by Mitch Kokai
Senior Political Analyst, John Locke Foundation
As long as the sea was free of pirates, thieves were cleared from the roads, and merchants were allowed to profit, few cared whether the lawless Caracalla or the unhinged Elagabalus was emperor in distant Rome.
Something likewise both depressing and encouraging is happening to the United States. Few Americans seem to worry that our present leaders have lied to or misled Congress and the American people without consequences.
Most young people cannot distinguish the First Amendment from the Fourth Amendment — and do not worry about the fact that they cannot. Washington, Jefferson, and Lincoln are mere names of grammar schools, otherwise unidentifiable to most.
Separatism is believed to bring dividends. Here in California, universities conduct separate graduation ceremonies predicated on race — sometimes difficult given the increasingly mixed ancestry of Americans.
As in Rome, there is a vast disconnect between the elites and the people. Almost half of Americans receive some sort of public assistance, and almost half pay no federal income tax. About one-seventh of Americans are on food stamps.
Yet housing prices in elite enclaves — Manhattan, Cambridge, Santa Monica, Palo Alto — are soaring. The wealthy like to cocoon themselves in Roman-like villas, safe from the real-life ramifications of their own utopian ideology. …
… Like diverse citizens of imperial Rome, we are united in some fashion by shared popular tastes and mass consumerism. The cell phones and cars of the poor offer more computing power and better transportation than the rich enjoyed just 20 years ago.
Youth of all races and backgrounds in lockstep fiddle with their cell phones as they walk about. Jeans are an unspoken American uniform — both for Wall Street grandees and for the homeless on the sidewalks. Left, right, liberal, conservative, professor, and ditch digger have similar-looking Facebook accounts.
If Rome quieted the people with public spectacles and cheap grain from the provinces, so too Americans of all classes keep glued to favorite video games and reality-TV shows. Fast food is both cheap and tasty. All that for now is preferable to rioting and revolt.