When did we become decadent? When did the fall of our great society begin? The kicking that around for over 100 years. And while I'm sure we'd like to believe our 20-30 year window is the perfect encapsulation of a Romanesque collapse, can we at least acknowledge that the "fall" of Rome is generally considered to have occurred over a period of 300 years? We're not even that old. If this is the fall, then societies down the road will barely recognize we even got off the ground. Me? I'm optimistic.
When people compare the US to Rome, they toss around the erosion of morals and the lack of faith in leadership. But who do you think people would put their faith in today? That sleaze ball Bill Clinton? Or that devoted husband George W. Bush? While people love nothing more than a good sex scandal, they hate nothing more than a true fool. And if Bush is proof of anything, it's that too much faith in the moral character of our leaders can lead to total disaster.
I think the point when I realized our political system and our entire culture was not like late imperial Rome was when I read all the articles and posts by people declaring that our political system and our entire culture was like late imperial Rome. Most of the people who I read or hear say these things actually live pretty wonderful lives. It is like they want to be miserable or something.
What has been most disappointing to me since Obama has taken office is the negativity and pessimism that have pervaded our lives.
It is not his fault. He has been very optimistic and positive. He has worked admirably and diligently while enduring some of the worst political assaults in our history. He has looked for solutions even if they are not exactly what he would devise if he had been, oh, an emperor instead of one co-equal branch of our government. Yet, what has become an industry in this country – doom and gloom – threatens everything we are.
This country has endured very difficult and trying times and prevailed. Suddenly, we are in danger of extinction because of the deficit (just the part since Obama was elected) and Medicare and unions. Isn't anyone acquainted with Hitler, the Great Depression, or the Civil War? The most decadent thing in our culture is our hyperbole and our panic. What happened to fearing nothing but fear itself? If being wimpy is a symptom of decadence and the late Roman era, then I suppose we are in trouble.
As for me, I believe in this country, and sometimes surprising even to myself, I believe in the ultimate decency of the American people. We can be late imperial Rome, or we can choose not to be. It is that simple. The difficulty lies in what we do after we stop whining.
(Painting: Edward Gibbon, by Joshua Reynolds.)