We have a tendency to look at the past as a mirror, yearning to see ourselves reflected in it rather than to recognize the past as a foreign country — even when, indeed, it’s both.
This leads to a form of historical divination that tries to read the past closely and thoroughly enough that the present is entirely recognizable and therefore the future will be foreseeable.
Sometimes this is presented merely in aphorism (“history repeats”, “it rhymes”, “people repeat history”); sometimes pseudo-scientifically (“these are the six economic indicators that will predict the next president”). Previous societies would sacrifice animals on an altar and from their entrails suss out messages they already wanted to find. We’re much more advanced, so we substitute cherry-picked data in place of viscera.
Roman history, though, is especially at risk for this sort of confirmation bias because there is so very much of it and it influenced so many successor states, all of whom could reasonably claim to have inherited part of its legacy, whether that’s the Catholic Church, the Byzantines, or Franks to the Russian czars, Ottoman sultans, or Spanish kings.
As much as anyone, though, the United States has intentionally drawn those same parallels since our very founding. Rejecting absolutism, we were a republic with the highest ideals of personal liberty, representation, and equality under the law. Yet, like the Romans, we only cared to extend this to some. A regional power transformed into a nascent overseas empire via genocidal warfare, while building a society and economy with the slave labor intrinsic to it.
When hobbyist podcaster turned professional popular historian Mike Duncan set out to write his 2017 book The Storm Before the Storm, he admits he went into it with an eye toward resonant parallels between Rome and the United States.