Let’s take a quick history tour. At the risk of sounding like Sophia from The Golden Girls, I ask you to picture the most powerful empire known to mankind during its last days. In the annals of history, none could touch the sheer power of the Roman empire and the influence it had and continues to have to this present moment. Rome fell as all empires fall throughout history; nothing is more lethal to federations than the twin pillars of greed and hubris. The gluttony and gall of Romans led one successive leader after another to take on more and more debt; debt which was used to finance an endless state of war to conquer terrain and humans.
Doesn’t that sound familiar! What I wrote about the Roman empire can be applied equally to the United States of America. We never learn from history; a mix of ignorance and arrogance has induced one president after another, shepherded by their corporate masters and bureaucratic handlers, to repeat the fatal mistakes of Romans. The Roman empire lasted for centuries; the experiment that is America—birthed in Philadelphia on September 17, 1787—is now being euthanized by a level of greed and hubris that makes Romans look like a shy teenager by comparison. I really should go to a psychic just so she can raise the spirit of Benjamin Franklin and tell him that the Republic was lost thanks to avarice of corporations and the negligence of the citizens.
Let me focus on the last part “we the people” are playing in the strangulation of America. It is not really a wonder that the uber wealthy are greedy—that goes without saying. They became rich by breaking as many rules as possible and by cheating as long as they don’t get caught; if they do get caught, they always buy off justice (see also the Wall Street theft of 2008). What is stunning is that we let them get away with it. By we, I’m referring to all of us, the bottom 99% who are getting collectively bludgeoned by the bourgeoisie and the aristocracy. I don’t know what it is about us; we automatically elevate people who are rich and famous as gods on earth and gladly give them our backs to step on. Only to retroactively complain when we get cracked by economic policies and unfair edicts which are pushed by the very same rich and famous we worship.
What is strikingly similar about America and the Roman empire of antiquities is not so much the immoral leaders and the kleptocracy of the political class. Rather, it’s the fact that both empires were/are populated by a public that was/is utterly detached from the wellness of their nation and distracted by irrelevance. Everyday Romans were too focused on the blood sport of gladiators and politics to realize that their lives and livelihood were coming under an ever increasing threat. For every one that spoke up against the excesses of Caesars and Senators, there were a hundred thousand who were too busy chasing their own affairs or partaking in public debauchery to notice that their houses were being set afire. Empires die slowly at first and then perish violently.
What kept the Roman public cloaked in the darkness of self-imposed ignorance until the curtains fell on the empire was a mix of bread and circus. Juvenal, a Roman poet, noted that the public was being distracted and lulled into complacency by the dependence (bread) that people had on the government for food and protection while concurrently being desensitized by the grand spectacles (circus) that the elites put on for the public. This is what happens when a people give up their freedoms and instead see the powerful as their shepherds; they end up becoming needy and enslaved to the very people who are oppressing them. Stockholm Syndrome is not something that happens just to individuals; society at large can become just as pathologically subservient to the aristocracy who oppress them. Between dependency and complacency prompted by sideshows and entertainment, the Roman empire became a casualty of malicious leadership and inadvertent citizens.
Sublime isn’t it? It’s as though what I’m describing about a bygone empire is actually about America in the 21st century. Bingo! Whereas Rome fell by way of bread and circus; we are about to go gently into the night by way of brand and circus. By brand, I’m alluding first and foremost to the empty suit Obama who was foisted on America in 2008 by Wall Street interests—a slight of hand that saved crony capitalism while kneecapping Main Street. Obama was not the “first black president”, he was America’s greatest brand campaign. No different than when Benetton or Guess uses models to represent diversity, Obama was a mannequin who represented a historical achievement by symbolism only. If there was anything historical about Obama, it was the breathtaking scale of thievery his administration gave cover to. Over $14 trillion dollars transferred to oligarchy by way of Quantitative Easing, ZIRP and bailouts, the rest of us continue to bicker and drown in financial anxieties while Wall Street swims in our life savings.After Obama’s brand came Trump’s circus. The same Donald Trump who was best buddies with Hillary Clinton for decades was all the sudden presented to Americans as the anti-Obama (read Cult of Political Personalities). This is the deception of our system of governance; our politics depends on giving us the illusion of change even though policies always remain constant. Donald Trump gladly took on the role of neo-Nero in order to assuage his tiny ego—he fiddles on Twitter and goads the citizenry into a state of collective derangement. We are so captivated by the lunacy of Trump that our eyes get diverted from the corporations and plutocracy that loosen hell on humanity by way of the military-prison-financial complex. Who has time to pay attention to policies and the ways the moneyed gentry have hijacked all levers of society and governance. It’s so much more entertaining to make fun of the way Donald Trump spells #covevefe!
I would not be surprised in the least if Obama, Trump and Hillary are texting each other and LOLing at all of us. Our politics is nothing but one big dog and pony show; WWE’s Vince McMahon could not come up with this level of fraudulence in his wildest dreams. Obama, who had one speech where he criticized the approach Bush took when invading Iraq—for the record he did not condemn the immorality of the war—was presented as an anti-war candidate and we fall for it. Trump, a man who made his fortunes by worshiping at the feet of globalism, is presented as an anti-globalist and his loyalists falls for it. Obama and Trump represent the extremes of this truism, we have become nation of cult of personalities in ways that would make Jim Jones adherents shake their heads in astonishment.
The whole thing is a charade and yet we are conditioned to believe that change will come if only more of us vote and choose between two equally malignant choices. By the way, when you get a chance, revisit the White House Correspondence dinner where Obama lambasted Trump in April of 2011 (watch the YouTube clip here). That day, Obama solidified Trump as the anti-liberal choice. Thesis, anti-thesis, the pendulum always swings between two false choices while economic and foreign policies remain steady as the rock of Gibraltar. Brilliant! You have to give it to them; the upper crust of society knows how to swindle us as they give us a veneer of freedom all the while using debt to shackle us into a life of indentured servitude. Slavery is by force; enslavement is by choice—we are choosing bondage as we turn everything into politics and entertainment.
What is entertaining today will be tragic tomorrow. A day will come where we will realize that we have been getting played for schmucks all along. I fear that day will arrive right around the time people are lined up by the multitude outside of soup kitchens. That is if the elites—actually let me call them the debased because there is nothing elite about them—have not led us into the fires of World War III. The tragic irony, we might finally find equality as a people by a nuclear bang or by our economy going boom! We have two choices going forward; we can continue to get bamboozled by the brand and circus of our politics and the duplicity of the political class in DC and beyond or we can wise up and say enough. If we keep focusing on our differences, being led into antipathy and using the suffering of people as political entertainment, brand and circus will be the end of US. #BrandAndCircus
“There are a thousand hacking at the branches of evil to one who is striking at the root.” ~ Henry David Thoreau
Check out the latest Ghion Cast where I discuss this very issue of ‘brand and circus’ and the perils of falling for divide and conquer tactics of the powerful.
Check out my interview on Lee Camp’s show where we discussed the topic of tribalism and how we can overcome injustice as a people.
The poor labor by their hand and languish; the rich succeed by cunning and flourish. The hand grows weary, the cunning should be leery.
Originally from Ethiopia with roots to Atse Tewodros II, Teodrose is a former community organizer whose writing was incorporated into Barack Obama's South Carolina primary victory speech in 2008. He pivoted away from politics and decided to stand for collective justice after experiencing the reality of the forgotten masses. His writing defies conventional wisdom and challenges readers to look outside the constraints of labels and ideologies that serve to splinter the people. Teodrose uses his pen to give a voice to the voiceless and to speak truth to power.