Donald Trump has vehemently denounced Hollywood and celebrities because most of them are to be found among his critics. However, he found somebody who isn’t Scott Baio to step up at CPAC and defend him – actor/director Robert Davi. You might remember Davi as Agent Johnson in Die Hard, or from Predator 2 or Stargate: Atlantis.
At CPAC, however, he presented himself as an expert in Roman jurisprudence and a blind devotee of the cult of Donald Trump. According to Davi, Roman laws made it “impossible to spread false rumors or lies against upstanding and virtuous political candidates” – you know, like Donald Trump.
So yes: we have been witness to an actor standing before a right-wing Christian conference appealing to Pagan Roman law to save the right-wing Christian messiah. Who knew Pagan Roman law could save a Christian messiah?
Well, it can’t. Watch courtesy of Right Wing Watch:
In the Roman Republic, there was a law against something called calumnia…that law made it impossible to spread false rumors or lies against upstanding and virtuous political candidates. Impossible. This is ancient Rome. Why was this law created? Because good people had stopped running from [certainly he means “for”] office out of fear of character assassination or even worse.
Let’s go back to Ancient Rome, because if such laws existed today, we would see more men like Donald Trump and Mike Pence running for Congress or the Senate or the presidency and more fake reporters perhaps going to prison for the very lies they make up to commit cruel character assassination against the very best of our American heroes.
Davi’s logic seems to be that anything said in criticism of Donald Trump is by definition calumny and a lie and would, therefore, be covered by the Roman law. What Davi doesn’t consider is that such laws would apply equally to Donald Trump and the endless assault of lies and calumny out of his own mouth.
And setting aside for a moment the highly questionable claim that Donald Trump is in any way upstanding or virtuous, we run into the problem that much of what Davi claims is “false” is instead true.
However, Davi’s real problem is that he is wrong about what the Romans called calumnia, which had not to do with simple slander or name-calling but legal transactions.
According to Adolf Berger’s Encyclopedic Dictionary of Roman Law (1953), calumnia “refers to both civil and criminal matters” such as bringing lawsuits “with the hope for success through a mistake or injustice of the judge (Gai Inst. 4.178)” and prosecutors making false accusations (in other words, pursuing a legal action known to be baseless).
It should be clear to all that the press Davi condemns are not bringing baseless legal actions against Donald Trump. Thus, according to Roman law, what is being discussed here is not calumnia.
And in Roman law, even if Donald Trump were charged and then acquitted on the grounds that the accusation was false, the accuser would not be proven guilty of calumnia without a special proceeding to prove the accuser knew the accused was innocent. A law of 80 BCE required the proceeding to take place before the same tribunal which had found for the accused.
Roman law did, however, recognize a delict obligation called “injuria.” A delict is defined as “an obligation to pay a penalty because a wrong had been committed” and as injuria included insulting behavior, as well as slander, libelous writings – and even lampooning someone, oh, like Donald Trump making fun of a disabled reporter.
He says he didn’t do it, but there are millions upon millions of witnesses and plentiful video and photographic evidence:
Certainly, it is a unique event to see a conservative summon up Pagan Roman law rather than biblical law to support an argument. Unfortunately for Davi, it doesn’t apply, and even if it did, while Romans were acutely conscious and protective of their dignity, it is far from clear that Donald Trump, on the other hand, has any dignity to be conscious of.
Hrafnkell Haraldsson, a social liberal with leanings toward centrist politics has degrees in history and philosophy. His interests include, besides history and philosophy, human rights issues, freedom of choice, religion, and the precarious dichotomy of freedom of speech and intolerance. He brings a slightly different perspective to his writing, being that he is neither a follower of an Abrahamic faith nor an atheist but a polytheist, a modern-day Heathen who follows the customs and traditions of his Norse ancestors. He maintains his own blog, A Heathen’s Day, which deals with Heathen and Pagan matters, and Mos Maiorum Foundation www.mosmaiorum.org, dedicated to ethnic religion. He has also contributed to NewsJunkiePost, GodsOwnParty and Pagan+Politics.