The Decline and Fall of the American Experiment

As we plunge headlong into the winter of our discontent (Covid-wise), I reflect upon our divided nation. When is being American no longer enough for some people? Our grand heritage falls short of impressing those who scream at the loss of white homogeneity (not that we ever had it), our privileged livelihoods (much of the world gains on us), and our vaunted pride of product (not that we manufacture anything anymore).

I love my country, as many in the world love theirs. It has been an American arrogance to believe everyone else wants to be here, to be American. For many immigrants, the hope of a better life drives them to seek our shores and reinforce this belief, but one should not mistake the desire for survival with a love of our culture. And many expatriates are pleased to live in other lands without loss of love for their country. I could live abroad, at least for a few years. It is not a question of escaping the United States but rather of embracing a new experience. I have the privilege of that choice. Many leave their homeland out of necessity.

We are on the verge of a historic election. Before discussing the ramifications of this event, let us consider the following factors of recent importance to the United States:

  • Growing incompetence of its leaders
  • Rising domestic power struggles
  • Widening social divisions
  • Declining health of its citizens
  • Loss of domestic manufacturing
  • Foreign encroachment on its usual power bases
  • Perceived foreign threats leading to greater centralization of power
  • Isolationism
  • Government sanctioned cruelty and corruption
  • Climate change

I have not conjured these factors out of nothing. One can look them up. They are all contributors to the decline and fall of the Roman Empire.

I review such a list with trepidation. This is history repeating itself. At its height, the Roman Empire was unassailable. It was the model of civilization. From both its citizens and those impressed from occupied territories (notably Greece), great advances in science, architecture, navigation, cultivation, engineering, and animal husbandry were made. Rome fed its citizens, provided clean water, built roads to ease commerce, entertained in vast arenas, erected cities, and created the greatest military power the world had ever seen.

Sounds all rather familiar, doesn’t it? Read the list again, knowing it’s about the Romans. It’s as good a summation of our current problems as any.

Study the past if you would define the future.

Confucius

Growing incompetence of its leaders

Need I say more? But I will. Although I was a Republican for thirty years, I changed to Independent in 2009. I could see the Republican party headed for disaster with policies I no longer recognized. Mostly, I perceived the loss of honorable dealing, of conspicuous prevarications, and most importantly, the absence of decent humanity. The last four years have validated my inner prescience (though I admit many may have perceived that years before).

I’m a moderate, described by the old saying of “socially democratic but fiscally conservative”. I was a Reagan fan. Indeed, voting in 1980 was my first presidential election as an adult. I’m still a fan of Ronald Reagan, but before you judge too harshly, remember the shock and awe of the sixties and seventies. The rising tide of moderate conservatives seemed to force the long-reigning Democrats into extremism. I do not hesitate to brand many of the high ranking liberals in Congress as socialists. I rejected their extremism and believed that the moderate brand of Republicanism was the only solution to the unending wave of ultra-liberal candidates vowing to turn America into a vast workers’ paradise of strict egality and parity. Except I was reminded of George Orwell’s Animal Farm where Napoleon the Pig declares all animals are equal, but some animals are more equal than others. That was the rich/poor socialism of some Democrats in the seventies (I’m thinking of you, Edward Kennedy, favorite of the Democratic Socialist Organizing Committee). [By the way, declared socialist Bernie Sanders chillingly continues this tradition].

But look at the Republicans now. The moment John McCain passed away, Lindsay Graham lost his conscience. We can only assume the moderating influence of McCain hid Graham’s true colors, but Graham today licks Trump’s ass (sorry) and asks for more. Mitch McConnell is an everlasting a-hole. Susan Collins is a lying bullshit artist. All pale before their leader, the excretable Donald Trump.

Choose your epithet. Moron? Compulsive Liar? Incompetent Buffoon? Human Joke? I can’t decide on just one. But clearly his odd arrogance (since he’s not that smart), compulsive lying, ridiculous need for approval, say-anything-on-his-mind-no-matter-how-foolish personality has moved many to follow him blindly (admitting their brainlessness), lapping up the inane comments of their Lemming Leader like cult members following their guru.

Now it’s the Republicans who have moved to extremism, leaving moderates like myself behind. Trump’s brand of leadership smacks of fascism and he seems intent on operating like a dictator even as his legal team climbs the mountain of his lawsuits.

The election is here and closely contested. We need a change to moderation and I hope the country agrees.

Rising domestic power struggles
Widening social divisions

We are divided. No one should say we’ve never been more divided, since after all, we fought a civil war. And political party power struggles began in the terms of George Washington, for God’s sake, and continue to this day. But I remember a time when partisanship was expressed during elections, but congress worked together when the spotlight was elsewhere.

Tip O’Neill was a long time Speaker of the House known for his deal-making across the aisle. I believe Nancy Pelosi could be the same kind of Speaker but for the reticence of the conservative Republicans who seem hell-bent on parroting Trump’s childish attacks. Trump has one mode: my way or the highway, and he’s emboldened Republicans to adopt that attitude.

Why else would Lindsay Graham pronounce a moratorium on Supreme Court confirmations in 2016 (because of the impending election), declaring this the bi-partisan policy of the Senate, then turn around and rush through the confirmation of Amy Coney Barrett? Graham showed himself to be a totally partisan, back-stabbing, lying sack of excrement. Ah, c’est la vie.

Black lives matter, except to racists, which seemed to have emerged from the wood work recently. This only means they were quietly there all along, but Trump has emboldened their proclamations as well as some trigger fingers. The peaceful demonstrations in support of BLM have been impressive even if Trump calls in our national armed forces to fight our lawful citizens.

The #MeToo Movement brought much sexism to light and I hope it’s not sidelined during the BLM push for real change. We need both movements to succeed as we build a better society. Women need a direct path through the glass ceiling so that equal pay for equal work is more than a slogan. And we must end sexual discrimination, intimidation, and assault.

Most women take care of themselves. But why should they even live with the threat when all a man has to do is grow up, seek an enlightened perspective, and act like a decent human being? It’s simple, guys.

Yeah, we’re divided. We must find common ground, folks.

Declining health of its citizens

Our obesity epidemic is no joke. Consequent health issues are rising. Diabetes claims lives. How has this happened?

Perhaps we should blame our general affluence. Perhaps it’s cheap, fast food that seems 99% fat. Perhaps it’s a general American malaise that set in post-WWII. I’m open to suggestion, but let’s be clear: our health is declining, we have one of the highest incidence of heart disease on the planet, and preventable health problems may claim more lives than anywhere on the planet (but I’m not sure about that).

Any way you look at it, we have eaten ourselves into premature death. While being an American citizen has its privileges, our neo-new-world entitlement brings easy access to food, a fear of losing our place, subsequent despair, and binge-eating as a temporary comfort substitute. When some of our poorest citizens can become obese off of food stamps, we aren’t destined to lose our sense of entitlement any time soon.

Loss of domestic manufacturing

Once domestic manufacturing declines, a country’s citizens rely more and more on imported finished goods. Look at where we are with Chinese products. I don’t fault China, nor do I fault businesses who reduce expenses by using Chinese labor.

Consider what it takes to ship thousands of tons of raw materials overseas, have it assembled, and shipped back in finished form. Why would any business do that? Clearly, American wages have so outstripped reason that when massive shipping expenses are factored into foreign labor costs, it is still cheaper to manufacture abroad.

We are a proud nation. We believe in our manifest destiny. And we want an ever higher standard of living until we’ve priced ourselves out of the market. We’re privileged. But this is endemic of our entire society. I don’t blame skilled laborers for wanting a better life. But our culture has so indoctrinated us into the stress of preserving our birthright that we’ve been blinded to the obvious consequences of our actions.

Our leaders may have seen it, but they cater to the masses. And the masses want more and more, and they want it cheaper. They don’t care about quality anymore, all the while assuming they can maintain their life style through protectionism instead of competition.

We’re not getting it back. And now we’re dependent on Chinese manufacturing which is what has Trump so upset. Also, China is a natural competitor of Russia and since the Russian leader Putin owns our president’s ass, Trump toes the line.

Foreign encroachment on its usual power bases
Perceived foreign threats leading to greater centralization of power
Isolationism

I’ve lumped these three into one discussion since they are separate but dependent issues. Many Republicans today decry the power of the European Union seeing our close allies as competitors. To be different, to be foreign threatens white America’s entitled conservatives. They might lose their jobs (can’t compete so won’t compete), they might have to share taxpayer services (the poor pay less taxes so they are less deserving), and they might have to adapt to living among those who are culturally different than themselves.

Domestic manufacturing declines so that emerging nations benefit, but that threatens our perceived world superiority. We want high paying jobs that are protected by law even if our economy can’t sustain it.

The reaction is to elect a president that will take care of them, no matter how detrimental to the country or their future. They want relief (temporary comfort) now. And they will sell out our country while waving their flags if it means their elevated standard of living is assured. Those foreign threats must be defeated, even if we destroy our alliances in the process.

So our president rules by decree. This is a trend that has been going on for decades, so I won’t pretend it’s new, but that’s the point. Our current president simply exhibits the epitome of rewriting law by executive order. Congress has to fight to keep its check-and-balance rights even as many Republican senators spit upon the constitution in the name of defending it. How did we get here?

The current regime believes to truly protect the privileged citizens, we must isolate. Nothing could be more disastrous for our country. The world has shrunk. We are part of a global economy, one now driven through multiple sources and not just the United States. Our slice of that global economy has shrunk even as its production has soared. The world is better off today than yesterday, and I hope it’s better off tomorrow. At a time we should embrace the new reality of our place in the world, we are pulling away in the misguided lie that isolating ourselves will not only protect our way of life, but ensure its continuance.

We are self-destructing before the world’s eyes.

Government sanctioned cruelty and corruption

I’ve written before of the corruption of this White House. The swamp has only risen during Trump’s tenure. And about half of all Americans seem complacent, which is silent affirmation. Have we become of a nation of criminal enablers?

This isn’t all about Trump. Following 9/11 the US sanctioned the use of torture upon detained persons. Fortunately, bad press shamed a moderation of these practices (if it truly did) but even today the level of intimidation and physical pain infliction allowed by law are higher than at any time post Geneva Convention. As we accept such practice, we lose our humanity.

Perhaps it’s that indoctrination that caused many conservatives to applaud the use of family shattering separations for potentially illegal detainees. It takes a sick mind to conjure such torture upon mothers and children, even sicker minds to enact the practice. I am left abhorred and speechless that little provision was made to fix the issue and reunite children to their mothers so that any claim that this was a threat-induced “tough love” approach is rendered specious.

So far, 14 Trump aides, donors, and advisors have been indicted or imprisoned. These are Trump’s promised “best people”. But we know the reality is that the best people resigned from the Trump administration in disgust and despair. They’ve left in droves, so that Trump has gotten what he wants—morally questionable yes-men (and women) who will lie with the same fluidity as their leader. He’s assembled a cabinet whose purpose seems to be to take advantage of the perks of office to the extent they can manage without getting caught for malfeasance and/or collusion (treason, really). Excuse me as I go throw up.

Climate change

This has been listed as a factor leading to the decline of the Roman Empire. Rome was built and prospered in an age of unprecedented climate stability that favored agriculture. As its populations grew, so, too, grew its harvests and the empire fed itself without major interruption for several hundred years.

That dependable weather came to an end. Droughts and cold spells became more commonplace. Volcanic activity increased. And if coincidentally or dependently, plagues suddenly killed huge swaths of the population.

Two of the worst pandemics were the Antonine Plague (160s AD) and the Plague of Cyprian (240s AD). It seems unknown exactly what bugs caused these pandemics, but historians have suggested smallpox or possibly bubonic plague. Both events rocked the empire to its core.

Climate change along the Eurasian steppe caused the Huns to migrate for greener pastures, displacing the Goths (and others) who overran the Roman territories.

How will climate change effect our American experiment? I can’t say unless the extremists predicting the submersion of the east and west coasts are correct. Ice is melting at an alarming rate around the poles. Will this precipitate more disease, more erratic weather, more drought or more wetland?

Grim?

If we are in a spiraling decline, can it be reversed? Our privileged culture in American has changed us and it’s not easy to change again. We don’t have to go back, only forward, but not as a nation of unhealthy, self-important citizens braying for protectionism. We must embrace our new world, reinforce our alliances, open our hearts, speak the truth as best to our knowledge, and use common sense.

If everyone is moving forward together, then success takes care of itself.

Henry Ford

Stay Friendly and Healthy.