I rode the D.C. Metro last week and absorbed all the lovely lines that flow along the bridge over the Potomac and under the Pentagon. There’s something decidedly Roman about Washington D.C. If it’s not all the columns or facades of Minerva then it’s idea of immortality in all of it. There have been Romes before, but we always think this time will be different.
It’s no longer a question of “Can” but “Will”. Somewhere between the Chinese false devaluation of the yuan and our overstretched military industrial complex, things will stop churning so violently eventually. America is faced with the most sophisticated resistance of our age, something so consuming that there is little to do but give in. Those beautiful lines over the Potomac were bought and built with slave sweat and slave blood. Our food is grown with GMO seeds and then freeze-packed for our microwaves. Our cellphones contain little nuggets of pain and suffering from the Congo. Our magazine pages rip up our sexual instincts. Our children parrot the television and tug on our sleeves for more. One thing is for certain: whatever cold fire we had a hundred years ago to force our way across the globe has sputtered out.
Teddy Roosevelt claimed a White Teutonic racial superiority as what set Americans apart from the rest. My grandparents tell me it’s hard work, saving, and going without excess. We need these rationalizations to fortify our moral grounding in the world. Yet what really gave us the edge was a vast land filled with wealth and fertile soil, wrenched from its original inhabitants and cultivated by 50 million slaves. Building America took great commitment and required vast power. We built up great war machines and set them sailing in the ocean, looking to spread our cold fire elsewhere.
Now Americans don’t even have that cold fire, the ruthlessness in them to fight and take. The entitlement has filtered into every part of society, and now our hard working Teutonic compatriots are too tired from a long day of staring at screens and advertisements that it’s hard to remember what it is we’re supposed to do to keep moving forward.
The Romans had lead in the water and Dionysian orgies, but what do we have? A whole litany of vices poured down our throats the Romans couldn’t have dreamed of. It’s too late for us. The USSR’s population was ready for the crash. Decades of hard living had prepared them to survive a hostile world. Looking at the state of Russia nowadays, it’s done them little good. The life expectancy has dropped and their industry has been shattered. And America, at the pinnacle of the world, faces an obesity epidemic and has no industry left to speak of unless you work at the Pentagon.
So when you look on the grandeur of the Washington monuments and museums, do you wonder what they will look like at the end of your life? When you are old and gray, how will you explain things to your grandchildren? Apocalyptic notions have been picking up steam. Books and movies hail the end times. The case can be made that it’s always been like this, that the end times have always been near. Yet aged intellectuals openly espouse grief and concern over our future. Our money has evaporated. We’re losing the wars abroad and at home as America runs back into the comforting arms of imperial nationalism. Thinking we can punch the slot machine a few more times and be ok, our involvement in the Middle East, Africa, Asia, and South America foretells our demise. Our decaying neighborhoods in New Orleans and Detroit indicate a disastrous trajectory. When we are unable to invest domestically while at the same time unable to divest internationally… this is when we wake up and find ourselves and our national monuments too close to Rome for comfort.
Facing the idea that we may not always have an easy supply of microwaved meals and entertaining television, will we be able to learn to cook and reacquaint each other? Will America survive without imperialism? Perhaps more importantly is how hard we will fight at the end to keep ourselves from facing reality.