United States of Rome

Thanksgiving Day 2000
Every morning on the way to work and every evening on the way back home I walk between the east side of the United States Capitol and the west sides of the U.S. Supreme Court and Library of Congress. I’m often struck by the Romanness of the architecture and the Roman ambitions of this country’s past and present “leaders,” despite the differences between life in Washington and Rome.

Lately, the biting cold has left my face feeling like rubber during these walks – something that never happens in Rome. The Roman-like fountains are shut off for the season. The Capital Hill is too gradual and big a slope to count as a Roman hill. Washington’s Tiber is buried and forgotten.

Yet the world is ruled from this place as it was from Rome. The weapons and soldiers of this empire dominate all others in a way unmatched since Rome. Foreign journalists talking into cameras in front of the Supreme Court explain the decline and fall of the American political system in respectful and unconcerned tones. Yet, like Rome, we are longing for a crisis.

Our two parties have become one. Our voters, those who bothered to register and vote, were given a choice between two candidates who both favored eliminating welfare, depriving thousands of health care by continuing with the inefficiencies and corruption of private health companies, executing criminal convicts, expanding the bloated military more than the other guy, allowing the environment to be destroyed, handing out hundreds of millions of dollars in corporate welfare, leaving the minimum-wage at an historic low, incarcerating drug users, leaving the Taft-Hartley Act in place, privatizing education, building more highways and prisons, mixing religion with government, allowing more mega-mergers and competition-killing monopolies, and actively forgetting the sexual mccarthyism of the Lewinski inquisition. Because these two would-be emperors were so alike, we found it hard to choose between them. We may yet manage to find a way not to have to. The Pentagon may do it for us.

The empire is shaking, no one cares, and already medieval feudalism is taking hold. Social functions are increasingly being handled by lords and ladies. We help the poor now by shopping at websites that promise to make contributions for us. Now eliminating poverty would eliminate a sales gimmick. What are the chances anyone will stand for that happening? We handle the troublesome poor with prisons, which may cost more than schools and services, but are desired by the prison lords who know best how to run their businesses. Highways will soon be built by ignoble dukes and duchesses from their gates out across the merely public land to the sources of labor and customers.

Just outside the Beltway, voters may soon approve a referendum to allow America Online to build a highway at its convenience and named for itself to its fortifications. Never mind that studies agree that building more roads brings on even more traffic so that the situation gets worse rather than better. Never mind that the planet is rapidly warming, the North Pole will be melted in 25 years, and the area ruled by AOL is running low on water. Never mind that public mass transportation is entirely within our reach. We’re in the middle of collapsing an empire. What do we care for THINKING? We have moved beyond the pretense of public government straight to letting the campaign funders run the country directly.

Our empire is imploding. Imperial soldiers are seriously destroying only one small country, Colombia, while the threat of them is devastating only three more (Cuba, Iraq, and Palestine). Our territories are no longer asking to be states. Hawaii is making rumblings about ceasing to be a state. And our last colony — the only place we rule absolutely without allowing any representation in our government, namely the District of Columbia — has given up its desire for independence and internalized imperial philosophies.

On my way home, after I pass the Capitol, I head toward the train station where a giant statue of a mass-murderer and deceitful genocidal enslaver, the Genoan Christopher Columbus, dominates a large plaza. Like Romulus was, Columbus is the founder of a cesspool whose inhabitants continue to call it a democracy. More monuments, of similar taste, are being built in the capital while the emperor and his two successors parade butt naked on television in between the more significant commercials and the occasional interruptions to allow kids to change classrooms.

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