LTE: Learning about leaders from history

R.V. Schnucker

In reading medieval history, I came across Cola da Rienzi, whose life reminded me of Donald Trump.

Cola da Rienzi's dates are 1313-1354. He was born in Rome to what he would term a privileged environment. As a young man, he studied the history of Rome and came to realize the drastic decline Rome was experiencing. Rome had shrunk from 1,000,000 inhabitants at the beginning of the common era to between 40,000-60,000 inhabitants, with most of its citizens living on the edge of poverty. Rienzi's dream was to make Rome great again. Through his oratorical skills, he gained support and power, even though even then it was accepted that one cannot turn back the clock. Nevertheless, Rienzi won over many of the Italian city states, the papacy and that of the Holy Roman Emperor.

His pretensions led him to overstep his popularity and he was driven from power only to make a comeback with popular acclaim. While he had some success, he made another appeal for more power only to find his support had diminished. In a new effort, he mounted a platform and while speaking, the platform caught fire. Rienzi fled but was found by the crowd and killed.

Can we learn anything from this obscure event in history? Yes – first, it is virtually impossible to recreate the circumstances that made a country great in the past. Second, popular support is fickle. Although it undergirded Rienzi, it turned on him and caused his demise. Third, those who were foremost in supporting Rienzi and saw him as a savior, upon his downfall were embarrassed by their misguided loyalty. Fourth, although we often hear that history repeats itself, no two events meet that saying – but there are parallels that should give us insight for the present.


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