Niccolo Machiavelli, the father of modern political science, wrote that there are three periods of danger in a conspiracy:
- Dangers in organizing the plot
- Dangers in executing the conspiracy
- Dangers following the execution of the plot.
The first two were covered in Part Two of this series. Now, as to the third:
Dangers following the Execution of the Conspiracy: There is really but one—someone is left who will avenge the murdered prince. These can be brothers, sons or other relatives, who have been spared by negligence or for other reasons.
But of all the perils that follow the execution of a conspiracy, the most certain and fearful is the attachment of the people to the murdered prince. There is no remedy against this, for the conspirators can never secure themselves against a whole people.
An example of this occurred in the case of Julius Caesar, who, being beloved by the people, was avenged by them.
Machiavelli closes his chapter “Of Conspiracies” with advice to rulers on how they should act when they find a conspiracy has been formed against them.
If they discover that a conspiracy exists against them, they must, before punishing its authors, strive to learn its nature and extent. And they must measure the danger posed by the conspirators against their own strength.
And if they find it powerful and alarming, they must not expose it until they have amassed sufficient force to crush it. Otherwise, they will only speed their own destruction. They should try to pretend ignorance of it. If the conspirators find themselves discovered, they will be forced by necessity to act without consideration.
The foregoing was taken from Book Three, Chapter Six, of Machiavelli’s masterwork, The Discourses on Livy, which was published posthumously in 1531. But elsewhere in this volume, he notes how important it is for rulers to make themselves loved–or at least respected–by their fellow citizens:
Note how much more praise those Emperors merited who, after Rome became an empire, conformed to her laws like good princes, than those who took the opposite course.
Titus, Nerva, Trajan, Hadrian, Antoninus and Marcus Auelius did not require the Praetorians nor the multitudinous legions to defend them, because they were protected by their own good conduct, the good will of the people, and by the love of the Senate.
On the other hand, neither the Eastern nor the Western armies saved Caligula, Nero, Vitellius and so many other wicked Emperors from the enemies which their bad conduct and evil lives had raised up against them.
In his better-known work, The Prince, he warns rulers who–like Donald Trump–are inclined to rule by fear:
A prince should make himself feared in such a way that if he does not gain love, he at any rate avoids hatred: for fear and the absence of hatred may well go together.
* * * * *
If Trump is aware of Machiavelli’s warnings, he has shown no signs of it.
Most Presidents have sought to make themselves seem friendly and caring toward their fellow Americans.
This held true even for Richard M. Nixon, when he made an impromptu visit to the Lincoln Memorial and engaged in a rambling dialogue with Vietnam war protesters.
The encounter happened around 4 a.m. on May 9, 1970, shortly after the invasion of Cambodia. Nationwide outrage had exploded on college campuses, climaxing in the killing of four students at Kent State University on May 4.
So young Vietnam antiwar protesters who had descended on Washington, D.C. were startled when Nixon suddenly appeared in their midst.
Even more startling: He had come with only a small number of Secret Service agents and his devoted White House valet, Manolo Sanchez.
Nixon, in his awkward way of trying to establish rapport, asked some of the students where they were from. When they said they attended Syracuse University, Nixon replied that it had a great football team.
But Nixon and the protesters were separated by too many differences–in their views on sexuality, civil rights, dissent and war–to find common cause.
Still, Nixon at least made an effort to understand and reach an accommodation with his critics.
Since taking office on January 20, Donald Trump has made none.
Instead, he has:
- Held a series of “victory rallies” with his Right-wing followers–like Adolf Hitler addressing his fellow Nazis at Nuremberg.
- Attacked the integrity of Federal judges who struck down his travel ban on Muslims.
- Called the nation’s most prestigious news media “the enemy of the American people.”
- Slandered truthful stories about his staffers’ ties to Russian Intelligence agents as “fake news.”
- Falsely accused his predecessor, President Barack Obama, of wiretapping him.
These and other infamous actions have led to only 37% of Americans approving of his performance–while 58% disapprove.
Trump’s approval rating is lower than that of any other President at this point in his first term in 72 years. Barack Obama’s rating at this point in his Presidency was 60%.
By Machiavelli’s standards, Trump has made himself the perfect target for a conspiracy: “When a prince becomes universally hated, it is likely that he’s harmed some individuals–who thus seek revenge. This desire is increased by seeing that the prince is widely loathed.”