The US, Israel, and western Europe, along with a few other places that qualify as democracies are not like Rome in its period of decadence..
There are no crowds at a Coliseum watching gladiators fight to the death, or captives sacrificed to hungry predators.
Yet there is an element of bread and circuses in the empty babble of politicians, while government goes on.
The politicians of Israel are fighting among themselves about which middle sized party will get to manage a government not likely to accomplish much.
Americans are arguing about the imperfections in a breakthrough on health insurance, the messiness of illegal immigration, and the sinfulness of reestablishing relations with Cuba.
The illegals are still coming to work at all those jobs Americans avoid. President Obama is already backtracking on the reforms likely with respect to Cuba. Remember the theme of Change, and the imminent closing of Guantanamo.
Both the US and Israel have accomplished a lot. Israel has held off Palestinian terror and the hyperbole of Palestinians claiming the right to a state, while the US is managing a difficult fight with Muslims against Muslim extremists. Obamacare is worth something, even if there is still a big gap between what the average American pays and receives in health care, and what the residents of other democracies can expect.
European politicians join the Palestinian circus with their own babble, stuck with a growing number of Muslims who include rabble rousers along with what may be a large number who just want a better life.
It's worse over the borders and into the Third World.
Americans can look to Mexico and Israelis to Palestine. Europeans can take their pick from Ukraine, Syria, Iraq, Libya, Ebolaland or Boko Haram deeper into Africa.
Even the Economist is close to giving up on Mahmoud Abbas.
"The Palestinian president, Mahmoud Abbas, has a habit of lurching from one supposedly game-changing initiative to another, then flinching in the face of resistance. After this summer’s war between Israel and Hamas in Gaza . . . Mr Abbas threatened to join the International Criminal Court and have Israel indicted for war crimes, but then balked. Last week he threatened to cut security co-ordination with Israel when a Palestinian minister died following a scuffle with Israel’s troops near Ramallah—and promptly backtracked.Palestinians therefore have good reason to ask themselves whether Mr Abbas’s latest gambit—seeking a UN Security Council resolution ordering Israel to end the occupation within two years—will be pursued with real vigour. . . .Mr Abbas set a deadline of December 17th for tabling the motion, but arguments over its wording could continue for weeks . . . Jordan’s ambassador to the UN, as the Arab League representative on the Security Council, is responsible for tabling the Palestinian draft, but says she has yet to receive a text. . . .Criticism of Mr Abbas is growing. For all but two of his ten years in office he has ruled by decree, and repeatedly postponed elections after his term lapsed five years ago. Western diplomats have sought to strengthen Mr Abbas as the best hope for peace. But even they worry that he is becoming part of the problem."The US is in worse shape than Israel. Inequality is more pronounced, and the recent spurt of White cops killing Blacks followed by violent protests suggest the continuation of a deeper and more difficult domestic scene than between Israeli Jews and Arabs.
The American political culture gets in the way of reforms that would lessen its problems. Historic preoccupation with low taxes, free enterprise, and individual rights limits health care via profit making insurance companies, and hinders actions against violence via the felt need for everyone to buy one or more guns to protect self and family. The response of greater police powers and more incarcerations is associated with what happened in Ferguson Missouri, school and shopping center shootings, and social indicators off the charts--in a negative direction--when compared to other western democracies.
Years ago I published The United States: A Study of a Developing Country. It was prompted by having spent three years at universities in the Deep South, and my earlier years in Fall River. At the time, Fall River was populated largely by the working class descendants of European immigrants. A third of my cohort left school to work, but significant numbers of us worked our way through high school and college to lives better than our parents.
There is a recent report about a migration of Boston's poor and homeless--in part encouraged by Boston officials--to the lower cost housing of Fall River. A friend who follows it closely says that Fall River's public high school has achieved "inner city" standards with a drop out rate approaching 50 percent.
Sixty years ago the high school alumni scholarship foundation helped me to pay a $600 tuition bill with a $200 annual grant. Now there are fewer kids aspiring to the better colleges, and the same foundation helps graduates cope with costs at less than prestigious institutions that reach $54,000.
Tuition at Israeli universities is the equivalent of $3,000, and in a number of wealthier European countries it is $0.
Health insurance in most developed countries outside the US involves little or no paperwork. Government controlled institutions handle the details among themselves.
Alongside the dreams associated with personal freedom and the opportunity for profit, the tangible chances of health and advancement are also worth something.
Values so deeply anchored in social differences as those of the United States aren't likely to change quickly, if at all.
So Americans ought to keep their guns oiled, give money to their grandchildren for college, keep up with their health insurance and stay on top of its paperwork, and hope for good health.