Donald Trump’s inauguration is tomorrow, and there is a persistent question that has been popping up around here the past few weeks. “Would you rather live in the rise of an empire or the fall of an empire?” It’s a fundamental question about personal preferences and ideals. Would you rather live at a time when your deeds and thinking might matter, a time where your actions might shape the very fabric of your world? OR would you rather live at the height of luxury, enjoying the fruits of all the laborers that have come before you? Your civilization might be on the decline, but at least you will be personally comfortable… well unless you’re living at the very end of the decline than things might get a little, “barbarian-y.”
When Rome Burns
We would be lying if we pretended this question was not related to the upcoming inauguration of Donald Trump. However, we are also not implying that Trump himself is solely responsible for the decline of what was once called the American Century. There have been indications all along that America’s place as the world’s last superpower has been coming to an end. The election of Trump is just a prominent signpost on that road. We also don’t want to indicate that we think the United States will be any less powerful militarily, politically, or otherwise in the world, but we need to acknowledge that we’ve lost a step or two in our old age.
After all, Nero fiddled while Rome burned, or so the story goes -the fiddle would actually not be invented for another 1000 years. Yet, Nero stand as a good example of Trump. The Roman Emperor was the last of the Julian-Claudian line, last blood Emperor of Augustus. He was very popular among the common people and he was a noted land developer… We’re talking yuuuge gymnasiums and theaters. He was also a performer and grew up in the lap of luxury. His reign was fraught with scandal and frivolity. And eventually Rome and the Senate turned on him, declared him a public enemy, and impeached him… from life. Now, we are not saying anything like that is going to happen again, but the parallels are worth thinking about. Nero ruled during a very troubled and polarized time in Rome, and that rule did not end well. However, Nero was not the end of the Empire. In fact, Rome lasted another 400 years, but Nero certainly showed the cracks in the system.
We have to wonder if that is what Trump’s inauguration is doing, showing us the cracks in our system. He will not be our end, but he certainly is an indication that things are changing. The United States has enjoyed nearly a century of dominance on the global stage, but the election of Trump and his isolationist policies show that we may be heading toward a world where America does not stand up as a global leader, not on terrorism, not against Russia, not on human rights, and certainly not on climate change. Maybe in 2000 years people will remember how Trump fiddled as the world warmed, but this editorial is not on Trump so much as is it on America and how we deal with these tests to our national identity and our most sacred ideals.
When Romulus Burned
Maybe, we are approaching our first question in the wrong way. Maybe, concepts like “rise” and “decline” are just arbitrary ways humans use to measure time and history. After all the Roman Empire did not entirely fall over night. The Byzantium Empire lasted centuries longer, and When Rome fell others were able to rise. History continued. It’s not like the world exploded, unless of course you are the Romulan captain, Nero. The Star Trek villain gives us another good and possible representation for the aftermath of Trump’s inauguration. For many on Friday, our world will seem like it is literally exploding, literally collapsing. Captain Nero watched his planet burn, and he went crazy. For him there was no road to take, but revenge and death. He burned Vulcan and attempted to burn Earth. He choose to succumb to despair and anger. He gave into the pessimism of his situation, but Star Trek has never been about pessimism, so he lost.
We need to remember that, because we can choose to look at the bigotry-misogyny-ignorance-isolationist-wave of super-heated orange gas that is coming toward our world, and accept defeat. We can stand by just share mean tweets, funny memes, and spew our frustration and hate on Facebook and Twitter. We can try to burn down the worlds of other people as our has been burned. Yet, Star Trek give us a different option on how to view this inauguration. It is a franchise built upon the hope that humanity will one day become something greater than it is. It is a series that tells us that humans are their best at their darkest hour, and we at The NYRD choose to believe that. Maybe it is some kind of fatalistic flaw, or some evolutionary benefit, but when things get bad humans have the ability to band together, fight together, and come out stronger on the other side. Take World War III for example.
We know what you’re thinking, “Whoa, WWIII? Slow down. That won’t happen for at least two weeks after the inauguration.” Maybe… but in Star Trek history World War III is the absolute worse thing that happens to humanity. We are talking nuclear war, biological warfare, fracturing nations, human savagery. Earth literally descends into hellish chaos for decades. Yet it is from that darkest time in humanity that humans develop the warp drive, and finally learn to work and live together toward something greater. They graduate to the next step, but even then all of humanity’s problems and fears are not solved. We see again in the lightly-watched Enterprise series starring Scott “Quantum Leap” Bakula, that before Earth can become the founding world of the United Federation of Planets they must compete with the Terra Prime movement. It is an isolationist and bigoted movement that opposes non-human immigration, promotes Earth as being more important than the rest of the galaxy, and wants to close Earth off to all alien contact. Its leader even mimics and reveres the rhetoric of another famous genocidal leader. -Actually, now that we put it into words that is sounding eerily prophetic for a series that aired in 2005-
This Will Be on the Final Exam
Regardless, our point is that Terra Prime, like the ghosts of World War III are eventually overcome by humanity. Then we create the Federation, the embodiment of tolerance, peace, and science. Earth becomes a utopia, but it doesn’t happen over night. There were a lot of challenges to overcome, and a lot of times when things looked bleak. However, this “future-history” is built on the idea that sometimes it is always darkest before the dawn, and that we cannot move on till vanquish our demons. Racism, sexism, poverty, inequality, corruption, and many other demons still exist in America today. Trump has embodied them all in one form or another over his life, but maybe there is a reason this inauguration is happening.
Trump is our Terra Prime. He is our final test before we can move forward, the last dying gasp of an extreme form of conservatism predicated on the irrational fears and hatreds of our past. Donald Trump is our sins made manifest, and we must force ourselves to look them in the face. He is the Nero of our time, except he is not an alien conquer, or an Emperor, only a President, and as powerful as the POTUS is, he is not America. We -the people- still have the ability to do what is right even if our leader does not. So now -with the impeding inauguration- we find ourselves, again wondering about that first question. Maybe it is not the right question. Maybe we are not living in the decline of America, but simply just another another bump in the road. Maybe it is all about perspective.
So, we need to decide: Do we accept Donald Trump and his inauguration into the halls of power as the indicator of our decline, the first step toward the barbarian hoards that will one day come to our gates? Or do we take him as our greatest challenge to overcome before we get to move onto something better. Before Trump, it was assumed that liberalism had won the culture war. It was assumed that America and the world would just progress toward equality and justice. We know now that that was a lazy assumption.
After all, there is always a final exam before you get to graduate. So take out your No. 2 pencils and begin. You will have four years to finish the test.