Rise and Fall

By: Carol Voyles

Rise and Fall?


These are challenging times; and possibly due to a teacher’s deep love of history and appreciation of its lessons, we may recall the rise and fall of the Roman Empire. Our nation’s level of division is concerning; and ancient Rome, the greatest empire the world had known, would crumble and fall.

Emperor Romulus Augustus was deposed in 476, an event described as its deathblow. Roman society had consisted of a complex system of patricians, plebians and slaves ruled by an emperor; and wealthy patricians held onto power. When a mass migration of Goth immigrants fleeing from the Hun invasion of northern Europe drove Germanic tribes to the Roman border, starving Goths were offered food in exchange for trading their children into slavery.

Rome’s military had been the envy of the world; but when emperors could no longer recruit from their citizenry, mercenaries were hired. Goth King Alaric sacked Rome in 410, and soldiers who had earned their stripes in the Roman legions were among the forces that stormed the capital.

The empire’s demise is attributed to a civil war, but its level of social and economic

Inequality, overreliance upon slave labor, an infrastructure falling into disrepair, and military overspending are cited as factors contributing to its downfall. Domestic terrorism was also a concern during the Empire’s final years. Emperors were assassinated regularly. More than twenty took the throne in the span of just seventy-five years, accompanied by a Senate unable to address the empire’s problems.

Today we are facing challenges causing many to fear for our democracy. If the fall of the Roman Empire strikes a familiar chord at all, we might look forward to addressing our own level of income inequality, an infrastructure in need of updating and repair, our threat of domestic terrorism, and possibly even military spending more than twice that of the world’s second highest spender, China.

Slavery is no longer an issue, but just one of thirty-seven economically developed OECD nations has a higher rate of poverty than ours. And since our level of income inequality is its highest since our Great Depression, and it might concern us that efforts to raise our minimum wage continue to be blocked.

High levels of income inequality precipitate lower rates of economic growth and social unrest. But Joseph Goebbels was onto something. Repeat a lie over and over, and, particularly when a population is stressed, it’s accepted as truth. We’re reinforcing our beliefs in partisan information silos now, too. Can facts matter under such circumstances?

It would seem to be in our best interests to acknowledge government data. Economists Piketty and Saez reminded us that we have experienced superior outcomes by every positive economic measure during Democratic administrations over the past half century - including more jobs, higher wages and higher household incomes. Our economy continued to move in a positive direction during Trump’s first three years; but, despite his claims, we had created more jobs and our economy had grown more during Obama’s last three. We have yet to see how our next three years will go, but the Biden administration is moving in a positive direction with an approval rating of 62 percent.

 We also have an unprecedented number of alternative facts available for our consideration - all reinforced by partisan news sources, QAnon conspiracy theorists, and a political party committed to fueling anger with unsubstantiated claims of voter fraud.

History also reminds us that corruption fuels a fall into autocracy, so there’s a chance truth could prevail before our grandchildren read it in their history books – assuming our democracy survives and they can look forward to that opportunity.

Our forefathers directed us to “promote the general welfare,” and it has been our experience that we all do better when we all do better. Land, our forefathers’ measure of wealth, was made available to our settlers at little or no cost; and our United States of America would become the wealthiest nation on earth.

Autocratic forms of government breed corruption, and extreme levels of income inequality prevailed in South America. Land there was claimed by the wealthy and leased back to settlers. Record numbers are fleeing those nations today.

History favors our democracy, and Patrick Henry offered this advice: “United we stand, divided we fall.”

But on Memorial Day weekend, President Trump’s former lawyer Sydney Powell reiterated, still without a shred of evidence to support his Big Lie, that President Trump must “be reinstated.” QAnon supporters have been praising the military coup that overturned a democratically elected government in Myanmar and calling for one here. Queried regarding this issue, Trump’s pardoned former national security advisor Michael Flynn agreed “it should happen here.”

President Biden honored our fallen soldiers and reminded us, “Each generation of Americans receives the precious gift of liberty. Democracy should be defended at all cost….We have been tested, and we’ll surely be tested further; but I know that we as a people are up to the task.”

Of our efforts to defend our democracy during WWII, Winston Churchill observed, “We can always count on Americans to do the right thing, once every other possibility is exhausted.”

Let us call upon our better angels, so that our grandchildren might recall our history positively.

Carol Voyles of Easton is a member of the Talbot County Democratic Forum (


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