Wednesday, October 26, 2016

Rome Long Survived Countless Incompetent, Narcissistic Emperors, Will America Survive Barack Obama and His Successor?

I'm writing this while sitting on a cruise ship that’s docked in Mallorca, Spain. I'm heading to France and have just spent 4 days in Italy. I've only had a cursory look at the news from home, and what I've caught has been depressing, like this entire election cycle.

One of the most interesting things about this trip thus far - other than the obvious visits to Pompeii, the Coliseum and St. Peter's - has been observing how things work - or don't - and talking with people who live in Italy. The first thing you discover in Naples is that the place is absolute chaos. Driving is life threatening, things are expensive and the trash situation is a disaster. And that is from a tourist perspective, and we get to see the city's good side! For Italians it's far worse, particularly businesses, and it's not just Naples. The Italian government takes half of your REVENUE, strangles you with regulations and can’t provide basic services for anyone. At our Rome hotel our host asked us to make sure we turned off the light in the room because electricity is so expensive it might be the difference between his breaking even or taking a loss on our stay. A friend living in Naples told us that Italians rarely turn on heat in winter because the price of gas is too high.

This all comes on the heels of my having listened earlier this year to the History of Rome podcast. The most interesting thing about that history was the fact that the Roman Empire lasted for over 500 years... Or 1,500 years if you count the Eastern Empire. They had some spectacular rulers such as Augustus, Trajan, and Marcus Aurelius, and some of the worst in Caligula, Nero and Domitian. You would somehow think the Empire couldn't survive such incompetence and perniciousness, but somehow it would. So you ask yourself, cannot America survive whichever disastrous candidate emerges victorious from the 2016 election? If the Roman Empire could survive 500 years can't the US survive Hillary Clinton or Donald Trump? The truth is, I'm not sure, and I lean towards no...

Rome may have been a sophisticated empire, may have built thousands of structures that have survived two millennia, but make no mistake, the Rome that built an Empire and ruled the known world was a brute power. They survived by waging war on their enemies and taking their resources. As long as Rome was at war and winning, it was (mostly) strong. What's more, the Roman Empire was a dictatorship. The position of Emperor was usually passed from Father to son - sometimes adopted for that specific purpose - but there were countless coups where the resulting emperor was the man who controlled the most powerful legions or the one who bribed the Praetorian Guard. In essence Rome was a dictatorship that survived by taking the resources of its neighbors and supplicants.

But America is not that. Although the United States did grow partially by winning wars against the British, Indians, and others, geographically it has been largely static for over a century. We even gave up wide swaths of land – or more accurately, didn’t take them – after having won wars across the planet. In addition, the United States has never been a dictatorship. It has always been a nation where the leader has been elected by citizens, if indirectly. More importantly however, it has been a nation where the Constitution reigned supreme. From John Adams to Abraham Lincoln to Richard Nixon, the Constitution ultimately ruled the day. The limited government based on that Constitution is what has made America the most powerful and important nation in human history. We’ve sat atop of the world's hierarchy of power and influence for over half a century not because we subjugated our neighbors but because we inspired the world with individual freedom and economic opportunity that were based on that limited government. At the same time the economic prosperity sown by our freedom was coupled with a military position that largely dissuaded enemies from attacking us and our allies and gave much of the world confidence to trade somewhat freely with one another.

In November of 2016 however we find ourselves at a point where everything that has made America great is in peril, and the wound is self inflicted. At least the Roman people had the "excuse" that they lived in a dictatorship. Americans don't have that excuse. Not only is the culture under assault from within and without, far more importantly, the primary notion that government is limited to only those things it is specifically empowered to do is lost. Today the government is involved in virtually every aspect of American's lives. That is a recipe for economic stagnation and political ruin. Take a look at the remains of the Roman Empire to see the future of America... Italy – and much of Europe – is an economic basket case and quickly becoming a cultural one as well.

Government is a borg that grows until it is stopped. Our Constitution used to do that. Today it no longer does. Unlike the Roman citizenry who often found themselves ruled at the end of a sword, Americans have willingly put themselves in this position. Not only by putting two reprehensible human beings, two power hungry narcissists in a position to rule the country, but by buying into the notion that the government is the first and best vehicle for solving virtually every problem. Nothing could be farther from the truth, and there is the core problem: Americans, or an increasingly large portion of them want the government to take care of them, from cradle to grave and everywhere in between. Whether it’s providing them with an income, protecting them from evil businesses or limiting the offensive speech of others, we have become a nation of citizens who can no longer take care of themselves or aren’t willing to do so. Either way, with Hillary Clinton or Donald Trump in the White House individual freedom and economic liberty will continue to shrink. So too will prosperity and much of what remains of the American Dream. One wonders what will be the legacy of America in 2,000 years. No doubt, if someone is writing a history of America and chronicles her demise they will surely include Barack Obama and his successor as key players to her downfall, but the primary culprit will have been the American people, who voted to have the government replace individual liberty, individual responsibility and common sense.