How Strong Nations Fall

We all look for distractions from the news these days. For me, I’ve been reading a lot of history, particularly about the fall of great civilizations in the history of the world. How did the Romans fall? The Greeks? The Ottomans? As you read through them, you see some common traits that hold up in many cases. I came up with five that stand out to me, and the scary thing is, they all apply to the United States right now.

  • Over-aggressive militarism. A strong national defense, and willingness to act on the behalf of national values is central to building a great nation. Invading nations for the purpose of conquest, without facing any real threat, as we did in Iraq, doesn’t fit that bill. Filled prisons, police riding down the street in tanks, a domestic violence epidemic, and addicts going to jail, also is being overly militant. Responding to the epidemic of school shootings, a uniquely American event, by calling for the arming of teachers, is overly aggressive militarism. Our society has a violence issue. Our nation has codified much of it in law. This over-reaching militarism can be the death of nations. Hitler’s attempt to invade the Soviet Union, the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan, the British Empire’s expansion to the entire globe, the Romans’ expansion across Europe- all eventually became their undoing.
  • The rise of inept leadership. George W. Bush was in over his head as President. Donald Trump went from bankrupting casinos to the White House. These men are imbeciles and should not have lead free nations. It goes beyond them though. Post-Watergate, and particularly post Cold War, Americans have valued experience less and less in picking their leaders. That’s not such a good thing when you make someone the Commander-in-Chief and Chief Executive Officer of a multi-trillion dollar government. Inept and incapable idiots lead Rome, Greece, Egypt to great falls after their great leaders built them up. It stopped making sense for capable leaders to seek leadership roles, and insecure, uninformed, incapable people sought power instead.
  • Great division over national identity. One of the most understated issues of post-1968 America is the division over who we are. The United States is a multicultural, melting pot nation of immigrants. It has always been so. We take in every religion, every race, every sexuality, every type of person. Unfortunately, the “majority,” or traditional cultural norm, has not handled that well since the great Civil Rights wins of the 1960’s. Even more unfortunately, politicians from Nixon to Trump have cynically embraced those fears and scapegoated the “other.” Hence, we’ve had to debate everything from gay marriage to building a wall on the Mexican Border. Ironically, all of these nonsensical, regressive debates is possible because we live in relative comfort, without current civil violence, starvation, or plague. It’s also possible because Ronald Reagan launched his 1980 Presidential campaign in Philadelphia, Mississippi, to appeal to open racists, and got a pass for it. Fights over who was a citizen lead Rome to some of their most barbaric acts. Those acts lead to uprising against them.
  • They stop doing great things for their people. What was the greatest achievement of the 20th Century United States? It wasn’t winning the World Wars. Those were necessities, rather than achievements. The interstate highway system. Civil Rights. Putting a man on the Moon. Building suburbia. Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid. These are achievements. Our current government doesn’t wish to do great public works- in fact our Speaker and President want to undo social welfare programs in order to transfer more wealth back to the wealthy. This is not a pathway to greatness. We remember the great works of the ancient world- pyramids, the Acropolis, the Colosseum- not the mediocrity that followed.
  • Stability fails. At the end of the Roman Empire, stability failed. They weren’t safe from outside invasion. Their institutions didn’t work. They had rampant public and private corruption. Watch the news tonight and see if you feel much different. Russia is hacking our election system, and power grid. Facebook is selling your data. Every institution from the church to the military has had an embarrassing scandal in recent times. Do you feel like our institutions are protecting you right now.

I’m not saying America will fall, or cease to exist in the near future. I’m saying the essence of our nation, our body politic, is ill. If we don’t make changes on these issues, I don’t think we’ll get better anytime soon.

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