed, the last major-party candidate never to have held military or elective office was Wendell Wilkie, the Republican presidential candidate of 1940, who was basically a lawyer, but who headed a utility. He had been a Democrat until 1939, but switched to contest Roosevelt for a third term, which he won handsomely.

While Trump will not face a President running for a third term, his probable opponent, Hilary Clinton, has been First Lady for two terms, and thus is almost running for a third term. Unlike Trump, Wilkie joined up in ‘his’ war (World War I) as an artillery lieutenant. But Hilary will probably not throw draft dodging in his face, because her husband, Bill, was himself a noted draft dodger.

Trump is a New Yorker, a state on which Republican majorities used to be built. The last New Yorker to run on a major-party ticket was Thomas E. Dewey who went down to Roosevelt in 1944, and then Truman in 1948.However, it should be noted that just as the first person to attempt to lead all of Western civilization, Adolf Hitler, was a racist, so is Trump, what with his resonance among the redneck Republicans, his endorsement by the Ku Klux Klan, and his announcements of anti-Hispanic and anti-Muslim plans. Race is a big issue for Western civilization, ever since it gave up empires and imported labour. Race had been an issue since it was realized after World War I that no longer was it possible to keep European conflicts among Europeans, not after the British used Indian troops and the French Senegalese. There was also the Jewish problem: Hitler tried to solve it by killing them all, but there were too many. There seems an appropriateness in the emergence of Trump, as the USA has pursued the opposite of Hitler’s policy, by giving Jews everything they want, not just recognizing their state, but obsequiously bankrolling it.

Trump represents the same spirit that was behind the pogroms, but is very much tilted towards their former victims. His targets are now Hispanics and Muslims. Jews are now integrated into American society, but Hispanics and Muslims face much of the same prejudice. It may be argued that Hispanics and Muslims should also integrate, but the example of blacks should tell them that no amount of integration will overcome racial prejudice. True, a black has made it to the White House, but that has perhaps paved the way for Trump’s emergence. Is he the white man’s revenge? That is certainly a factor.

Trump has the slogan of making ‘America Great Again’. That assumes that America is not great now. To Pakistanis, that might seem counter-intuitive, but it should not be forgotten that Trump has tapped into a vein of popular sentiment that is being ignored. It is not being ignored by politicians, who have not adopted Trump’s ideas wholesale, but who have borrowed some of them. Apart from that influence, which will be too subtle for a man not known for his subtlety, there is the possibility of his being elected. After all, though at the moment all the polls show him as losing, when he first stood for President, no one expected he would make it. And that was before anyone knew him as more than a reality-TV show participant.n The writer is a veteran journalist and founding member as well as executive editor of The Nation.