Opinion: The Rule of the American Optimates

Opinion: The Rule of the American Optimates

By Jeremy Cloward, Ph.D. and Makenna McDonald


In ancient Rome, Marcus Licinius Crassus was one of the richest men in Roman history and a member of the wealthy anti-democratic “political party” known as the Optimates.

Having already made his money through real estate speculation, he put down Spartacus’ slave revolt as Roman Consul and helped turn the Roman republic into an empire. The United States is already the world’s empire—more powerful than Rome ever was—and today we have our own Crassus who made his money in the exact same way as the wealthy Roman Consul once did. At the moment, we watch as he and his party try to undo the last good parts of our republic and turn the empire into the most powerful and brutal one ever known to man.

Consul Julies Caesar (100 BC–44 BC) and the Roman Senate where the Optimates and Populares competed for power.

Without a doubt, this demagogue who is so often mistaken as a populist by the media and the people, is trying to reverse the whole idea of Robin Hood by stealing from the poor to give to the rich while growing the military to heights never seen before and is daily making sure that he will go down as the most despised (and possibly the most dangerous) president in history.

In taking the whole notion of global capitalism and capital accumulation to their furthest extent—where just three men control more wealth than the bottom half of the country combined—he and the Republican Party have proposed to make life even easier for the “wealthiest among us” by cutting trillions of tax dollars for the rich over the next decade. The tax reductions will be paid for with deep cuts to our version of ancient Rome’s “grain dole”—our social welfare state. Yet, the military budget, which now stands at some $1.2 trillion and is greater than all other 194 countries combined, is unbelievably scheduled to be increased in 2018.


Much like the Emperor and Roman Senate in ancient Rome, the White House and the Republican Party are the center of power for billions of people throughout the world.

In the end, it is the rich and this radical version of the Republican Party (the Democrats aren’t much better) that are bankrupting the republic—and it is Trump, this “man against the people”—who is the most grotesque and extreme example of global capitalism and American power. However, even with him, what has become crystal clear to anyone with eyes to see is that his greatest threat to the world is not that of a man of wealth but instead a man who operates the levers of the most powerful nation to have ever existed with the mind of a child.

If we do nothing to end the rule of this modern-day Crassus and the American Optimates who are selling us all out then when the republic’s downfall finally does come there may well again be a bitter harvest—just as there was in the mid-1800s—for us all to reap. This time instead of slave against master it will be a massive-sized American poor that will be forced to rip the state and the productive forces of our society away from the rich and give them back to the people.


Jeremy Cloward, Ph.D. is the author of three books and multiple articles that have been published in Socialist Worker, Project Censored, and the East Bay Times. His college-level American Politics textbook, Class Power and the Political Economy of the American Political System, is currently being marketed to a national audience of political science professors throughout the country. Dr. Cloward has run for public office on three occasions (Congress 2009, 2010, and City Council 2012) and has appeared in a variety of media outlets, including FOX and the Pacifica Radio Network (KPFA). Today, Professor Cloward teaches political science in the San Francisco Bay Area.

Makenna McDonald is a 4.0 student at Diablo Valley College majoring in political science. She plans to enroll at UC Berkeley or UCLA in the fall of 2018 and eventually attend Bolt Law School to become a civil rights attorney. While she has worked on multiple political campaigns in the past this is her first article submitted for consideration for publication.


  1. K. Black

    5 January

    Attempting to establish parallels between Rome and the modern era is always a labored exercise, illuminating little but the ever present power of greed. And this article has its history backwards: Crassus was an ally of Caesar, not an “Opimate” (as Cato the Younger, Cicero, etc) but a supporter of the Populares–Caesar’s party, the opposition to the Optimates (and a member of the Populare Triumvarate with Caesar). Caesar’s party enjoyed broad public support within all but certain elements of the First Class of Rome, the oligarchs, who comprised the Optimates, whose corruption and greed Caesar had tasked himself to check. Yes, Crassus was phenomenally rich, and got his riches (as pretty much all the rest of the wealthy in Rome) through nefarious means, even by the standards of his own day. But politically he was much more a Soros than a Trump. As for the latter, I can think of no one analogous from Rome who ever attained such a level of power. No, Trump is fully a creature of *our* time, not theirs.

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