Who said Latin is a “dead language,” forever to be confined within the boundaries of Roman antiquity?
That was the conventional wisdom as far back as the 1960s, when I was in high school and neither Cicero nor Catullus were exactly in vogue. But, ever the contrarian, I dived in anyway, bypassing the more popular and valued Romance languages to soak up three years of Latin, and then another two in college for good measure.
Don’t ask me why. I can no more explain this than I can my unorthodox decision to take violin lessons at age 9, when sexier options like guitar and piano were the instruments of choice among my peers.
Not surprisingly, my violin playing was short-lived. One year, to be precise.
But suddenly, many decades later, the language that supposedly had no future, no place in contemporary life, is in our lives every morning, noon and night. Those who told me it would serve no useful purpose have been proved wrong. At last, my odd academic choice has been vindicated. And the explanation is simple.
Donald Trump has made Latin great again! He who would be king is now the undisputed king of the “quid pro quo.” He has breathed new life into a Latin phrase that is now, you might say, the sine qua non of our national discourse. And the more it is repeated, the more he owns it.
The master of branding may finally have branded himself into a corner.
Of course, this stems from the public release of an incriminating transcript of a phone call he had with the Ukrainian president, a call whose content was first brought to light by a whistleblower. During the phone conversation, Mr. Trump appears to be making congressionally approved military aid to a beleaguered ally contingent upon doing him a “favor,” digging up dirt on a potential political opponent to enhance his re-election prospects. If true, Constitutional experts say such a request for a quid pro quo would be a textbook example of an impeachable offense.
Although evidence of the request is there in black and white, Mr. Trump vehemently denies it, even claiming the phone call was “perfect.” At the same time, however, his acting chief of staff has contradicted the president’s position, as have career diplomats and administration insiders involved in our Ukraine policy.
Due in part to relentless media coverage, the three words “quid pro quo” are doing what 448 pages of the Mueller Report could not. It’s a concept that’s easy for the average person to understand. With the emergence of that transcript, more and more Americans are now reading off the same page.
And they appear to be seeing what the Romans called “patet quod,” or “clear evidence” of culpability.
This is reflected in both Gallup and Fox News polls, where recent results showed a majority of Americans in each now favoring not only the president’s impeachment, but his conviction and removal as well.
In trying to discredit the growing movement toward impeachment, Mr. Trump has replaced his “no collusion, no obstruction” refrain with repeated assertions of “no quid pro quo.” These words were actually highlighted in yellow among other handwritten talking points seen on his desk at a recent Oval Office exchange with reporters.
This is the desk that famously featured President Truman’s message that “the buck stops here,” a succinct and symbolic reminder of how far the credibility of the presidency, and by extension our country, has now fallen.
In this perilous moment, it may be useful to revisit the writings of Cicero, the statesman and master of Latin prose, who eloquently defended republican principles during a time of civil war in ancient Rome. Our Founding Fathers were greatly influenced by Cicero’s example. It’s time for more of our current leaders to come forward and do as this Roman did, before we fall any further.