When I remember the utter stupidity of Bush – and he got elected – I mean, people actually voted for a puppet with sub-normal intelligence because they thought he was “a regular guy”, I don’t believe that holding Trump’s idiocy up to the light of day will dissuade voters. It’s so scary. It’s as if America has decided that the Fall of the Roman Empire sounded kind of fun, so hey, let’s elect a few Neros and just get it over with! Actually, I think most Americans forgot or never learned the phrase “Nero fiddled while Rome burned,” and since history has a habit of repeating itself, especially with dimwitted humans, let us recapitulate: (with help from the very excellent article by Mary Francis Gyles*)
“Curiosity concerning the origin and development of the expression “Nero fiddled while Rome burned” leads to an investigation which has traversed the fields of History, Philology, Literature, and Music. The extent to which this phrase is used by the public in everyday speech and its frequent appearance in popular literature have placed it in the position of an adage. On examination its usage is found to hinge upon the meaning of the word fiddle. This word is defined by the New English Dictionary as “fiddle, substantive, a stringed instrument of music; usually the violin, but also, (with defining word as in bass fiddle) applied to other instruments of the viol kind.”1 The verb, as given by the same dictionary, means to play a fiddle. Since musical historians agree that the viol class of instruments did not develop until about the eleventh century, it is conclusive that Nero could not have fiddled in this sense of the word while Rome burned.2
There is another meaning of the word fiddle in use today. It is often employed to indicate the idea of accomplishing nothing, and is so defined by the New English Dictionary. The common remark, “He’s just fiddling around,” is an excellent illustration of this usage. It suggests a lack of proficiency and an aimless or frivolous attitude.
The phrase “Nero fiddled while Rome burned” is used to express both meanings of the word fiddle.3 First it presents the picture of an individual playing a musical instrument as he took a sadistic pleasure in the terrible misfortunes of others. Secondly it represents ineffectual effort. That is, Nero, who should have made himself useful, was fiddling. Although this conception is, in point of fact, unjust,4 it does not curtail the frequency with which it has been so used.”
Let us now replace the word “Nero” with “Trump”, and “Rome” with “America”. We get an image of an individual playing a musical instrument as he takes a sadistic pleasure in the terrible misfortunes of others. We also get the impression of ineffectual effort.
The fall of Rome had many causes: from lead poisoning from tainted water, to reduced crops because of deforestation and depleted farmland, to the emergence in Iran of the Sassanid Persian empire (226–651). The Sassanids were sufficiently powerful and internally cohesive to push back Roman legions from the Euphrates and from much of Armenia and southeast Turkey, and the various tribes of Goths and barbarians from the North. The army had also suffered at this critical moment because of reduced tax revenue**.
So, let’s divert the course of history and try to thwart the inevitable fall of the American Empire. (Though empires seem doomed to die, not everyone suffers from this. Let it be noted that the ones that suffer the most when empires collapse are the very poor and the elite. One notable exception to this is the English royal family who hung on to their fortune while losing their power.)
While I admit, I pinned my hopes on Bernie Sanders to find a way out of the decline of America’s fortunes, I suppose I will have to rely on Hilary now to win the election and her job will be to: clean up America’s water system, raise taxes to rebuild the infrastructure and create jobs. Stabilize the political foundation by somehow clearing out the religious right nut cases from the government and making both parties stronger. Making education and healthcare manditory and free, to create an educated and healthy society. Oh, and legalize marijuana, because it’s proving to be helpful in aiding to help cancer patients and alliviate the pain of sickle cell aneamia. (OK, I admit, I added that last part because not only do I want to make America great again, I want it to be cool too.)
* “Nero Fiddled While Rome Burned”, Mary Francis Gyles. The Classical Journal
Vol. 42, No. 4 (Jan. 1947), 211‑217.
**Bryan Ward-Perkins‘s The Fall of Rome and the End of Civilization (2005) takes a traditional view tempered by modern discoveries, arguing that the empire’s demise was caused by a vicious circle of political instability, foreign invasion, and reduced tax revenue. Essentially, invasions caused long-term damage to the provincial tax base, which lessened the Empire’s medium- to long-term ability to pay and equip the legions, with predictable results.