The Fall of Rome was not precipitous. It took centuries of infighting, moral decay, militarism, and luxuries bought with the pain of others to bring the Republic turned Empire from the heights of power and influence to being a trash heap fought over by bloated rats. Rome was sacked repeatedly, each time crawling back to power - but each time a little less influential - until finally it was irrelevant as a military or economic power, its only influence a church that acted as a vacuum for lose gold around Europe. But the Rome we think of had finished its very long decline and death.
The Fall of America, however, has been precipitous. Our high point of political influence was, in historical terms, very brief, our economic power on the decline since the early Seventies, and while our military power is unrivaled it relies on a tactical symmetry that is no longer the norm. ( We are now fighting individual civilians in towns with weapons designed for fighting divisions of soldiers on battlefields.)
But most importantly our political downfall has been quick and disastrous. And I say this not because of having a President who has little understanding of lawmaking or governing beyond his own self-enrichment, or that we have accepted the brutalizations of women at the highest levels of government, or that civil and human rights have become casualties of a political Party that views opposition as treason, or even that we are witnessing the upcoming theft of an election by a Party that is invalidating voter registration, has gerrymandered districts to guarantee their own victories, that has ignored impending environmental disasters, has stoked racial hatred, and has used fear and fantasy to divide a once powerful nation against itself.
But is not a corrupt leadership, or the insatiable greed of its Capitalist class, or the shortsightedness of a economic system that is leading us to catastrophe that is the core of why we are collapsing so close to our pinnacle. It’s not the leadership - it’s the led. A large minority of the country has decided that, in their fear of the future, there is no ethical or moral issue they are not will to sacrifice. They call themselves Christians, but have no adherence to any of Christ’s teachings beyond forgiving themselves for their cruelty and selfishness. They call themselves Constitutionalists without any idea of its contents beyond the one amendment they believe gives them the right to carry weapons. They call themselves kind and honest while overlooking the lies, crimes, and cruelties of any politician or preacher who promises them they will always have someone to look down on. They are loving parents who refuse to pay the taxes needed to school their children, and block any environmental regulation that would make the world their children will inherit less than a living Hell.
The downfall of Rome was not because the emperors had become crazy or enfeebled; Rome fell because its citizens accepted insanity and feebleness as the new normal on the part of the emperors. The new normal of lying, cheating, stealing, of endless wars to enrich the few while sacrificing and impoverishing the many, of cries of “traitor” aimed at anyone who disagreed, of self-serving privilege based on brutality. Rome had reached the top and tried to attain stasis - never ending top dog status. They knew there was lead in the water and that that lead was making them crazy, they knew they shouldn’t rely on mercenaries, they knew deforestation for farmlands was silting up their ports but that lacked the introspection to care anymore. They were Rome, and any change implied mistakes had been made, that Rome was imperfect. And it took them centuries to Fall.
Historically America’s Fall will be quick, our time on top the blink of an eye, and we will drag the rest of the world down with us. The tragedy is how preventable it was. Not that America could have stayed on top forever - no country can do that - but that we could have had a softer landing. At this point our democratic/republic has failed, an inhuman profit-at-all-costs philosophy is burning down our planet, and a large number of Americans are alright with that because they think the real danger is equality and justice. They are terrified that they will lose a power of self-determination they never really had in our for-the-Rich system, they are terrified they will be called to answer for the crimes that provided them with skin or gender privilege, they are terrified that they will have to give up all the materialistic crap they were told signified their worth for some hippie future of bicycles and walking to work with people that don’t look or sound like them, living in less than the mansion they were promised by television, that taxes will mean that all the inheritance they will never get from their working-class parent will be taken. They are terrified. And they have been terrorized by those who benefit from that terror - those at the top who know that if they are ever not in a position of power they will be made to answer for their crimes against all of us. So they are scared, too.
They are scared of us.
So they try for stasis, as every oligarchy does at its pinnacle of power. But the very attempt destroys the ability for the empire to adapt, and in our case we petrified America at a point of self-adulation and fear of everything. And this coming election, if allowed to be the unquestioned violation of democracy its shaping up to be, will signal the end of the American Experiment, the end of the idea of government of, by, and for the people even as an ideal, and the last chance we had to slow our plummet before we plunge into the abyss.