In the book “The Darkening Age” by Catherine Nixey, she describes the situation from contemporary accounts around 350-400 CE when Christianity became the exclusive faith of the Roman Empire. Gangs of Christian monastics, sometimes led by the local Bishop, would burn down the temples and schools not directly associated with the Christian cult, and torture their members with fire, acid, and stones. This was part of an on-going violent campaign throughout the larger cities of empire for several decades until only Christianity was left. The primary result was the loss of all educational facilities across Europe for five centuries, and this drove the cultural cataclysm we think of as the “Dark Ages”.

Constantine, who is often given credit for the establishment of Christianity as the national cult of Rome, was an egotistical, entitled narcissist. His father was a Caesar as part of the developing Roman federation at the time, but Constantine overthrew all that in favor of old-school tyranny upon the whole of Rome. His answer to every question was to bully his way to the result he wanted, and he was unafraid to unleash great violence upon his foes. He wasn’t a great philosopher: truth was whatever he wanted it to be.

I don’t think I really understood Constantine, or perhaps I hadn’t allowed myself to believe that any one person could have such an effect on people until Donald Trump won the US Presidency in 2016. After seeing how that campaign played out, the people it attracted and the violence it generated, I realized that Constantine usurping the Empire was just like Trump becoming President. Their personalities and behaviors are very similar, although I would give credit to Constantine for being better educated and better read. The results of their egocentric lifestyles have been remarkably similar. I look at it now and the image is clear: this is what you get when you put an entitled man-child into a position proximate to power.

Much as the Praetorian Guards morphed from guarding the Emperor to becoming the Emperor’s secret police, the Secret Service has, under Trump, become his private intelligence agency and personal army. One of the areas of executive control mangled by Trump during his misadministration was the Secret Service, where loyal officers replaced neutral veterans. Who can say now how much of that stain remains? Conflict over Secret Service protections has been the primary reason Trump hasn’t gone to jail on any of the serious felonies he has committed. Is part of that fear concern of open hostilities between different government entities? We don’t have the public transparency over that department to know. 

The degree to which the MAGA philosophy is a continuation of Civil War aggrievance that serves to rally the base behind an authoritarian leader, it serves the same function as the early Christian cult for Constantine: it is the violent front line of culture shift. Watching state legislatures work to ban books and eliminate libraries and public schools reminds me of early Christian gangs setting fire to schools and throwing acid on the teachers and how stupid everyone was after that. This embrace of authority over democracy, authority over rationalism, authority over reasonableness is what leads people into disaster again and again. 

Something that is helpful to understand is that Romans of the Christian cult in the 4th century saw Jesus Christ as an idealized representation of Caesar, their Emperor. The promise of Christ’s return was seen as a restoration of the “true” Caesar – specifically a Flavian Caesar. This was a natural supposition for 4th century Roman Christians, as for them, Christ’s first return had come in the form of the Emperor Flavius Titus. This is what the Gospels were all talking about Christ coming back to tear down the Temple – that was Titus, so it was a central element of faith that the Flavians were the best emperors.

The Christianity embraced by Constantine centered upon himself – A Flavian! – as that promised Caesar. The book of Revelations appeared in the 4th century so everyone would know that Constantine was the promised return of Christ. He promised salvation in the return to some imaginary fundamentalist paradise – a Kingdom of Heaven. A generation of shame and resentment among Romans derived from the cultural changes imposed by Diocletian was amplified by Constantine as he promised to restore the “old ways”. 

The MAGA culture is centered upon Trump as the return of Christ (which I wish were hyperbole, but it’s not). They are prepared to stand as Christian soldiers, setting fire to and throwing acid on people they disagree with, destroying buildings and books that represent diversity they are unwilling to accept. There cannot be any doubt (especially after Jan 6th) that violence has been and will continue to be a major tool in their march to domination. There cannot be doubt that they will destroy all forms of education in their battle against reality. 

Constantine lied to everyone. He misrepresented himself, the Empire, and everyone around him persistently. He made contradictory promises with ease and rarely bothered to follow through on any of them. He took a balkanized collection of Christian cults and created a unified system that took precedence and power over all of them. In the end, he never restored Roman culture as promised, but instead created a new monstrosity. The Christian hoards he unleashed destroyed civilization in Europe with acid and fire.

Trump lies to everyone. He persistently misrepresents himself, his businesses, and everyone he encounters. He makes contradictory promises with ease and never bothers to follow through on any of them. He took a balkanized political party and created a more unified system that has usurped power from its foundation. When he took power, he didn’t make anything great or even better, but instead made things much worse in so many ways. The MAGA hoards he unleashed on January 6th demonstrated he was ready to burn the whole country down if he couldn’t have control.

In 2016, there were many comparisons made with Trump to fascist leaders like Mussolini and Hitler, but compared to Constantine, these guys were amateur dilettantes. The MAGA cult is every bit as dangerous and violent as the 4th century Christian cult, and is embedded in enough centers of authority to have the potential to ignite a civil war. The degree of calamity we face is extreme, especially if the precedents are followed to their natural conclusion. The fact that a significant component of the MAGA cult is evangelical Christians should not be overlooked.

The danger we face isn’t just that we might lose democracy. If MAGA isn’t completely discredited and ejected from the state and federal legislations, we just might lose our ability to create doctors and scientists after these reactionary fundamentalists burn everything down.


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