The Death of the Salesmen

It’s over then. As empires go this one didn’t last long. The ending came not in one defining moment, perhaps it hasn’t even dawned on many, but it’s finished; done-in not by Al Qaeda or totalitarianism or other external threats but by its stupidity and avarice. While it had scouts on the lookout for any sign of global trouble, it was destroyed by those who most vehemently proclaimed themselves as patriotic, those with the biggest flags in which to drape themselves, those with the largest bank accounts, mostly offshore, by those who invoke god to provide cover for their hatred.

Who’d a thunk it? Leaving out the ancient empires, the Romans lasted hundreds of years with a much smaller population and a huge frontier to defend on foot. The British, as befitting their island fortress, took to the seas to pinken world maps for three hundred plus years. Spain’s wane was announced with the sinking of the Armada but it hung on in various parts of the globe until the 20th century. The Basques and Catalonians say it haunts them still. The reasons for the decline and fall of empires are varied and complex, but eventually they just die of old age, no matter what the medical report says.

The United States, in keeping with its rock star status, died young. In just over a century it shot like a meteor through the night sky, astonishing and blinding all who dared look. Then just as rapidly it was gone, crashed into a farmer’s field or the depths of an ocean. It didn’t die of old age. The causes of death were clear, an empire claimed by fatuity and gout.

There appeared to be some hope when a new president, so much a departure from the cabal that preceded him, took office. But the lofty rhetoric heard just months earlier was drowned out by incessant, provincial voices of selfishness and barely hidden racism. “I want my country back” screamed some frothing lunatic of a woman at an ubiquitous town hall meeting. And what country would that be madam? The all white one, the one with the greatest concentration of wealth in history, the one that expects all to be done but nothing to be paid, the one that leaves fifty million of its citizens without health care and those with insurance often denied coverage because health, like everything in “your” country is about profit? Is that the country you want back, you whining wench?

Much of the blame must fall on Abraham Lincoln, the otherwise judicious president. After allowing for some trades and designations for assignment, he had the chance to cut loose the ranting, bigoted, god-fearing, simpletons, to sentence them to an island of ignorance; Pangaea drift at warp speed. Instead, at great and continuing cost, he fought to maintain a deeply sundered nation, disparate groups of people, which despite their shared space and occasional coming together to fight Germans, might as well be from different planets.

The previously mentioned realms were pushed to the extremes by forces that eventually overwhelmed them. Though the Senate debated in Rome, even before the rule of Constantine, its influence was illusory. The real power had long since shifted to the frontier along with the various emperors who protected the borders and at times, brawled among themselves. Eventually, the Roman Empire, like an old soldier, just faded away. The Spanish did themselves no favors by forcing out many of its most skilled craftsmen, the Jews and Muslims, and by letting loose the terror of the Inquisition. Spain was not the larger and complete Iberian neighbor we see on the map today, rather, seriously rift with regional conflict. The Spain that had to protect its overseas possessions was largely the center of the country around what is now Madrid and the old capital, Toledo. Years of bother in Europe and its losing battle to pirates and seafaring nations, particularly the British, meant that there was less to Spanish supremacy then met the eye. The British in turn, were devastated by two world wars in twenty odd years and what the Great War left didn’t collect was forever lost after World War II.

There is no mighty prepotency to oust the United States as the U.S. superseded the British or the Brits the Spanish before them. While China has most of the American debt and ever increasing global economic influence, most of its huge population remains poor and maltreated. Its denial of human rights at home and support of corrupt regimes elsewhere shows the rot at its core. It may well be the odds on favorite to replace the U.S. as global heavyweight but it is a house built on termite timber and just as likely to collapse under its own density as it is to heft that tonnage around unchallenged. Beyond Caspian oil and Vladimir Putin’s bare chest lies a Potemkin country, its democracy fragile, its leader dictatorial and a center that, as always, cannot hold. It is a threat to its neighbors but not the world. Russia is most dangerous as a counter-puncher, the ultimate rope-a-doper, but unsteady and clumsy on the attack.

The expansion of Islamic theocracy, while still very much in need of forceful containment, is being increasingly questioned from within, the extremists themselves, becoming the enemy to millions of Muslims who want to live in peace, and offer a more educated, rational and progressive world to their children. When the downtrodden turn on the oppressors, when they refuse to be human shields or provide anonymity, when the measured beards have nowhere to hide, unable to win fixed campaigns, they are done. Their death rattle is already sounding.

The United States is not being vanquished or even eroded by any foreign force greater than itself. It has never really been defeated in battle, engaging in some wars without winning but only because it fought without declaring them so or by not unleashing the full scale of its military might. Had they wanted to scrap dirty, well, really dirty, or been as eager to kill civilians as earlier empires or current aspirants, it would have obliterated its opponents. The demise of the States has not come at the hands of outside powers; it has not been knocked out by the number one contender.

Instead, as evidenced by the hysterical and deceitful debate over universal heath care, the country is just too dumb and too gluttonous to continue as the world’s dominant player. It’s not that all Americans are daft and predatory, more aren’t. It’s just that too many are. If it were say, twenty percent of the population, well all countries have at least that many assholes. The problem with the U.S. is that almost half of its citizenry is either excessively wealthy or exceedingly stupid. Well, the wealthy make up a small and shrinking part of that group but their capacity to shape the message and buy the messengers ensures that the dimwits will continue to vote against their interests while maintaining their trust in duplicitous demagogues and loud-mouthed liars.

If there was a chance that the dullards and the insatiable could be debated, if they were influenced at all by legitimate science and rational thought, the possibility of change might be extant. But this is a group blinded by faith, duped by vested interest. Their lack of interest or understanding makes them easy, often willing, targets for feudal lords and religious zealots, those who have found loopholes in the law or declared fiction to be truth. Faith is an opponent that need not prove itself. It is enough that it exists, Reason requires doubt, demands that all be considered, authenticated and reviewed. At that, theories and proofs can collapse on one exception. Faith requires no such rigor, in fact, denounces it. You can’t argue with faith because it is, by its nature, closed.

The United States was, and never can be, the country that it should have been. At its best, it has done things better than any collective in history. At its worst, it has been an embarrassment among civilized nations. To paraphrase Baudelaire, “America is like the prince of the clouds, haunting the tempest and laughing at the archer; Exiled on earth amongst the shouting people, his giant’s wings hinder him from walking.”

The voices of America were once Jefferson and Franklin, Hawthorne and Emerson, Whitman and Dickenson, Twain and Henry James. Now the expression of reason and humor is shouted down by Limbaugh and Beck, O’Reilly and Hannity, Bennett and Robertson, Gingrich and Kristol. An entire nation has been kidnapped by blowhards and con artists, propagandists and haranguers. Such a state cannot survive its own idiocy. Heinrich Heine once said of an individual, “Ordinarily he was insane, but he had lucid moments when he was merely stupid.” The inmates are running the U.S. asylum and they tend constantly to the former.

America is proud of its symbols; the flag, the anthems, its monuments and with some justification. It was a decisive contributor to the right side in two major combats in the 20th century, three, if its excesses in fighting the Cold War could be forgiven. All countries have warts and most have many more than America. The U.S. however is as much myth as reality. It is not nor ever has been one nation under god. It has proven easily divisible and has dispensed liberty and justice unequally. It bellows defiantly about its capacity to defeat the wicked things that its way come. But while it was staring abroad, folly and greed, the most dangerous of enemies, had already made themselves at home.

America came into the 20th century as a soaring, if rapacious eagle. It will leave in the 21st as Willy Loman. It’s tragic really. At its height, there was much left to offer.

Copyright © 2009 Paul Heno

0 replies

Leave a Reply

Want to join the discussion?
Feel free to contribute!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *