If we as a society are in decline, then New York is the paradigm by which we can gauge its descent.
Call me a Manhattan elitist, but I believe New York is representative of all that is great about the United States. Whatever America did well is on daily display right here in all its magnificence. And as much as the conservative faction of the Republican Party likes to refer to the proverbial heartland as the "real" America, it was those "snooty northeast urban intellectuals" who were the forefathers of our form of government. They were the thinkers and the dreamers and the doers. They came to New York for a better life and they found it -- a practice that continues to this day. This is not to discredit the rural areas and their importance, but let's be honest. New York is the big leagues. Always was. But it appears it won't be for much longer.
Heartbreaking as it is to admit, New York is losing its standing and it's become a microcosm of what's happening in the country as a whole. It's the veritable heartbeat of the nation. As New York goes, so goes the United States. And as is the case with New York and America alike, its omnipotent stature is becoming an ever-fading memory. We're still the best of the best. But the old gal ain't what she used to be. We a can still thump our chests and wax the optimistic rhetoric but they're just superficial salves -- paint jobs and face lifts designed to present the illusion of youth and vitality when, in fact, the core is fragile and decayed. We can still bark ... but the bite doesn't go as deep as it used to.
The comparison of New York to Rome is obvious. They're both great cultures that the world looked toward to lead the way, or at least, set the standard. Both were the richest. Both were the most progressive. Both were the most powerful. And both had their ascent, their reign, and their ultimate collapse. Neither fell overnight. Neither were victims of a revolt. In both cases it was a steady deterioration due to several factors. What is so eerily uncanny is how the two have run parallel in each phase of their history. A quick look at the similarities is all that's needed to see where we went wrong, and wonder why we didn't see history repeating itself sooner.
Rome rose in part because it was a conquering nation and as it expanded its reign, it appropriated the attributes of the areas it overran. When the United States pioneered the Western frontier, it found natural resource that laid the foundation for expanding its wealth and influence.
At its height, Rome was a technological marvel, constructing magnificent architecture and even creating an aqueduct system centuries before other continents discovered the wheel. During the industrial age, New York grew at the greatest rate in the world's history, developing the technology in electronics, mechanics and even agriculture that is still used today.
The Coliseum is a masterpiece of engineering, yet it was designed by unknown engineers and was built by slaves. It took less than 10 years to complete, which, considering the limitations in technology (they didn't even have cement) is by all accounts an impossibility. The Empire State Building was designed by a little known architect on assignment in two weeks, and was constructed in less than 400 days, mostly by minimum-wage foreign laborers.
The Sistine chapel and the Circus Maximus were commissioned to celebrate the greatness of the ruling parties. New York had the Brooklyn Bridge and Rockefeller Center -- both testaments to the rich and powerful.
Once Roman imperialism began to wane, its superiority slackened. The city became overcrowded and poverty rose. It became dependent on neighboring countries for commerce. Once America began outsourcing its talent and exporting more trade, its innovation slowed. Rome's leadership became appointments sold to the highest bidder. In the states, campaign contributions have become the main factor in one's "electability." Rome's leaders were increasingly incompetent due to nepotism and a decree of inheritance among family members. The Bush's found a way to get their inept offspring into office. Hillary Clinton, with no political credentials other than being related to Bill Clinton, moves to New York to become a minor official so she can quickly abandon her office (while collecting payment) in order to run for leader of the free world based on "experience."
In its later years, Rome torn down statues by lesser-known artists and used the marble to repair the roads and bridges. The bohemian world of New York -- the art galleries and the live music venues -- has been replaced by fast food chains, sneaker stores and Starbucks.
Nero fiddled while Rome burned. George Bush sat idle and bewildered while the nation is under attack on September 11.
In its faltering years, Rome attempted to regain status, but it was too late. The economy was too damaged and too many opposing opinions and weak leadership blocked the passage of laws that could expedite commerce. Today, Barack Obama has no choice but to bail out the very people who caused an economic collapse due to greed but he does so with too few stipulations that set the stage for future corruption. In an effort to appease the opposition, new programs become weak and counterproductive.
Rome became a shell of its former glory. Eight years after being attacked, Ground Zero remains an empty pit -- a symbol of defeat, despair and bureaucratic waste.
It's not hard to imagine a citizen of Rome a thousand years ago having to accept Rome's rule as a thing of the past. Today, it wouldn't be unlikely for a typical New Yorker to say: "At one time, this place rocked. Now, it's kinda lame."
I still love this town. But it saddens me to see how far it's fallen. Can the rest of the country be far behind?
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