Local View: US in danger of becoming latest empire to implode, fall

From the column: "Many people simply don’t want to fit into the old cultural structures. ... I can’t think of one thing all Americans would rally around anymore."

Jeff Koterba/Cagle Cartoons

The implosion of the U.S. has begun.

What a comment to start 2022. However, throughout history, great empires always — always — come and go, fall and fail: the Roman, the Ottoman, the Russian, the British, and now the U.S. in its present form among them. And no, sorry, we can’t be made great again by wearing red hats.

As that nameless, learned medieval English poet wrote: “Humpty Dumpty sat on a wall. Humpty Dumpty had a great fall. All the king’s horses and all the king’s men couldn’t put Humpty Dumpty together again.”

In my lifetime, I have witnessed the demise of the Soviet Union empire, which enabled my native Latvia to regain its freedom. Latvia then went through its own cancel-culture phase as it sought to eliminate any vestige of the occupation of the Soviet empire. To wit, one of the first purchases of the new Latvia was 72,000 reflective Latvian road signs from 3M to replace ones in both Russian and Latvian.

We now seem to be going through a similar phase here. Many people simply don’t want to fit into the old cultural structures.


The dictionary definition of “cancel culture” is “the phenomenon or practice of publicly rejecting, boycotting, or ending support for particular people or groups because of their socially or morally unacceptable views or actions.” The names of parks, buildings, lakes, sports teams, and more are all changing; monuments are coming down; and Gordon Lightfoot is pretty much the only one still calling Lake Superior Gitche Gumee.

I can’t think of one thing all Americans would rally around anymore.

The culture wars here go way beyond Presidents Joe Biden and Donald Trump in what historian, constitutional lawyer at the University of Chicago, and author Eric Posner calls “originalism.” According to Posner, the Constitution, by design, was kept intentionally vague. This, however, has led to many interpretations. One reason for the vagueness, Posner said, was “the tensions among the 13 states, which required compromise. Such compromises frequently involve avoidance of precision, thus allowing all the parties to the compromise to believe that their interests are not being neglected by the majority.”

Somehow the Constitution has been reread into a right for corporations to spend unlimited money on elections, Posner said. In addition, “A contextual understanding of the Second Amendment, which enshrines the right to bear arms, makes it clear that its 1790s drafters meant organized militias,” he further stated. “Now the Second Amendment is taken to mean that Americans can carry concealed arms and automatic weapons into shopping malls and churches, or keep small armories designed for the battlefield in their basement.”

Given all this, the options facing America seem limited to civil war, secession by states, or divergence into something else.

Mike Lee, a Republican senator from Utah, said it even more baldly: “We’re not a democracy. The word ‘democracy’ appears nowhere in the Constitution.” Lee explained the design of our government using the metaphor George Washington is said to have used in a conversation with Thomas Jefferson, that the framers created the Senate to "cool" House legislation, just as a saucer is used to cool hot tea.

Our misfortune is partly because of the deficiencies of that design, owing largely to several forced compromises.

“Yet, historical events can be instructive, predictive — even prescriptive — when not fully descriptive of current times and customs,” as Posner also stated. “We are no different from ancient Rome, the increasing economic inequality, the increasing political polarization, the total eclipse of ‘the greater good’ by what we’d call ‘special interests,’ (and) the turn toward political violence, all of which led eventually to the spiral of destructive civil war, the collapse of democracy (such as it was), and the wholesale replacement of the system with the imperial dictatorship: Looks a lot like the present moment to me.”


The saddest comment came from a shipper friend of mine in Thunder Bay, Ontario, when I asked him what the best thing was about being Canadian? “Not being an American,” he responded.

John Freivalds of Wayzata, Minnesota, is the author of six books and is the honorary consul of Latvia in Minnesota. His website is He wrote this for the News Tribune.

John Freivalds
John Freivalds

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