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The Tragedy of the Florentine Republic and Contemporary Republicans

Gianfranco is a student at St. John's University, who has a passion for learning and helping others.

A Tale of Two Timelines

Niccolò Machiavelli was born in 1469 and is regarded as one of the greatest political minds in all of history. He was a staunch republican, in the classical sense, which allowed him to gain a diplomatic role within the Florentine Republic. Machiavelli's life would soon be turned upside down and his true values would be tested with the shift of power in the Florence city-state.

In 2016, the American political stage was shaken up by the election of the 45th president, Donald J. Trump. The Republican platform radically changed and embraced Trump's new style and policies. This caused a majority of the Republican Party to abandon past ideals and surrender to the president, and surrender to many of his views that contradict years of Republican belief.

These two situations seemingly have nothing in common but there are similarities in how these two stories play out: abandonment and survival, for in this tragedy, abandoning values often lead to misery.

Machiavelli thrived in the republic but more importantly he believed in it. He became a diplomat and was responsible for creating a unified militia for Florence. His love for politics and his dedication to the idea of the republic showed in his many writings. However, these were tumultuous times with constant wars and shifts in power, and in 1512, it was the Medici family who took over. The next few years proved to be the most painful for Machiavelli. When the Medici regained control, they abolished the republic and cast Machiavelli out from his position. In 1513, he was wrongly accused of conspiring against the Medici in an attempt to bring the republic back. He was tortured and jailed for three long weeks.

The change of government left Machiavelli ideologically deserted. He retreated to the small town of Sant'Andrea and began to write and plan his return to politics, a quest that would prove to be difficult.

 Niccolò Machiavelli

Niccolò Machiavelli

The Republican primary race in 2016 was filled with numerous candidates, most of which were establishment but some were political outsiders, such as Donald Trump, Ben Carson, and Carly Fiorina. When Donald Trump surprisingly rose to the top of each poll and later won state by state during the primaries, it was clear that his unapologetic, unabashed style was popular among Republicans. This caused establishment Republicans such as Ted Cruz, Marco Rubio, and Lindsey Graham to heavily criticize candidate Trump. They believed their conservative ideas did not align with Trump's policies on trade, immigration, and corruption. Cruz called Trump a "pathological liar," Graham called him "unfit," Rubio called him a "con-man," and it did not stop there. It was clear these men had extreme personal and political differences, but these differences would be tested once the unbelievable happened: the election of Donald Trump to be the 45th president of the United States.

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Machiavelli longed for politics, he desperately wanted to be a part of the government again regardless if it was ruled by the Medici, the very family who tortured him. He needed it and he craved it and he would do almost anything to be "in" again. This led Machiavelli to write his most famous work, The Prince, which acted as a job interview of sorts. As a staunch republican, he needed to curry favor with Lorenzo Di Medici, the leader of Florence who removed the republic in the city-state.

The Prince is a book that describes the duties and responsibilities of a ruler in his country. Machiavelli writes about the use violence for the sake of the people, the need to be feared if necessary, prevention of domestic revolt, and countless other themes that directly contradicted his true beliefs. He abandoned his values in an attempt to survive and stay politically relevant. He believed this "how-to" guide for a monarch type leader would be good enough to get him back into Florentine politics. Sadly, he was mistaken.

When Donald Trump took office, the political world believed there would be a split in the Republican party between those who support Trump and those who would call him out and criticize his actions. As the months began to pass, the criticism from the right began to dwindle. It seemed as if the only two voices that criticized Trump were Senator John McCain and Governor John Kasich. However, the voices in the past that heavily criticized Trump were heard again, this time in support of the president. Slowly, they began to not only support his policies but support his language and habits as well. Most recently, Senator Ted Cruz displayed his active support for the president by getting Trump to rally for him in his Texas Senate race. Senator Lindsey Graham now offers messages of support for the president, including praising him on the economy, SCOTUS nominations, and even saying "he [Trump] is doing things I respect."

This extends to many other Republicans both in and out of office who support him in order to survive politically. It can be seen as an abandonment of ideals and values in order to hitch one's wagon to the winning horse.

Machiavelli was not chosen by the Medici to work for them politically, but as a consolation he received a few commissions to work on small diplomatic projects. He also wrote plays and other discourses. In 1527, Machiavelli saw a second chance, the rule of the Medici was stopped by the hands of Charles V and his army. Charles V implemented the republic once again in Florence, giving Machiavelli a second chance to reclaim his diplomatic position and his social status. However, Machiavelli's past caught up with him. His attachment to the Medici and his name as author of The Prince, a direct refutation of republican ideas, led the new Florentine leaders to reject him. His reputation deteriorated as well as his health. Machiavelli later died only a few months after, killed by his need to return to politics, no matter the cost.

A Tragic Ending?

Machiavelli's tragic story ended in his death partly because he abandoned his beliefs. There will be a time where Trump is no longer President, a new status quo, a time in which the "republic" will return, as far as the comparison goes. Will these establishment Republicans be accepted back into society? Or will they be ousted, like Machiavelli because they decided to abandon their values for political survival.

© 2018 Gianfranco Regina

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