Our nation is in decline, and we seem determined to follow the road which has been trodden by all world powers that have ever existed. It’s an unpleasant path, with an unpleasant result at the end. Let’s have a quick look at some examples.
According to Gibbon’s “History of the Roman Empire,” Rome’s decline began with Julius Caesar in 45 BC, and continued until the Roman empire was split into an Eastern part (ruled from Constantinople, now called Istanbul), and a western part, ruled for a while by the Catholic church, headquartered in Rome. Constantinople eventually fell to invaders in 1453. From 45 BC to 1453 AD is 1497 years. They almost made it to 1500 years. Not bad.
After the remnants of the Roman empire had been defeated, the Holy Roman Empire rose in its place. It is famously said that this empire was neither Holy nor Roman. It got its name during Charlemagne’s reign; the Holy Roman Empire ended during Napoleon’s expeditions, in 1806. If we were to include the Holy Roman Empire as a successor to the Roman empire, we could count the Roman empire’s lifespan as 1850 years long. Either way, the Roman empire had a good, long run, and ended in a whimper, rather than an earth-rending cataclysm.
After the Roman/Holy Roman empire, came the British. Churchill, in his multi-tome treatise, “The History of The English Speaking Peoples,” states that there were two British Empires: the first ended with the revolt of some colonists on a piece of land that was originally mistaken for India, by the sailors who discovered it. The second British empire ended when the British completed a scheduled program of giving back all their other colonies to the local peoples, by about 1964. The second British empire had lasted under 200 years.
People may consider that the American Empire began in 1776, with the Declaration of Independence. Now it’s on its last legs, a victim of its own history, like all the others. Because it came out of the British Empire, it has a number of similarities with its antecedent, and it shares a number of the same weaknesses.
Instead of a King, who as the colonists had learned, could not be trusted, they created a President, who was elected. Instead of a ruling bloodline, they had serial dictatorships, interspersed with brief periods during which the next king-substitute was put on the throne. They called these brief periods elections. The effect was to produce “elected kings” and an elected group of Congressmen, chosen from candidates chosen by political parties. Elections generally failed to produce the people’s choice, because of this pre-filtering process, and institutionalized corruption when funded by private money. Despite the opportunity for write-ins, only the parties’ candidates really stood a chance of being elected.
As the US expanded in North America, they pushed west, displacing aboriginal peoples when they wanted their land. It was a land grab, fueled by greed and other base human emotions. By the end of the 19th century, the United States had expanded from the thirteen original colonies all the way to the west coast, and as far south as either water or the border with Mexico would let them go. Their early history included The Spanish American War and the Louisiana Purchase, with which they doubled the size of their territory.
From this ‘moral high ground’ the United States, built by British Money, expanded and thrived. After completing these acquisitions, easing the Spanish out of the Pacific, and Opening A Few Japanese Minds, which would come back to haunt the United States less than a century Later, the US rescued the British who having foolishly entered an entangling triple alliance in Europe, killed off the flower of their youth, ran up enormous debts, and deflated their economy twice in 30 years (WWI & WWII). As a direct result of the Lend-Lease program, the US took over most of Britain’s assets inside the United States. You might say, “The United States had arrived.” It now acquired the world-power mantle that Britain had worn; whereas formerly the US had acted in partnership with Britain, receiving the British assets from the Lend-Lease program made America the leading partner. Britain became an also-ran (although they never admitted it).
The US emerged in 1946 as the world’s only intact industrial economy; it boomed, while Europe shoveled rubble, and through dint of marketing prowess the US appeared to occupy both the economic and moral high ground. This was the age of the “American Dream,” which attracted people from all over the world. The US took the lead in punishing war criminals; the bad guys had lost. The good guys had won; the world had been made safe for democracy. What could possibly go wrong?
Fear of Loss.
The US was number one, and could go nowhere but down. Opportunity to gain had triumphed, and the time was Golden. The US had emerged triumphant, Because of Capitalism, Freedom and Democracy. Now, the US succumbed to fear. Fear of losing its position, and its power. It needed an enemy to unite the world against, and thus make its leadership position invincible. Fear of loss is a terrible thing.
Where could they find a suitable enemy? Nikita Khrushchev volunteered, when he banged his shoe on the desk at the UN, shouting “We will bury you!” The military and industry jumped on his offer, and declared that enormous money and effort was needed to protect the world from communism. Anything to focus the attention of the American people (and the rest of the world) on an external enemy, and create fear in the people, so that they could be controlled. Relief from fear came in the form of increased military budgets, and increased profits for military contractors. In the 1960′s the US was at the zenith of its power.
Since then, the military and economic position of the US has deteriorated. Technologically, it is still very strong, but other countries are succeeding in underpricing America, and the technology laurels are moving east. Fast. The moral decline in US government is also becoming easy to see. It started, perhaps, with Johnson, who was famous for lying about the Vietnam war. The phrase “Credibility Gap” became part of the nightly news, describing the difference between the truth and what Johnson said was the truth. Nixon (Watergate), adventures in Central America, Reagan’s Iran Contra scandal, CIA efforts to destabilize elected governments in Chile, Argentina, Venezuela. There are others, but these examples are sufficient to demonstrate that the US began doing things that, when exposed to sunlight, were clearly seen to be wrong. Moral lapses. Failures of behavior. They provided a baseline upon which to build, but in a way that would weaken the nation, and make it difficult for people to believe their government. It created a loss of faith in the integrity of the elected representatives. Rot set in. It would get worse. They tried to patch it with nationalism and patriotism. That worked for a while. Over time the moral decay, though hidden, increased. Faster, because it was hidden, and could not be surgically removed. Here are two examples from the late twentieth century:
Iran’s revolution when the US’ chosen dictator was overthrown, and the US becoming hostile to a country determined to manage its own affairs.
The first Gulf War, stoked by secret double dealing, and then a process to contain one of the US’ best friends, Saddam Hussein.
Two or more slips down the moral slope, at an increasing pace.
Which bring us to the 21st century. Execrated for not preventing the appalling treatment of the Palestinians, the US was attacked, probably by Saudi Extremists funded by Saudi Extremist money. As a result of a combination of fear and a perceived opportunity to extend itself past those pesky American rights and freedoms which get in Government’s way, the US government began to institute behaviors similar to those for which the US executed responsible senior officials in Germany at the end of WW II.
Concentration Camps, lack of legal due process, torture, killing innocent civilians, spreading terror, all to prevent itself from losing the top position, each campaign increasing the rate of moral decay from the top position, on a death spiral of moral decay and boundless unnecessary militarism, because the US demonstrated no faith it its espoused values, nor any ability to lead the world to a better place. Really, this shocking behavior was a result of fear overcoming courage and principle. It’s not the beginning of the end; it’s more like the middle of the end period. The last of the empires built in the 19th century is well into its decline.
No wonder they want to push TPP and TTIP to entrench the current hegemony. Fear can cause truly maleficent behavior.
The 1%, the aristocracy, profit from this behavior, while simultaneously making the situation worse. It is their fear of loss and their desperation at failing attempts to maintain the status quo which is propelling the country down the moral slope.
The Roman empire lasted a long time before it gave way to internal decay and depravity. Their governing class was responsible both for the longevity and the decay. In similar manner, it is the American aristocracy that leads the country, for good or ill. The changes in their behavior are reflected in the behavior of the country, with consequent effects upon America and the world.
The discussion of the British Empire shows that affairs can be wrapped up without descent into bloody war.
Can The American Aristocracy learn from these examples? No, because their focus is on profit, not moral courage, strength, and propriety. Too bad. Their choices damage us.