Once upon a time there was a republic, with a Senate. It was not a perfect Senate, not really representative of the people, but it had some of the trappings of a real democracy. The senators were of the upper crust, but dedicated to the country and its people. The country was successful in many ways, economically, politically, in war and peace. But the senators, almost predictably, became lazy and more self-centered as the years wore on, interested in only keeping their jobs — and riches — to the detriment of the people they were supposed to serve.

Into the power vacuum entered unelected leaders who took over most of the responsibilities of the Senate and started to control the functions of the government, while the Senate just looked the other way, hoping no one would notice. First the consuls, and then the emperors, gained more and more power, fighting wars and manipulating the economy for their own benefit. The emperors became wealthy and powerful, while the senators were allowed to keep most of their money and villas as long as they didn’t cross the emperor. The senators still met, debated, and went home, deciding and doing nothing, as the barbarians crashed the gates.

If history repeats itself, again and again, can we learn from that history? Can we learn about the Roman Senate 2000 years ago and not repeat its mistakes? Or has the U.S. Senate finally buried itself in the ash heap of history this very year?