…whoever disturbed the state under the guise of honorable slogans—some as though defending the rights of the people, others so that the senate’s influence might be magnified—[although] feigning as their cause the public good, each [actually] strove for his own influence.
Populism and demagoguery have a long history. Self-interest’s pedigree is even longer, and this abysmal, melancholy fact doesn’t appear likely to change. Witness president-elect Trump. His sojourn as the head of the executive branch may prove the opposing pundits and politicians incorrect, but chances are his own brand of 21st century tweeted populism and slick packaging will trend toward self-aggrandizement and a consolidation of power.
We should expect nothing new, however compelling the ring of progressive, modern politics. The political system may have been built for civility and rational debate, but the men and women who are both origin and objects of the political system’s power still wrestle with the self-interest that informs public and private actions. Most often they lose, and self-interest prevails…even if the agents convince themselves otherwise. We are again in the realm of Thucydides and his severe opinion of human nature (ἡ ἀνθρωπεία φύσις).
In the excerpt at the beginning of this post, Sallust (Cat. 38) speaks of Gnaeus Pompey and Marcus Crassus. They are described at the time to have leveraged the audacity of their youth (quibus aetas…ferox erat) to stir the commons (plebem exagitare) against the senate’s status quo. Perhaps the commons imagined Pompey and Crassus would “drain the swamp” and retool the political system? They worked the masses and its throbbing populism to their advantage. They grew, as Sallust writes: “in such a way that they became distinguished and powerful.” The masses were an afterthought— losers in the bargain—while the elite benefitted.
Will we run the same course? It’s hard not to bet in favor of the house, give a nod toward the Iron Law of Oligarchy, and watch in awe as a great wave of plutocrats may (or may not) transform the GOP and the parts of the United States' political landscape.
 Th. 1.22.4: καὶ τῶν μελλόντων ποτὲ αὖθις κατὰ τὸ ἀνθρώπινον τοιούτων καὶ παραπλησίων ἔσεσθαι, ὠφέλιμα κρίνειν αὐτὰ ἀρκούντως ἕξει ; Th. 3.84.2: ξυνταραχθέντος τε τοῦ βίου ἐς τὸν καιρὸν τοῦτον τῇ πόλει καὶ τῶν νόμων κρατήσασα ἡ ἀνθρωπεία φύσις, εἰωθυῖα καὶ παρὰ τοὺς νόμους ἀδικεῖν, ἀσμένη ἐδήλωσεν ἀκρατὴς μὲν ὀργῆς οὖσα, κρείσσων δὲ τοῦ δικαίου, πολεμία δὲ τοῦ προύχοντος.
 Sall. Cat. 38.1: ita ipsi clari potentesque fieri.
 Sall. Cat. 39.1: plebis opes inminutae, paucorum potentia crevit.