Do Not Fiddle While Rome Burns

By Cruz Marquis

Proxy wars in Yemen, Ukraine and elsewhere continue, defense spending hovers around $845 billion, the budget deficit exceeds one trillion, and federal debt per taxpayer is a quarter million. Amidst all the ruin and woe, former President Trump has the answer: trading cards which portray him as a superhero.

This is not a joke, however much I would like it to be. Yesterday, the former president took to his personal social media fiefdom and posted a fifteen second video where he says: “America needs a superhero.” It dramatically cuts to a cartoon video of him shooting lasers from his eyes and ripping open a dress shirt to reveal a “T” fashioned like a superman logo.

One might expect that a big speech was in the works, or he was selecting people for his prospective administration, or maybe he was correcting his hilariously erroneous thoughts on international trade. All of those are conceivable, but they are all equally wrong. Instead, it was this:

“MAJOR ANNOUNCEMENT! My official Donald Trump Digital Trading Card collection is here! These limited-edition cards feature amazing ART of my Life & Career! Collect all of your favorite Trump Digital Trading Cards, very much like a baseball card, but hopefully much more exciting. Go to collecttrumpcards.com/ & GET YOUR CARDS NOW! Only $99 each! Would make a great Christmas gift. Don’t Wait. They will be gone, I believe, very quickly!”

Below the caption, he included a picture of him looking muscular in a red jumpsuit with a “T” in the center, high blue cowboy boots, an American flag cape, and a wrestling champion belt.

Trump is known for grandiloquent displays so there really is nothing new about christening himself a superhero. If he is able to fix the immigration system, reform and dramatically reduce the legalized looting of the IRS, realize the America First idea and focus on the homeland not the empire, and reverse (we will settle for slow down) the growth of the machinery of state, he can be a superhero all he wants: he will have earned it. Disappointingly, his administration was not able to do those things, at least not to the extent that he and his voters (myself included) wanted. Perhaps he would be more successful in round two but it is not a safe bet.

I was disappointed but not surprised that Trump’s big announcement was something as meaningless as it was expensive. Judging by the word digital, these are not even physical cards but NFTs. Presumably, some people will be very interested in these and the free-market coordinates products with demands such that people will have their needs better met. Since all value is subjective, its not the place of the economist or cultural critic to say a product is a waste (one man’s trash is truly another man’s treasure), but I myself will not buy one.

The disappointment I felt over his announcement was less because of the crassness of making superhero NFTs of oneself and more because so much is going on right now and the former president does have a shot of fixing some of it, yet he is doing this instead. Wanting one’s likeness on anything greater than a portrait to hang in a parlor strikes me as the height of vanity and therefore something to be avoided, but this is Trump and he is a vain man, no one disputes this. Now that he has thrown his hat in the ring, he needs to be on top of his game, yet he is pursuing this Kardashian-like, NFT business.

In reading the surreal posts and articles about NFTs and superhero videos, my mind goes back to earlier days. There is nothing new under the sun, everything has been done at least once, probably many times, and exalting oneself during a time of crisis is recurring theme in history. So wrote the Historian Suetonius:

“For six days and seven nights destruction raged and the people were forced to take shelter in monuments and tombs. During that time, besides the enormous number of apartment blocks, the houses of the great generals of old, together with the spoils of battle which still adorned them, the temples of the gods, too, which had been vowed and dedicated by Rome’s kings and later in the Punic and Gallic wars, and every other interesting or memorable survival from the olden days went up in flames. Nero watched the fire from the tower of Maecenas, delighted with what he termed ‘the beauty of the flames’ and, dressed in his stage attire, he sang of ‘the Fall of Troy’.[1]

One of the many moral lessons to take from Suetonius’s portrayal of Emperor Nero is this: Do not fiddle while Rome burns. Do not let personal vanity interrupt the more important things, be it saving a city or a country, and certainly do not dress up in bizarre costumes while doing it.

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[3] Lives of the Caesars: A New Translation by Catharine Edwards. Oxford University Press. 2000. Page 217.

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