On a cold morning in January, a man sits his horse on the bank of a shallow river. Even astride such a tall stallion, the man is not a particularly impressive figure: not more than five and a half feet tall, slightly paunchy, beady eyes, a hawk’s beak for a nose, an enormous forehead all wedged under a receding hairline and tinted with a sallow complexion. For several minutes, he appears lost in thought, doubtful even, strange for a man with an army massed at his back. But then a shadow seems to flit across his face and in an instant, as though he had seen some holy apparition, his affect changes from doubtful to decided. He urges his horse into the stream and the front rank of his single legion, Legio XIII Gemina, steps in behind him, stirring up the muddy bottom of the river, turning it red, rebeus in Latin. The man on the horse turns to the young cup bearer at his side and murmurs something.
“What did he say?” someone asks.
“Iacta alia est.” The die is cast.
The year was 49 BC and Julius Caesar’s crossing of the Rubicon, the border between Cisalpine Gaul and Italia, was a deliberate act of defiance against the Roman Republic that would launch a civil war. Ultimately victorious in that conflict, Caesar assumed control of the government of Rome, securing almost unchallenged power and influence. He gave citizenship to many residents of far-off regions of the empire, initiated land reforms, and provided support for veterans. Eventually, he was named dictator perpetud, ‘dictator for life.’ But his populist ideas and authoritarian style angered many of the Roman elites who began to conspire against him. On the Ides of March in 45 BC, only four years after he crossed the Rubicon, Caesar was assassinated on the floor of the Roman Senate; Brutus and Cassius, two of his closest associates, contributed their sharp cuts to his many mortal wounds.
Now I don’t know about you, but I purposely did not not watch either the Democratic or Republican conventions that took place during the last two weeks. This was not an intentional act of Caesar-like defiance on my part; both of the virtual conventions were just way past my bedtime. But, to be honest, there was another reason for my unconventional behavior: I’m beginning to feel politically saturated, overwhelmed by all the rhetoric and an exceedingly drawn-out process driven by dollars and fueled by vitriol. I didn’t feel—and still don’t—that I needed any more input from pundits nor was it likely that anything either of the candidates or their slew of speech-making supporters might say at their conventions would make any material difference to me or change my voting mind. Yes, I was affronted by all the egregious violations of the Hatch Act during the RNC and all those maskless faces arrayed across the White House lawn, but it didn’t surprise me; I’ve come to expect that sort of behavior from Team Trump.
So let’s just get on with the voting, whether by mail, absentee ballot, or at the polls. I don’t need to watch any presidential or vice-presidential debates, although I admit I might be tempted to watch Kamala Harris dismantle Bobblehead Pence like Caesar dismantled Pompey. I just want to cast my die.
Caesar would recognize that the word ‘convention” is derived from the Latin for ‘coming together.’ And that’s just what both parties did, one after the other, deepening the already yawning chasm that exists between the reds and the blues. I will admit that one convention was far more appealing to me—more hopeful, more empathetic, more positive—but I doubt either show changed any minds on either side. Hmmm; Maybe they were aimed at all those independent folks in the middle.
The conventions proved we’re polarized enough. It’s time to move on. Let the voting begin! Let’s cast our dies!
I’ll be right back.
Jamie Kirkpatrick is a writer and photographer with a home in Chestertown. His work has appeared in the Washington Post, the Baltimore Sun, the Philadelphia Inquirer, the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, the Washington College Alumni Magazine, and American Cowboy Magazine. Two collections of his essays (“Musing Right Along” and “I’ll Be Right Back”) are available on Amazon. Jamie’s website is www.musingjamie.com