I am a student of history, and there is perhaps no greater political entity that has ever existed on this planet than the Roman Empire. It stretched across a vast portion of the Earth's surface and held sway over a huge proportion of the world's population. It's engineering, military and political achievements are legend.
Still, as respectful as I am of that legacy the Roman Empire holds no great attraction for me. I am much more a fan of its predecessor the Roman Republic and the Greek city states, which bequeathed to the Republic their legacy of democratic rule. It is in this tradition that we find the origins of our own democracy and of the simple, yet powerful concept that power derives from the people not from the king, the emperor or some cast of aristocrats.
Early democracies were often raucous affairs. In Athens at its height debates were held on a hilltop near the Acropolis, and every citizen of the city attended, not just to observe but to participate and to vote directly on the key issues of the day. Everything was questioned. No one was sacred. Great men were removed unceremoniously from office and sometimes exiled when they got crosswise with the citizenry.
Everything was questioned.
We should remember that. We must struggle to regain that ethos. We claim today to challenge authority and demand accountability. Too often, though, we are not actually questioning anything. We are parroting party lines, repeating buzz words and demonizing the opposition. Our actions are mindless, often robotic and far too easily manipulated.
I do a lot of radio shows, often ones which allow listeners to call in. I am frequently in the course of a single hour-long show informed by callers that I am a "fascist", a "communist", "naïve" and part of some secret international conspiracy to control the planet on behalf of multi-national corporations. I don't think any of those things are true. I am sure that they cannot all be true, and that at least some of them are mutually exclusive. I suspect the accusations have little or nothing to do with anything I have actually said and much more to do with the fact that I am a former US Army officer and retired CIA operations officer. In short, the person attacking me has not actually listened to anything I have said, and they most certainly have not given any thought to it.
Black Americans in inner cities wake up every morning surrounded by tragedy. The unemployment rate in most such areas is sky high as is the murder rate. Supermarkets are non-existent. Schools are abysmal. The police force feels more like an occupying army than it does an organization dedicated to the safety of residents of the area. Children in kindergarten are diagnosed with PTSD because of the violence to which they are exposed.
Then these same black Americans go to the polls and vote for a Democratic Party, which has likely controlled politics in the city for forty or fifty years. They return to office the same individuals who have presided over decay and disaster and abandonment, and they do it without stopping to ask "why". Why should a party, which has failed absolutely over the course of many, many years be reflexively returned to power to fail again?
Americans on the left protest and agitate on behalf of open borders and globalization on the general principle that we are somehow part of a global family and should interact freely on a planetary scale. They do not stop to think about the full ramifications of these polices nor the real reasons for their adoption. Have we really allowed poor Central Americans to flood into the country out of the kindness of our hearts or because an endless supply of cheap labor willing to work off the books makes certain Americans very rich? Have we really supported offshoring of manufacturing and global free trade because it allows Americans to buy large quantities of cheap plastic stuff from China they could otherwise likely not afford or have we done it because it allows giant corporations to avoid minimum wage laws, workplace safety laws and other measures put in place inside the United States over generations?
Americans in rural and small town America attend local sporting events, salute the flag and enthusiastically participate in ceremonies honoring our men and women in uniform and the sacrifices they make on our behalf. They are proud of sons and daughters who enlist and who go off to fight abroad.
These same Americans do not typically stop to consider what that fighting abroad is accomplishing. They do not ask what the billions, even trillions, of dollars we have spent since 9/11 have bought. They do not consider even for a moment how, while their sons and daughters are dying, giant corporations are awash in profits made from this seemingly endless war.
Mainstream Republicans are committed to small government, balancing the budget and living within our means. They do not ask then why President George W. Bush presided over the greatest expansion of the federal government since the creation of the Department of Defense. They do not ask why having launched multiple wars abroad he never confronted the necessity to pay for them and simply borrowed the money to finance them thereby massively increasing our national debt.
Ever since Donald Trump was elected President he has been the target of a nationwide attack campaign on a scale never seen before in our history. Turn on networks like CNN and you will hear almost nothing else, 24 hours a day, than a barrage of criticism leveled at this President, the goal of which is to delegitimize him and to drive him from office.
Is that really because Donald Trump is a Manchurian Candidate, bought and paid for by Vladimir Putin?
Is that really because Donald Trump is a secret buddy of KKK Grand Wizards and pursuing a fascist, white power agenda?
Is that really because Donald Trump is out to subvert American democracy and establish an evil, homophobic totalitarian regime?
Or is it because Donald Trump is a political outsider with no real allegiance to any political machine, in effect a human wrecking ball when it comes to the status quo? Is it because the President has upended years of free trade policy that has impoverished Americans but made a select few giant corporations filthy rich? Is it because while he stands for a strong defense he does not stand for corporate welfare and he believes that we should intervene abroad in our own national interest and not simply because we can and because it will make some people a lot of money? Is it because businesses in this nation which have grown fat off the exploitation of illegal workers must now employ AMERICAN workers who know their rights and will demand a living wage?
Ask the questions. Find your own answers. Stop parroting what some talking head on television told you or what you read, unsourced, on some website. We are not the Roman Empire. We should never be any empire. We are Americans, and we are free.
We question everything.