One of the curious things about the Roman Empire is how it managed to stagger on for so long after the second century. The third century is actually called The Crisis of the Third Century, because the empire was in chaos. Yet, the empire managed to get through that period and carry on for roughly two more centuries. In time, Historians will probably puzzle over the same question regarding America. How is that it staggers on despite the obvious problems?
A popular theme in science fiction is one where the human explorers stumble upon alien technology and they are baffled as to what it does. It’s not that they know the purpose but cannot figure out how to make it work. It’s that they don’t understand the purpose of the technology. The implication is that the aliens were so advanced that they were creating tools to solve problems humans have yet to contemplate. The gap between the aliens and humans is so great that it cannot be bridged.
It is a useful thing to keep in mind when thinking about the modern world. The evidence is pretty good that Western man is dumber than his ancestors. We have more overall knowledge than our ancestors, but our ability to add to it is in sharp decline along with our ability to use it. The people in charge now struggle to do the basics of government, like maintain order and the infrastructure. In America, streets are crumbling and there are regular power failures in parts of the country.
A good small-scale example is the city of Baltimore. All of the machinery that was put in place back when it was an important city is still in place. The people running that machinery today are not doing so well. They clearly lack the intellectual firepower to operate that machinery. Baltimore is one of the most dangerous cities in the world and it is suffering from a steady population decline. The political class is so incompetent they can’t even run the graft system properly.
This was all true before the Covid panic. One thing that kept Baltimore afloat was the tourist and sports industry. In the summer, tourists would come to the well-guarded inner harbor. People from the surrounding areas would come in for sports games and the surrounding restaurants. All of that was shuttered by the panic, which means the tens of millions in tax dollars never arrived. Then there is the cost of the Covid panic itself, which has further crippled the city administration.
When you look at many American cities like Baltimore, St. Louis, Detroit, Newark and so on, the question is not “How did they get to this point?” The question is, “How have they not collapsed by now?” Part of it, of course, is the surrounding infrastructure that keeps them propped up. In the case of Baltimore, the rest of the state is taxed to keep Baltimore City government going. Federal dollars pour in to keep the cops on the streets and the schools open for business.
That’s fine for cities, but that cannot work for the country as a whole. Like those cities, the national government is increasing incompetent. Both official political parties are in such steep decline that the next election will offer a choice between a carny barker and a dementia patient. The sober minded will always feels as if the current age sits on the shoulder’s of giants, but the gap between the best we have today and just a few generations ago is breathtaking.
The only thing the political elite is good at doing is keeping the public at one another’s throat over trivia. This is why Trump in President. His main skill as a politician is to stir the pot and cause outrage. He’s a terribly inflamed hemorrhoid on the political ass of the establishment. The upcoming circus over the Supreme Court nominee promises six weeks of television mayhem. The shouting and shrieking, of course, will be from the political class itself, not an outraged public.
One can dismiss that as “bread and circuses” but that does not explain how the country staggers on despite it all. For six months the government at all levels has been sabotaging the economy and civic life with the Covid panic. Tens of millions have been thrown out of work. No one knows how many businesses have closed for good due to the Covid lock downs. Food lines are popping up in the suburbs. How is it that none of this has resulted in civil unrest or at least a few protests?
Of course, no one can really know what is happening. The media told us over 50 million people were thrown out of work due to the panic. The empty streets seem to confirm it, but they also tell us unemployment is below 10%. The stock market has returned to the levels it was at before the panic. The media also tells us that the riots we saw over the summer were a figment of our imagination. How can anything work when no one can be sure of anything being told to them by the rulers?
Like Rome for close to three centuries, America staggers on, despite the problems and the decline of the ruling class. In the case of Rome, there was no organized force capable of toppling her. In the case of America, the global order assumes America will be the pivot point, the fulcrum on which order balances. As long as people are being fed and have shelter, they will not rise up to challenge the rulers. Like Rome, the great stagger will continue until the corpse of the empire collapses.
The thing to keep in mind, though, is that when Rome was finally sacked by the Visogoths, the rest of the known world was stunned. St. Jerome wrote in grief, “If Rome can perish, what can be safe?” In other words, for a very long time people knew the empire was a shell of its former glory and Rome itself was no longer what it was. People just got used to the permanent state of decline. It was their normal. Most likely, American decline will become the new normal too.
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