If we’re going to have a Publius Clodius Pulcher, who’s going to play Cicero? Or Milo?

I always thought the Caesar comparisons to Trump were lame; there's just a few Caesars we think about when the work is used, and that's the first batch and maybe Marcus Auraelius, Justinian, Constantine. No one thinks about Yabbadabulus II or the rest of the placeholders. It's Julius, mold-breaker and mold-maker; Nero, crazy out-of-touch lyre-lyre-Rome-on-fire tyrant, and that's it. No one thinks about Augustus much. (Too bad; he's the most interesting of the bunch.) Tiberius is too indistinct and gloomy. Claudius is sympathetic, if you watched the TV show. Caligula, for gold-standard mad-hattery.

So it's the OC they mean when they say Trump has Caesarism in his bones. Julius. That's absurd. Julius was unique and talented, with a shrewd mind and a sinuous ability to manipulate the shoals of politics, or just ram through the reefs when needed. He was brilliant, despite what you think of his actions, and he did not avoid conquering Gaul because had bone splints.

So you have to go back to the high-born sorts who courted the plebes - and I'm not using the term dismissively, but literally. The Optimates vs. the Plebians. (We'll leave the Equestrians out of it for now.) The men from the upper class who saw a political opportunity in siding with the dispossessed. There was Catalina, whose famous conspiracy ended poorly, and Publius Clodius Pulcher, who championed the Public, created the grain dole, and ramped up the use of street gangs to enforce political power. Milo was another gang leader, and depending on which series of historical novels you read, a fascinating rogue or an out-and-out bad guy. (The SPQR series has him as the former.) Cicero, of course, was the odd duck, the New Man with a complex relationship to the old order, the brittle intellect, the great orator, the traducer of tradition who opened the gate to lawlessness with his handling of the Catalina matter. Some say.

Note to people who know this stuff: I'm typing off the top of my head here. Stop fuming. Broad strokes, okay? Okay.

Milo killed Clodius. Ambushed him on the Appian Way. This was not, shall we say, an entirely unexpected result of Roman politics, and while we look back and tut-tut over the end of the Republic and the rise of Imperial governance, it had been corrupt for a long time, riven by bloody class conflicts. Sulla's prescriptions. The unpleasantness with the Gracchis. The pretense of Republicanism was paper-mache, and it was blown over by the exhausted exhalations of the messenger who'd run a few miles to tell the Senate that Caesar crossed the Rubicon. But before that, there was Pulcher, and that's who I think Trump most resembles. He's not the one who knocks it all down. He's the one who came before, who made it easier for the Republic to collapse, and leaves the survivors to rebuild a replica with their enthusiasm masking their shame for their role in it all. Or , I suppose, channeling their enthusiasm for getting in on the ground floor.

Doesn't mean ours will collapse; just means that this is one of those stress tests, like they administer to banks. The eruption in Chicago was nothing new in American politics. It's not frequent, but it's not unknown. Trump did not attract the attention of the protestors because of his positions on economics or Common Core or Social Security; he attracted their attention by encouraging racists and nativists. No, not by suggesting we need to reform immigration. No, not by saying he would make America great again.

It's this: the laughing endorsement of punching protestors, the aciduous remarks about judges who are hostile to him because he's Hispanic (it's lost in the general catalog of offense, banality, and fatuity, but one of the most revelatory comments he made was about that judge. I don't know, he's Hispanic, he said. Which is fine. Which is fine. Said with dripping derision. At the most charitable interpretation: we'll let it pass. The least charitable: and you know what that means. He's just called out an American citizen for his ethnic origin - highlighted it, paraded it, held it aloft so everyone gets the message, and then: which is fine. Because he loves the Hispanics.) It's offering to pay the legal fees for someone who punches a protestor. It's being asked about that very statement on a TV debate and turning it into a speech about how we need to support the police. A politician with the usual instincts would have put some distance between himself and the puncher-boys, but he knows that part of his base won't judge him no matter what his answer, and part of his base will appreciate that he didn't distance himself. These aren't dog whistles; they're duck-call quacks.

The other gang, in Roman terms, is the one that showed up to shut him down.

A) Thugs of another stripe. Any candidate who praises the elimination of the other side's ability to speak is trading in the same sort of madness they supposedly find offensive. Which means, as we may have suspected, that for a great many people the issue isn't issues; it's not principles; it's power first and ideas second. These people always delude themselves into thinking they're Good, because their ideas are Good, and hence their love of power is just a necessary, and don't-you-know regrettable tool for doing the Good thing.

B) Thus encouraged, they'll do it to milder targets. While it's true that they wouldn't have shut down a Mitt Romney rally - and pause, for a moment, to consider a saner, more decent America where a few people stood outside a Romney rally with signs in Chicago - they will feel entitled by the righteous fact of their opposition to anything that isn't US, and try it again if there's a Cruz rally in Chicago.

It worked once, after all.

Take note: who defends incitement? Who defends suppression of speech? Who defends throwing a reporter to the ground? Who defends the man who punches a Trump supporter, because another Trump supporter in a different city punched a different man?

Two mobs, itching for a brawl. One is instinctively moved to shut down, burn, and suppress, because dissent obstructs their Jacobin dreams; the mob is their preferred instrument. The other is a mob only because their new Clodius had only the skill to cohere them around their grievances without channeling their issues to something optimistic and constructive. You know, for a guy who builds things, constructive doesn't seem to be in his vocabulary. Even though he has the Best Words.

He's a lurid, chancred Id pissing napalm on a campfire, promising everyone jobs in the S'mores factory, but he still has the right to speak.