Dan Shlufman

The election of 2016 and the decline of the American empire

The election features partisan bickering, a fractured electorate, incivility, and intolerance.

This leads me to the conclusion that the great Democratic experiment, which now is 240 years old, might not be burning out, but certainly it is in smoldering flames. If we examine some of the issues below, it will be easy to identify the causes of this situation.

We are living through a downward spiral of ethics and values. Life has become cheap, with bloodshed and extreme cruelty tolerated in our country and throughout the world. The values, ideals, customs, traditions, and institutions the country was built upon are in decay. The basic principles, standards, and judgments about what was valuable or important in life, the ideas of what is right and wrong, good and bad, desirable and undesirable, are being lost. This is exacerbated by a general decline in morals, promiscuous sexual behavior and nudity on display in public areas, and widespread gambling and violence at sporting events.

The working class is falling further behind, requiring more government hand-outs for them to survive. At the same time, the rich are earning massive incomes. They are using it to purchase homes that are palaces and living lives of upper-class rulers, greatly increasing the wealth disparity. We have developed a dual-class system of haves and have-nots, which is becoming unsustainable.

Our enemies are becoming stronger and emboldened. They are no longer afraid to attack us on the home front as they obtain more recruits and grow in military might. These enemies, who want to impose a different way of life on us, are planning and carrying out attacks against our country and our allies that are chipping away at our ability to prevent them.

Here, there is an antagonism between the legislative body and the executive branch. While each branch has clearly delegated functions, they are designed to work together and complement each other, not interfere with each other’s functioning. This is coupled with political corruption, which sees our elected officials using their offices for personal gain until they are caught and arrested. Machine politics and gerrymandering allows powerful politicians to control the make-up of what should be democratically elected bodies.

While we face all of these issues, they were not written about America in 2016. Rather, each is a widely established theory for the fall of Rome in 476. The parallels are as fascinating as they are disconcerting. And I firmly believe that what we are seeing in this year’s presidential election is highlighting many of these problems.

As is clear to anybody who has turned on the television or seen videos posted on their social media feeds, we no longer are a society that cares about modesty. Nudity and simulated sex acts are the norm in music videos and on cable television, and are even winked at on broadcast TV. We also no longer are a society where shame or embarrassment have a place, because there is no form of attention that is considered “bad attention.” (Sex tapes can make you famous.) Those of us who grew up before the 2000s and know the sting of a parent saying “I am ashamed of what you did” understand that this phrase has become meaningless. We have reached a point that has resulted in the death of shame. Today, our society only values the number of Facebook likes or YouTube views.

Statistics that show the growing wealth disparity are staggering and undeniable. As a country, we do nothing about it. We don’t encourage laws to stem the tide of this phenomenon, nor do we as a society reward those who actually do good — among them social workers, nurses, and teachers. Our children’s role models are not the first responders or hard-working people who raise families, pay taxes, and live upstanding lives. Rather, we have glorified those in entertainment and business who make the most noise, engage in the most outrageous behavior, and garner the most attention. We have reached a point where being famous for the sake of being famous (reaping the staggering financial rewards that come along with this for some reason) is an enviable goal.

The logjam between Congress and the president (like between the Senate and the emperor in Rome) is a failing of our political system. When our elected officials play politics and will not even entertain a hearing for a qualified presidential Supreme Court nominee, this is a big problem. Similarly, when these senators who complain about this inaction have developed amnesia about the same tactics that they undertook years before to stop another president’s nominations, that is a problem as well. And when a president and the Congress are unable to put aside partisan politics to find a middle ground to serve the interests of the country at large, whom they were elected to serve, this is government at its worst.

When all viewpoints other than your own are not only opposed but also vilified, when there is so much intolerance that people attempt to prevent others from hearing these opposing views — this is the biggest political problem of all.

Finally, we are facing enemies worldwide like ISIS and Iran, who want to destroy us and replace our enlightened Western civilization with Dark Age values. (That is similar to what happened in Europe after the fall of the Roman Empire.) Yet we behave toward them in a way that assumes that they are rational people who just have a different philosophy, one that we need to understand. Our policies reflect deference to their antagonism that no other generation of Americans would tolerate. When Barbary pirates attacked American ships in the 1800s, crippling our ability to trade, Thomas Jefferson did not discuss why they were doing it with the pirates. He attacked with the full force of our nascent navy, and quickly put an end to the situation.

We are facing some difficult choices in the presidential race this year. No matter which candidate you support, and no matter who ultimately is elected, we all will have to find a way to reverse the course the United States is on before it becomes irreversible.

We have to find our way back to the values that made this country great, the policies that led to economic expansion, and the democracy that was the envy of the world in the last century.

The Roman empire lasted for 500 years. The way we are going, I am not sure if the American empire will make it to 300.

About the Author
Dan Shlufman is a mortgage banker at Classic Mortgage and a practicing real estate attorney in NY. He lives in Tenafly with his wife Sari and two children ages 16 and 10.Dan is on the Board of the Jewish Federation of NNJ; a member of Cohort 4 of the Berrie Fellows and an officer of his Temple’s Men’s Club. Dan is an avid networker; a long suffering Jets' season ticket holder and a recreational tennis player and skier.
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