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Political decay

By Evaggelos Vallianatos - posted Tuesday, 17 January 2012

Political decay is a disease afflicting all societies. Like Aristotle said, all men are political animals but rarely honest political animals.

The Greeks invented political theory and democracy. They practiced democracy for centuries but their political failure to unite did them in. They succumbed to the Romans who used what they learned from them against them.

The Romans thought of themselves as exceptional people destined to rule others. Athenaios, a Greek of the second century on excellent terms with Romans, tells us that the Romans sucked the life out of their subject people. In 410, barbarians captured Rome.


Now America is uttering the slogans of Rome. Republican politicians competing for the opportunity to "defeat" the Democrat president Barack Obama in the November 2012 elections, ceasesly proclaim the "exceptionalism" of America.

The two millionaire Republican Mormons, Mitt Romney and Jon Huntsman, want to further expand the hegemony of corporations and gut environmental, health and social protection. Romney keeps repeating his love for corporate America as well as his determination to expand the global reach of the Pentagon.

Ron Paul, a Congressman from Texas, embarrasses all politicians because he wants to shut down the American empire: he wants no more military bases around the world and no more wars. But Paul also wants a tiny federal government, no environmental protection or EPA, no social programs, everyone for himself. Paul puts all these domestic dangerous proposals under the rubric of liberty: that Americans, once again, will go back to the eighteenth century, each doing his thing, armed to the teeth.

The other three Republican millionaire presidential candidates are at war with Obama. Newt Gingrich, a former Speaker of the House, intends to allow corporations to run wild all over the country. He intends to abolish the EPA. Rick Santorum, a former Senator from Pennsylvania, has drafted Jesus as his advisor. And Rick Perry, governor of Texas, is also campaigning with the Christian god on his side. Gingrich, Santorum and Perry repeat the lie of Romney, that within the territory of the United States, there's more petroleum than in Saudi Arabia.

These advertising politicians denounce the Obama administration for locking-up all this oil with useless and expensive regulations. They promise their supporters, should any of them be elected president, they would immediately terminate the EPA and all regulations. That way, American entrepreneurs can dig and rip apart America in search for oil.

And that, pretty much, and despite Ron Paul, sums up the Republican agenda for America: Millionaires shouting through millions of televisions and radios that America better give in to the demands of corporations for less or no taxes and a free hand in their business; expand the empire of the military and the world will get used to the exceptionalism of America. As for environmental and public health protections, they don't exist. The free market will take care of them, too.


The behavior of Republican politicians – their dark vision of the country – is by far worse than that of the Democratic variety. The Democrats, at least, accept some level of government involvement in social and environmental emergency measures. The thread connecting the two parties, however, is that of the free market and Wall Street. This comes through their hazardous belief in exceptionalism, corporate control of the economy and country and faith in empire and perpetual war.

This Roman legacy is stronger among the Republicans who have no place for the protection of the natural world and public health. The Republicans, in fact, wish to abolish the skeleton of EPA and dismiss out of hand any suggestion that corporations are poisoning America. The very idea of global warming, that the earth already is being destabilized by corporate pollution, is an anathema in Republican circles.

My Athenian philosopher friend Kostas Kalimtzes likens political decay to environmental pollution. The body politic and the land suffer similar effects from the miasma of inequality and poison. In the natural world, a toxin may last for a long time, slowly moving into the land, spreading its deleterious effects and death to microorganisms vital for carrying nutrients taken up by crops. In the political world, corruption moves slowly and cuts deep into our democracy, giving tremendous advantage to the lobbyists and their paymasters with an undemocratic vision of America.

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About the Author

Evaggelos Vallianatos is the author of several books, including Poison Spring (Bloomsbury Press, 2014).

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