History indicates that civilizations rise and fall. Greece had its time when the influence of Greece was huge and impressive, but their empire inevitably fell as a power and influence on the world stage. Rome had it’s day, as famously recorded in the book by Gibbon on the subject of the rise and fall of the Roman Empire.
Are we now witnessing the fall of the American empire? America’s history is not known for its conquest of territory, but rather its influence and sway on all things political and cultural. American culture and its politics has been pervasive in its influence on the rest of the world. On our best days we have led by example. The ideas as expressed in our Constitution have had an untold influence on the goals and aspirations of other peoples as they have sought to emulate the United States by adopting constitutions that are similar. The example as shown by members of our Peace Corps has spread in a peaceful way the best that America has to offer by increasing public health, and hygiene and just basic elements of a modern society like plumbing throughout the world. And quite honestly we have been the leader of the free world since the end of World War II. The Marshall Plan rebuilt Europe. Germany and Japan are no longer threats to world peace. The United States stood up for basic freedoms and against aggression by the Soviets until the Soviet Union empire collapsed before our very eyes and the Berlin Wall came tumbling down. In many ways we are perhaps fatigued by the huge effort required of America these last 70 plus years. We have made mistakes during these years but these mistakes have come from a good heart, as we have wanted to do good.
In graduate school we had an interesting challenge in one of my classes on the 20th Century. Our task was to study the entirety of what makes up our society by looking at such diverse topics as art, poetry, plays, architecture and all facets really of what constitutes American life. My task was to research the 30’s which was the decade of the Great Depression. It was wondrous to find great accomplishments during a time of suffering that indicated that even though America was down but we were not down for the count. Whether it was the painting of American Gothic, or the novels of Hemingway, and Steinbeck or the building dams or just the fine works on display from the members of the WPA, we showed that our culture was strong. In contrast to Europe, America was resistant to both the allure and dogma of communism and fascism. We were America strong, and vibrant, on the precipice of even greater accomplishments on the world stage.
But now my friends, we face the very real question of whether or not we have seen our best days. No empire last forever. Don’t get me wrong, we have never been a traditional empire by seeking to conquer territory. Is America on the decline not to return to its former glory?
This need for self analysis and criticism has not just come about because of the Age of Trump. But lets face it, the need to think about this has been crystallized by his election. After all we did vote for him and he did win the electoral college after all.
I have felt a little like the guy from the movie Network. I am mad as hell and I don’t want to take it anymore. I have had it with Trump and all that he represents. Like the quote from a story, I feel like being as far removed from this as possible and make myself retreat far from the maddening crowd.
Perhaps the media unwittingly has helped this come about because they feel the need to fill up their space on cable with programming. As a result we now have such intellectually stimulating shows as the Kardashian’s and Duck Dynasty. And let us not forget Jerry Springer, as his show on regular television continually illustrates the low standard that we have for television these days. Who watches these shows and why?
We are living in an anti science and anti education period, where facts are no longer facts according to the disbelievers, and conspiracies are rife and abundant, from whether or not we have colonized Mars, to the denial of our landing on the Moon. Some of us deny basic facts and lead one to the inevitable conclusion that some of us might even think that the world is flat. Maybe part of it is that the reality is so stark that we do not want to face the truth. For example unless you have your head in the sand our climate has changed. The earth is indeed warmer, and it matters not whether humans have contributed to it by a percentage of 1 % or 50%, the fact is the earth has a challenge of addressing climate change. Some people just do not want to face facts or reality and they would prefer to live in a world where it is all rosy.
And this apparent decline in our civilization is not a right wing problem alone extremism on the left has not helped either. If the existence of humanity is at risk, we should not care if our view of the ocean is marred by solar panels or wind turbines, we have to save the planet. Even PETA has gone over the top, we now have a legal case where PETA claims that the rights of an ape were violated by not asking for his permission to have his likeness shown. Really!
In the past we could point to great examples of creativity to show how our strength as a nation was not in decline. Where can we point to excellence now? Yes, in the world of technology we are still innovators. Silicon Valley is still a shining example. Yes, excellent new plays are being written and good books are being written. Music is still a force but it is much harder to find good music. You have to go to U-tube to find new and exciting sounds. We seem to have a wealth of talent among our young people, we seem to have savants among us.
For some reason we are hearing from so many, I am sorry, crazies these days. People who are racists are being encouraged to come out of the shadows because the so-called leader of our nation has given all indications that he is a racist. Conspiracies are no longer whispered about, but are being talked about in a serious way. Facts are no longer facts, and we now even have alternative facts.
Is today’s America just a bad reflection of our recent choice for President. Is this just a blip in our not so long history. Have we seen our best days?
On a positive note, we create and make our own history, things seem to happen in cycles, so I choose to remain optimistic that what we see today on the American landscape is but an aberration. That once we are done with the time of Trump we will move on to another progressive era in this country to where we work diligently to improve peoples lives. America in its majesty and mystery helps to provide the atmosphere for ingenuity and creativity. As long as we keep our freedoms and are still allowed to be self critical we will have better days. But we can no longer take anything for granted. Our freedoms are inherited but if we do not fight for them we will lose our greatest heritage, we will lose our liberty.