2018: The choice before us

Machiavelli

Niccolo Machiavelli, pondering the precarious state of our republic.

In his “Discourses,” Niccolo Machiavelli outlined a predictable cycle of power for republics.

Machiavelli pointed to a gradual decline in republican virtue, culminating in a crucial point of decision.

At that point, when virtue is all-but lost, the people must choose — either to drastically adjust course back to their founding principles, or else decline into unjust tyranny.

In a nation in which intellect is dismissed as elitist, while ultra-rich elites are lauded as gods; where our president has once again normalized racism, misogyny and sexual exploitation; in a nation that turns its back on the poor and stifles the dreams of the middle class to elevate the rich; in a nation that plunders its wildlife refuges and parks for oil; where military spending is drastically increased on the tail end of 16 years of war; in a perverted form of Christianity that has abandoned the Gospel to grovel before the altars of power and wealth; in a society where facts have become subjective to the whims of the ruling party; in a nation that has traded representative government for corporate oligarchy; in this nation, today, we face the crucial point of decision.

The critical state of our affairs remains, understandably, hidden from the eyes of roughly 40 percent of us, hidden behind the piles of laurels heaped on our blessed leader by his favorite state media outlet.

These laurels of supposed success rest on three equally fallacious claims: that this president is responsible for our healthy economy, defeated ISIS and has saved the American middle class with the GOP tax bill.

The economy

I do not dispute the growth in GDP and the market. But, to claim the upward trend in the market is unique to or the fruit of this presidency ignores seven years of upward trend that started under the previous president. The current “rally” is the tail end of a trend line that started in 2010.

Euphoria around the market also ignores the growing warnings of economists that market levels are not sustainable, and look eerily like pre-crash conditions in 1987, before the dot-com crash in 2001 and the housing bubble burst in 2006.

When the market “corrects,” and it surely will, I wonder if the Trumpists will be so quick to lay credit at the feet of the blessed leader.

Islamic State

The recent gains made against ISIS are the culmination of three years of hard fighting by Iraqis, Kurds and Syrians, with the limited assistance of the U.S. and our NATO Allies.

To claim the credit for pushing back ISIS based solely on increasing the pace of bombing this year is misguided, short-sighted and arrogant.

Terrorism will not end with ISIS. It will transform itself, it will move and reappear, as it always does, and no amount of bombing will prevent that.

In fact, anyone who’s seriously studied terrorism will tell you the sure way to lose this fight in the long run is to ramp up indiscriminate violence. And, in the first seven months of this year we killed more innocent civilians than in the 29 months of counter-ISIS operations of the previous administration.

Every innocent life lost, every home of a moderate Muslim destroyed, is a crushing defeat for our cause in the long run — bloody seeds that will flower into a new generation of recruits for extremists who count on us to use a sledgehammer for tasks that require a scalpel and a skilled hand.

Counterterrorism is a war of finesse and intelligence — two capacities utterly lost on a man who brags about grabbing women by the genitals.

The tax bill

The fruits of the tax bill are yet to be seen, but all credible indicators point to a rotten harvest for most of us.

Our debt will swell by a half-trillion dollars to $1.5 trillion.

The vast majority of benefits go to corporations and the ultra-rich, and the likely (and not unintentional) outcome will be to cut Medicare and Social Security and to increase the retirement age of working Americans to fund handouts to our oligarchic lords.

History likely will remember this tax plan as the greatest theft of working-class money for the benefit of a wealthy minority since the robber barons — an episode wholly antithetical to the founding principles of our nation.

The choice

Beneath the rotting veneer of our old ideals and the shallow deceptions of our president’s “success,” our nation today is defined by a selfish, fear-mongering ethos that is both intellectually and morally bankrupt.

Will we continue into darkness and tyranny? Or, will we change course, and resume the pursuit of the ideals penned, but not yet realized, by our founders?

2018 will tell the answer. It will be an epic turn, either way.

But, if the turn is going to be toward virtue, equality, freedom and decency, it will be a year that demands more than the casual concern of a spectator populace. If we are to achieve anything worth calling great, this year will require all of our passion, energy, courage, and above all, our virtue.

The choice is ours. I pray we, collectively, prove ourselves worthy of the task, and worthy of the republic we inherited.

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