The Fall of Rome, and Why America Can Avoid the Same Fate

It has been said that history repeats itself.

The United States spent more on it’s “defense” in 2013 than the next 10 countries combined. Much of this budget consisted of running military bases sprinkled across the European, African, and South American continents, areas where the United States has not seen a significant national security threat arise from in decades – even centuries. The apportioned funds for “defense”, which amounts to roughly 700 billion dollars, and also are used in building the fledgling democracy in Iraq as well as rooting out “terrorism” in the hills of Afghanistan (an area that, mind you, not a single extraterritorial empire has been able to successfully subjugate in the history of mankind). We find ourselves, the United States, as both the world police and the champion of world democracy – a neoliberal remnant of interventionism that has resulted in trillions of dollars over the past several decades being paid out in the form of foreign aid, wars, and international economic stimulation. There is no doubt that some of these arbitrations have yielded unfettered positive results, and made the world a better place. However, our obsession as a country of sticking our nose in the business of other nations, all while allowing the infrastructure (in fact, just last week engineers declared that the Tappan Zee Bridge, one of the most traversed bridges in the nation, was in severe danger of collapse) and economy of our nation to likewise suffer, presents a dualistic problem for the future of our nation.

No other nation has exercised to such an extreme degree the administrative control over such an expanse of their known world as the United States does today since the reign of the Roman Empire more than 2000 year ago. Because of it’s incredible military prowess, Rome was able to assemble a massive land empire, and, in return, it was necessary to protect such an empire with a vast military scattered across the border regions of their conquests. All the while, Rome rotted from the interior. It’s infrastructure, aqueducts, roads, and sewer systems, began to crumble as the administration was forced to bankroll massive military endeavors rather than reinvest in the future of their domestic success.

The military-industrial complex has driven this foreign payout for decades – the interlocking relationship between the lobbyists for Congress who give big money gifts for their chosen representative’s re-election campaigns and the defense contractors they represent ensure that American infrastructure and investment in things that matter – childhood education and social welfare – are put in the backseat relative to the interests of international war-and-democracy-making.

The excess of this empire in Rome, as well as our American imperial financing, has resulted in massive deficits and debts that have caused significant derailment of economic growth. Most recently, a demotion of the credit rating of the United States, due to the growing perception among the leaders of the international finance industry that America will not be able to, in the short or long term, pay back it’s approximate 17 trillion dollars of debt. Furthermore, this debt has caused recent and intense economic hardship as the GOP advocates a stricter limits on federal spending (however, their goals here are not truly based in the fear of debt, as we see in the historical fact that both Republican and Democratic legislatures and executives have increased the deficit, but rather in an ideological war against “universal healthcare”) and government shutdowns – à la Ted Cruz and his Green Eggs and Ham – have interrupted national and international economic activity nearly all too often.

The excess of our government’s spending – exemplified in multi-billion dollar “subsidies” to Big Oil and Big Business (that’s 92 billion dollars, to be precise) – is nothing short of a nationally embarrassing issue. These corporate subsidies (mind you, the S&P 500’s value has doubled over the past 5 years) are simply a government handout from a group of oligarchs that have been influenced perpetually by the biggest special interests (in the form of lobbying), warping their legislative and policy goals to be subservient not to the people deserve the most, but to the people that can pay the most. Rather than rebuild our bridges, reduce the cost of higher education, and ensure that our populace is able to not go bankrupt when they are unable to temporarily find work, our government instead pays for massive, useless wars and pays corporations with money borrowed from China and other international financiers. Unsurprisingly, Rome followed a similar path. Unconcerned with the issues concerning the weakest among them, Roman senators in the Late Empire devised plans to expand their own wealth through the use of government appropriating power – without the threat of re-election. Just like the American political system, where it costs on average over 10 million dollars to run for Senate successfully (in the last election cycle), Roman senators were insulated from popular influences by their deep coffers. Corporate and special interests have crystallized the partisan divisions in our nation’s capital; and in turn, have rendered the entirety of the nation without the leadership we desperately need in the 21st century.

This is not the America we want. This is not the America that can stand the test of time. Just like Rome, if we neglect our own homeland, collapsing from the inside out, our quality of life and the very American Dream will suffer like never before. We don’t have to let this happen – in essence, our hope hinges on the perception of time. Are we going to throw away another billion in funding for a war in Iran to pump ever growing sums into the already omnipotent defense industry, or are we going to take that enormous sum of cash, and use it to lift our countrymen out of poverty, to give them a job, and give them an education that they can afford without going broke. That is the America I dream of – one where we lead by example instead of forcing others to follow our lead; where cultures mired in oppression that has lasted for centuries see America and, in their hearts, know that there is hope for them, too. That is the America that I believe we can make, and there isn’t a moment to lose.

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