When Gary Johnson had his Aleppo moment a week ago, I was among those who could not believe his absolute incompetence. I understand that Libertarians generally take an isolationist position when it comes to foreign affairs, but it was incredibly troubling to see someone who thought he was fit to lead this country show such a lack of interest or inquisitiveness.
I’m writing this week’s column from a cafe in Piazza Barberini. After the Aleppo incident, I will not assume everyone knows that Piazza Barberini, at least the most famous one, is in Rome (and, just so we’re totally clear, that’s Rome, Italy.)
Earlier today, I spent many hours walking through the Roman ruins. I toured the perimeter of the Colosseum and wandered around the Circus Maximus, conjuring Charlton Heston and his white stallions in my mind.
But the thing that almost brought me to my knees in awe and appreciation was the Forum. I spent an hour and a half waiting under a metal-melting sun to buy a ticket, then spent another half-hour in another line waiting to pass a security checkpoint that would put the TSA to shame before I was admitted to the sacred ground.
The reason I call those hallowed and dusty ruins sacred is because of what they represents, and promise. Rome was once the mightiest empire in all of history, calling most of the known world its property and subjugating the greatest democracy - Greece - through martial power.
And yet it wasn’t Rome’s legions or military strategies that saved her for posterity. It wasn’t the victories on battlefields, the courage of its soldiers or even the brilliant, deadly manipulations of its Caesars. What saved Rome was its laws, and its lawmakers, men such as Marcus Aurelius, Cato the Elder, and my personal hero, Cicero. As I walked through the Forum, the idea that Cicero had put his feet on the same stones and raised his voice in defense of democracy in this same airspace and criticized despots in the shadow of the same statues and arches made me shudder. It was 95 degrees in the afternoon sun, and I had chills.
You might wonder what any of this has to do with Aleppo, or our presidential elections, or logic. You might even take issue with the fact that law saved Rome, because we all know what happened when the Visigoths came to town.
Rome is gone, yet it lives on. Laws are still modeled after those enacted two millennia ago, and the principles of virtue, excellence, honesty, humanity and even harsh but appropriate punishment flowed from the work and philosophies of the men who still, in memory, haunt the ancient ruins.
As I wandered around lost in my thoughts, I realized that, no matter how bad it gets, democracy is resilient. We will not win or lose civilization based on the personality we elevate to office. Caesar was assassinated, as were his assassins, and we still attribute great things to him. Cicero was murdered for dissenting, and he is considered the greatest writer of any generation.
We can and do try mightily to destroy the better parts of what we have created in this world, this Western legacy of a civilization left in rubble and reincarnated in the laws and philosophies of its descendants, but we ultimately can’t kill it.
I guess the reason I was overcome with emotion at the Forum was this sense that neither Clinton nor Trump, flawed and unworthy as each might be, can destroy what is eternal about us, about democracy and civic virtue. I will weep no matter who wins, but I am not so myopic as to believe that if either of those horrible, toxic people takes office, it will be the end of the world as we know it.
It took a trip outside of my country to see that, something Gary Johnson wouldn’t appreciate. It took a consideration of dynasties rotting from within or thugs and bullies running amok to see that one human being is ultimately incapable of killing democracy. Clinton and Trump can figure out what that means.
All that matters is that through suffering and struggle, democracy ultimately survives.
Flowers is an attorney and a columnist for the Philadelphia Daily News, and can be reached at email@example.com