July 18, 2019 | 81° F

WYNEN: Far worse problems than Trump or Hillary

Opinions Column: Reality Check

I’m going to take a break from the usual lambasting of the two worst presidential candidates in modern history to take a look at the deep-rooted societal epidemics that the United States is contending with. These will not go away if either the Orange Man or the Wicked Witch of the West takes the throne.

There are two examples I will use to compare the current fiscally perilous, socially combative and corrupt political atmosphere that the United States is in. The first is the analogy between the United States government and the once proud and mighty Byzantine Empire of late-antiquity. Continuing the Roman tradition in the East, the Greek Orthodox Byzantines were the pinnacle of Western theological, political and economic discourse in the 5th-7th centuries C.E. Overtime, the Byzantine elite became complacent with the success of the empire. Religious orders and pet projects of the court (read: interest groups) were financed by the empire’s treasury. The mercantile middle class and the agrarian peasantry were taxed more and more each decade to fill up Constantinople’s coffers. At the same time, the Byzantine government attempted to expand government services, with the only plan to make up the difference being to tax the already over-taxed merchants and farmers. By 1400, the political system was irrecoverably corrupt, the treasury was in debt over its head, its military unresponsive to civilian leadership and decades of consecutive declining in birth rate had weakened the Byzantine Empire to the point where it would take a Herculean shift in the paradigm of Byzantine society to return to its old ways of efficient government, lower taxes and less public spending. By 1453, the once proud Byzantines met their end at the hands of the new regional superpower, the Ottoman Turks.

American society today is more aptly described as similar to those of the remnants of the Roman Empire in the Middle Ages. Medieval speech codes were written to prevent theologians and scholastics (Medieval academics) to go against church doctrine on a variety of issues, most famously the presupposed revolving of the Sun around the Earth. There is a reason why Galileo was convicted of heresy by the Holy Office when he published what we now take as basic scientific truth that the Earth revolves around the Sun. Today, God in godless academia is made up of the prevailing leftwing beliefs on nearly everything. I can say for myself that I have never had a single professor at Rutgers who openly proclaimed their support for any conservative or libertarian thinkers or policies, but nearly all of my professors openly proclaim their belief that Hillary Clinton (or Bernie Sanders) is the herald of the Second Coming. Implicit speech codes are every bit as wrong as codified ones. Universities in the Middle Ages were largely thinking-factories, not thinking-facilitators. They taught their students exactly what to think and how to go about thinking it. American academia unfortunately borrows heftily from that tradition.

On matters economic, one-quarter of American households possess zero or a negative net-wealth. The middle class continues to find itself servicing trillions of dollars of consumer debt to big banks. In the Middle Ages, medieval peasants possessed no financial wealth. Thus, they would pledge loyalty to barons or baronesses in return for food and shelter. Today, the so-called benevolent government distributes nearly insolvent entitlements (also in the forms of lucrative government defense contracts and university endowments) and in return the masses swear their fealty at the voting booths.

Consider that in the Middle Ages, superstition replaced reason as the main method for understanding. Ancient Greek, the language necessary for studying the early forms of rational thought and empirical discourse of the Athenians, was largely forgotten by the early sixth century. Widespread literacy disappeared until the educational reforms of the Renaissance. Today, the United States government spends roughly $11,000 a year per student. Forty percent of Americans can’t name the current Vice Presidential candidates. Fifty-three percent of Americans don’t know that the first 10 amendments of the U.S. Constitution are known as the Bill of Rights. Eighty-three percent of Americans don’t know who the sitting Chief Justice of the Supreme Court is. This is abjectly pathetic.

We like to think ourselves as the pinnacle of human progress, but in reality there are clear signs of regression despite the advances that have been made in the last century. A President Trump or a President Clinton will not change the complacency of today’s American society. It will take serious effort on the part of individuals to begin to undue the delusion that $100 billion spending deficits are okay because they’re not trillion-dollar spending deficits, or that one-quarter of American households having no wealth is fine because the government will simply tax wealth-creators to distribute more. Buck has to stop somewhere.

Steven Wynen is a School of Arts and Sciences junior majoring in history and political science with a minor in economics. His column, “Reality Check,” runs on alternate Wednesdays.

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Steven Wynen

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