“Carthago Delenda Est”

Carthago delenda est — Carthage must be destroyed.”

Cato the Censor was famous for ending all of his speeches to the Roman Senate with this phrase (or a variant) in the lead-up to the Third Punic War (149–146 BC). He pushed and he pushed, and eventually he got what he wanted.

As we all know and are (painfully) re-learning daily, a statement repeated strongly enough for long enough may come to be taken seriously.

From Reagan forward (depending on how you count), the Republican Party’s message has included the idea that the federal government must be destroyed. Hence the ever more cynical show of politicians running like hell against Washington in order to keep their seats inside the Beltway.

Small wonder, after all those years, that people began to take it seriously. The Tea Party, of course, popularized the notion; the McCain-Palin ticket of 2008 embodied it and showed just how far inside the unironic outsiders had made it.

A dozen years later, we still don’t know just how ironic the message is in its chief standard bearer — only that he’s been exceptionally effective in waging a punic war on the government. And the next generation of suited insiders and camo-swathed outsiders appear, if anything, more serious still.

Moving from critiquing to censoring might feel like a small step at first. But once you take it, you’ve put up the bat signal for anyone who has a beef (real or imagined) with whatever or whomever you’re censoring.

Don’t be surprised when they answer the invitation you’ve been making all along.