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Trump’s misguided message from more than 1,000 years ago

Justinian I, a Byzantine emperor known as "the emperor who never sleeps," made it his goal to restore the Roman Empire to its former glory. He spent much time and many resources to achieve that end.

Justinian was successful at recapturing the empire's lost territory, but never fully regained the its lost glory. Some historians have suggested that Justinian's land grab actually hastened the final decline of what was once the Western Roman Empire, which, after his death, was re-conquered by the very people Justinian drove out.

This took place in the sixth century but it seems to be playing out all over again, more than 1,000 years later, with Donald Trump. Now that Trump is the likely nominee, he needs to change his message to unify the party – and the nation. Trump's vision for the nation is backward looking. Restoring greatness has always been a fool's errand, as Justinian, and many other rulers have often discovered. Trump should learn from the mistakes of Justinian and others who have gone before him.

Presidential Republican candidate Donald Trump
Noam Galai | WireImage | Getty Images
Presidential Republican candidate Donald Trump

True leaders articulate a forward-looking vision for a nation. A visionary leader embraces new technologies and harnesses exciting new resources to build upon the vast successes already attained by a great nation.

The United States, while troubled, has enormous natural and technological resources. It is, by far, the world's largest economy, retains the largest military, has the most widely used currency and enjoys both absolute and relative economic and political stability.


It also has demographic advantages, when compared to every other developed nation on earth. Indeed, the next generations — from Gen X to the Millennnials/Gen Y and Gen Z — represent the largest population cohort in the history of the country, topping the Baby Boomers by almost 60 million!

Our next leader should not be attempting to re-create the historic and, likely anomalous, boom from 1946-1971. That period belonged to the Boomers.

The next generations deserve a leader who creates an environment that delivers to them the health, wealth and security that the previous generation enjoyed.

Our next leader should be preparing the nation for 2046-2071, not for a return to an age that has long since passed.


Our prospects and our problems are radically different from the post-War years and they require the ability to leverage technological innovation, energy transformation, and longevity expectations.

Our next president, likely to be internally transformational in ways that will shape the nation for decades to come, needs to harness the ever-increasing speed of everything from information-dissemination to terrestrial transportation to deep space exploration.

Our external challenges are vastly different, as well.


Future generations will increasingly face asymmetric military warfare, while robots and drones do battle on the ground and in the air.

Terrorism has already become a greater threat than conventional warfare, so that rebuilding our military takes on a different meaning today than it did in say 1932, or 1962 or 2002.

"Make America Great Again" is a slogan that appeals to a dying generation whose own mortality is somehow equated with that of the nation.

America is not dying. In fact, among the world's greatest powers, or even among those powers that are considered an emerging threat, the U.S. remains their most potent rival.

Bringing back the America our fathers and mother knew is not a recipe for greatness. It is a recipe for disaster and a hastening of its decline.

Our next leader needs to boldly face forward and drive the nation toward an exciting future, not re-live the glories of a now ancient past.

The similarities between Justinian and Trump are increasingly obvious. Let's hope there is another leader who has the vision to look forward before he can move us inexorably, and tragically, back to an age that simply cannot be recaptured.


Commentary by Ron Insana, a CNBC and MSNBC contributor and the author of four books on Wall Street. Follow him on Twitter @rinsana.

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