What do the BC period of the Pharaohs, the ancient Grecian Empire, the Roman Empire, the Incas, the Aztecs, and the former Soviet Union have in common? According to British historian Arnold Toynbee’s universal theory of civilization, they all migrated through a life cycle of challenge, response and suicide. Machiavelli, the Italian philosopher, whose name is often used as the adjective Machiavellian, to mean merciless cunning, demonstrated that empires rise, expand and fall because of an overreach by the military. The late Carroll Quigley, history professor from Georgetown University, demonstrated a greater complexity to the life cycle of civilizations by showing a progression from mixture to gestation to expansion to conflict to universal empire to decay to invasion and then destruction.
Each of these models, to varying degrees, show that history follows a certain inescapable rhythm. There may be no better illustration of the life cycle of great powers than the series of five paintings by Thomas Cole – The Course of Empire. If a picture is worth a thousand words, then Cole weaves a fascinating story of judgment that will befall all societies that refuse to resist the imperial urge to expand its borders and the temptation to engage in international commerce.
Cole’s allegorical work depicts the same expanse over the course of an empire’s rise and fall: The Savage State shows a rock formation in a near pristine natural state where hunters are gathering their daily sustenance; The Arcadian or Pastoral State depicts a society emerging, where the inhabitants work towards the goal of organizing an empire; The Consummation of Empire is the third painting that shows huge marble palaces dominating a metropolitan landscape filled with merchants and consumers; Destruction precedes the end as a fleet of enemy warriors have overthrown the city’s ability to defend itself; and then comes Desolation where the remains of the once bustling city are no match for nature as she reclaims the landscape and the rock formation from the Savage State can be seen once again in all of its majesty.
Cole’s warning of inevitable decay is serious and should motivate this nation to hold its political leadership to a higher level of accountability, because one irresponsible decision by the President, or one intractable policy by Congress, or one unfavorable election result could lead to decline and then the unavoidable fall. If we fail to hold our political leadership responsible for harmful decisions, then we invite social annihilation. This is why I am so stunned at the election results on November 2nd. Most political analysts predicted the wholesale slaughter of the Democratic Party; however, I am still asking myself, “How could America return the keys of the hen-House back to the Fox?”
When I consider the damage, perhaps irreversible, that was done to America the last time the Conservatives controlled any part of the national government, I shudder to think that the voters have given them another opportunity to peddle their bogus corn cure. The last time the Republicans had plenary control of our government under President Bush, America lost its standing as the world’s only superpower. If we examine the before-Bush America and the after-Bush America, we will see that President Bush was handed a goose that laid golden eggs, while he tied a millstone around President Obama’s neck:
- · Bush received a balanced budget with a $236 billion surplus from his predecessor Bill Clinton; he delivered an additional $6.5 trillion in debt to President Obama.
- · Bush inherited a middle class whose income rose by an average of $6,000 from 1993 through 2001; he handed Obama a nation whose median household income dropped by $1,000 during his tenure;
- · During his eight years in office, health care premiums doubled from about $6,000 to $12,000 per family;
- · Clinton handed Bush a military that was at a high state of readiness, prepared to fight a two-front war; however, Bush delivered a military to his successor that had such low morale it has been unable to meet its recruitment goals;
- · Bush inherited a nation where gasoline prices were less than $1.00 per gallon in many places; however, after his ‘secret’ energy commission, gas prices rose to as much $5.00 per gallon and in some parts of the nation, consumers are still paying nearly $3.50 for a gallon of gasoline or diesel fuel;
- · America was respected as an international leader when Bush took over as President; but during his administration some countries believed that the United States was the biggest threat to world peace;
- · Bush inherited a country that had a blazing economy; however, he delivered a nation to Obama that must rely on foreign investments of treasury bonds to stave off liquidation;
- · The housing market was blazing when Bush took the oath of office and the economy was growing at a robust pace; however, he handed Obama a country where 1 in 5 homeowners were underwater with their mortgages;
- · The Bush administration overthrew the leader of a sovereign nation and had him summarily executed, because he claimed that Saddam had weapons of mass destruction and participated in the attacks of September 11th; however, nearly 5,000 dead troops, more than 32,000 wounded troops, and more than 100,000 dead, “innocent” Iraqi citizens later, the military still has not uncovered any WMD or any linkage between Saddam and September 11th. (Yes, Saddam was a very cruel dictator, but American self interest does not overthrow leaders because they are bad. If that was the standard for military operations, who’s next? Amadinejab? Kim? Medvedev? Or to listen to the propaganda machine coming from the right; Obama?
- · Ninety-seven percent of all troop deaths in Iraq have come since Bush announced “Mission Accomplished”…and that was May 1, 2003.
I could continue to make my case regarding George Bush’s reckless administration, but that is not important now since the damage has already been inflicted. However, what is imperative and essential to altering the course of this nation’s somnambulist path is for the electorate to understand that the Bush administration took us over the precipice of oblivion.
Do they get it?
An old wise man once told me, “You can be on the right track, but travelling in the wrong direction.” If we don’t wake up and reverse course, Coles Destruction and then Desolation will come sooner rather than later, and stamped on the autopsy’s report will be “Death by suicide.”
to be continued...