Our Decaying Democracy?
Is our democracy on its deathbed? What are some of the longest governments/empires in history, and what brought them down?
The Pandyan Empire (1850 years): This society of Southern India is considered the longest-lasting empire in history. Ever. It dominated trade and agriculture, not to mention having numerous fisheries and rich pearl (oyster) beds, and was extremely wealthy. A series of kings ruled the Pandyan Empire during this period, which lasted from about 500 BC to 1350 AD. They faded into obscurity upon the rise of the Kalabhra dynasty in south India. Constant conflict with the kingdoms of Cholas and Pallavas saw its decline and demise by the mid-14th Century.
Byzantine Empire (1123 years) Also known as the Eastern Roman Empire, the Byzantine culture based in Constantinople (now Istanbul) dominated much of Europe and the Levant between 330 and 1204 AD. By the 13th century, the empire was in decline, and although it was re-established in 1261, it never again became a significant power. What happened to the Byzantine Empire? Outsiders overtook them. The already declining empire ended in 1453 when the Ottoman Turks breached the city of Constantinople's ancient land wall after besieging the town for 55 days.
Silla Kingdom (992 years) The Silla or Shilla was a Korean kingdom located in the southern and central parts of the Korean Peninsula. Initially established in 57 BC, the Silla was officially a Buddhist nation, although this did not discourage its frequent wars with the other kingdoms. By 527, the Silla Kingdom covered much of the Korean peninsula, making it one of the oldest nations in world history. The final 150 years of the Silla kingdom were marked by nearly constant upheaval and civil war. The ruling king slowly lost all power and significance, replaced by wealthy aristocratic families who rose to dominance outside the capital and royal court.
Abyssinian (Ethiopian) Empire (665 years) One of the few African nations to hold out against European colonialism, the Ethiopian Empire (also known as Abyssinia) lasted from approximately 1270 (beginning of the Solomonid Dynasty) until 1935, when Italian forces invaded their territory. Using chemical weapons, Italy finally conquered Abyssinia at the beginning of 1936, forcing the country's Emperor, Haile Selassie, into exile. Then, in 1974, the monarchy was overthrown in a coup d'etat. The country of Ethiopia stands proudly to this day, having declared independence from colonial rule on August 21st, 1995.
The Roman Empire (499 years) The classic Roman Empire that we know the most about was the society based in Rome and had Julius Caesar as one of its first rulers, lasting nearly 500 years. The ancient Romans were well-known for their military prowess and social and political institutions. They also conquered vast tracts of land in Europe and northern Africa, built roads and aqueducts, and spread the Latin language far and wide. Kind of a big deal. At the end of its life, in the 5th Century, Rome began to collapse under the weight of invasions of its neighboring empires, which sought to reclaim much of the land they stole.
San Marino (415+ years) LIttle San Marino is perhaps the oldest government and the least known nation still in operation today. More or less unchanged is the Italian micro-state of San Marino. With a land area of less than 30 square miles, the nation has maintained its boundaries and integrity of government for more than 400 years. The Grand and General Council executes legislative responsibilities in San Marino. San Marino's executive authority is vested in two Captain Regents. A Congress of State is the equivalent of a cabinet in San Marino. The republic's council convenes every six months to choose the two heads of state. The Captain's Regent oversees the cabinet's discussions for the six months they assume power.
And finally, the young upstart of a nation, the United States of America (246 years and counting). The founding fathers sealed the declaration on 4 July 1776, making the United States of America 246 years old as of 2022. That might seem like a long time - 11 or 12 generations - but it pales in comparison with the history of the original inhabitants of this continent. Their stories predate our own by centuries, if not thousands of years. Where's the United States today? It is still around the last time I checked but possibly in jeopardy.
What has gone wrong? Is it possible to have a government of, by, and for the people that can survive? Are we kidding ourselves that we have constructed the best government ever? Is there a better approach to governing?
Kingdoms and dictatorships survive based on clamping down on free speech and free press; facts, honesty, openness, and analysis are poison to those who would rule autocratically; it cannot be tolerated. Have we guessed wrong in assuming our democratic republic will live forever? There have always been challenges to our approach to governing. I expect that every generation was convinced the end was near. What we've seen in the last forty or fifty years from a political party steeped in the past is scary. Retracting hard fought for human and civil rights and drifting toward a Christian-style theocracy appears to be the greatest threat to our grand experiment since the secession of the South and the Civil War.
A quote from the site, AP U.S. History Notes: "American democracy has faced numerous challenges from the 1700s to the modern day. However, the American dream has never faltered for a moment; even in the face of sure failure and sure destruction, the United States has triumphed. The years 1805, 1905, and 2005 were no exception to this tradition; though at times in history, Americans may have had doubts about the future of American democracy, unwavering patriotism has helped the country to succeed in the face of global adversity."
A quote from an Analysis by Henry Farrell in the Washington Post from an interview with Suzanne Mettler, a professor in the government department at Cornell University, and Robert C. Lieberman, the Krieger-Eisenhower professor of political science at Johns Hopkins University, about their new book, "Four Threats: The Recurring Crises of American Democracy."
"American democracy has faced numerous challenges from the 1700s to the modern day. though at times in history Americans may have had doubts about the future of American democracy, unwavering patriotism has helped the country to succeed in the face of global adversity." The book argues that contrary to general belief, U.S. democracy is not very stable and that we have seen repeated "backsliding" in the past. The book suggests that the four posed threats to the sustainability and survival of democracy are, "political polarization; conflict over who belongs as a member of the political community (particularly along the lines of race, ethnicity and national origin); high and growing economic inequality; and excessive executive power."
There is a growing loss of confidence and trust in our government. Some of that is a natural occurrence; we get tired of new cars and jobs. Going back to our illegal war in Viet Nam to a ridiculous invasion of Grenada, to the trumped-up excuses of WMDs to justify an invasion of Iraq, our confidence in the government making the right decisions is at an all-time low. Add to that the presidency of one Donald J. Trump, as deluded and demented a person as has ever set in the Oval Office. A man who surrounded himself with MAGA-hat-wearing zombies that doted on his every lie and tweet the man posted and the president's office was irreparably harmed. Add the corruption of the Department of Justice, Attorneys General, and all the Cabinet heads that either nodded in agreement with his mindless utterances or actively tried to destroy our democracy on January 6, 2021, and one wonders what is left of our government.
Have we deluded ourselves into thinking our democracy is infallible and indefatigable? Have we been sitting on our laurels as the decay of authoritarianism and the politics of division and conflict have destroyed the very fabric of our democracy? Is it even possible to construct an approach to governing that can survive millennia? No nation or government has succeeded yet in that pursuit.
We humans seem to become detached and jaded over time with anything new. New cars, new relationships, new jobs; we are all goo-goo over new things and new leaders, but then the newness wears off, and we begin to find fault with just about everything in our lives. Is that what has happened to our democracy? Have we lost the vision of the founders?
That all has an almost doomsday ring in my mind, but, always the optimist, I think we can overcome yet another threat to our grand experiment in self-governance. Governance, whether as a parent of children, a teacher in school, or a nation of individuals, requires a constant reassessment and adjustment to a changing world to succeed.
When your child is five, they require a certain quality of coaching and parental guidance. Their parental needs change by age twelve and again at eighteen. And, each child and each new generation of children require a different approach to advice that is consistent with the world and society they live in, not the one in which their parents or grandparents grew up. Nothing is chiseled in stone about how to raise a child or govern a nation.
Our nation, born as we were in 1776, required one type of governance that made sense to the times, the technology, and the values of the time. What is needed today is very, very different from 246 years ago. That is just one of the burning issues facing us today. Can a document, written with all the best of intentions in the world, but steeped in a culture that no longer exists, be taken verbatim today as the law of the land and as some of the sitting Supreme Court Justices seem to believe? Or do we need to look at a modern world and make accommodations for the dramatic and certainly imponderable changes that our founders could never have imagined in 1776? To use the existing Constitution as a guide may have some value, but like the Old Testament that called for killing your children and gouging out the eyes for seeing sin was then seen as normal, we now know it's not only impractical but inhuman.
We have people who want to return to a past that can never be. We are in the 21st century; we are, in fact, 1/5th of the way to the 22nd century. By all means, look at and learn from the past, but don't insist that we do things as we did before computers, space travel, air travel, modern medicine, and the new Webb satellite that is showing us the universe as it was 13 billion years ago. The disturbed far-right that seems to have hijacked the GOP is a minority. The rest of us, the people who believe in our democracy, social inclusion, and political compromise to keep the process moving forward, are in the majority.
It's you and me, and perhaps 200 million other ordinary and rational people who want to preserve our democracy that have to be energized by the current drift toward authoritarianism. We have to vote the bad guys (and gals) out and vote the good ones in. We know who the bad ones are; they are the ones that want to ban books, restrict and rig voting, let everyone have an assault rifle, roll back the rights of women and the LGBTQ community, and much, much more.
They want to return our nation to a white-Christian-male-dominated world. We may not have much time to make the needed changes, but we can save our country and all it has given us and ensure that it survives for our children and grandchildren. We can take a big step toward the future in November of 2022.