The Colosseum of Rome // Credit:

Almost Everything is Circular, Eventually

Musings on a Brighter Future in the Early Days of 45

Eventually, everything is cyclical. Sometimes you have to zoom way out to see where the circle begins and where it ends. When we’re in the midst of things, it can be hard to see the arc of the circle bending in front of you. Life can look an awful lot like a straight line — until it doesn’t.

America’s 45th President outrages modern progressives because he defies all established notions of what it means to govern a nation in the 21st century — or even the 18th, 19th, or the 20th, for that matter. At times, it can be hard to believe that anyone ever suggested that electing Hillary Clinton might amount to the same thing. What a straight line the establishment order of the Obama era seemed in the autumn of 2016. As Clinton campaign employees, we gestured at the dark, nefarious future that awaited us in the hands of a depraved maniac. But the straight line of history seemed so perfect to so many, or by contrast, so unconscionable that its adversaries would go to any length to disrupt it. Donald the Candidate was either harmless or all-powerful, depending who you talked to.

Of course, with the administration’s first 70 days on the record, “I told you so” doesn’t seem kind, though it may be true. Late night comedians joke that this President governs in dog years — he crams a week worth of outrageous policy actions into each day in office. Many liberals make joking comparisons to the George W. Bush Administration, which at the time seemed apocalyptic, and now seems mild in the face of impending (or imploding) ignoramus domination.

But the arc of history is long. This administration, in the present tense, looks a lot like a straight line race to the bottom. But it’s important to remember that “the bottom” is always relative, and what goes down historically, eventually comes up. What’s more, it’s not the first time a man of questionable sanity has gained a hold on a flourishing society, intent on burning it to the ground.

We would do well to remember how short our modern history really is. The Republic Rome existed for close to 500 years before the rise of Augustus Caesar and the ensuing Roman Empire. And it was after almost 100 years of imperial rule that Emperor Nero came to power, a man who seemed to share a great deal of his governing philosophy with America’s 45th President. His rule was marked by corruption and compulsive acts. While history is not definitive, many believe he himself paid hooligans to start the great fire of Rome, which over six days in 64 AD, consumed most of the city, making way for Nero’s pet palace project. Incidentally, he blamed the fire on the Christians, sparking a millennium of religious persecution.

All hail religious scapegoating! What was once old is new again! And so it goes, that tricksy wheel of history. One moment we are surrounded by an astounding array of civilizations, the next we are in the glum darkness of The Middle Ages.

In 2017, we haven’t come as far from the days of the Roman Republic as we might have thought or liked. Pernicious tropes of human existence continue to plague us, and evil tyrants — both ignorant and masterfully genius — persist without a thought for the fragile human condition.

If you, like me, believe in karma and reincarnation, then there is some reassurance in these moments of darkness. Your life in this time is no accident. You are here for a purpose, and your only job is to find it and take hold of it with both hands and all your heart. Despite the rise and fall of social ignorance and political tyranny, what does seem somehow constant is the pursuit by someone, somewhere, of greater knowledge and growing enlightenment and self-awareness. It may be a tiny corner of humanity, under threat of persecution from a tyrant like Nero, but someone, somewhere, is envisioning a better future, a version of tomorrow that looks different from today, and is plotting a path of how to get there.

And so, in the midst of a political moment that is for many horrifying and for others terrifying, it’s important to remember that someone in the course of human history has been here before. Billions of people may have died in the interim. But humanity, despite the odds to the contrary, has not yet been undone by the righteous tyranny of one man. In the failing darkness, when the world appears on the brink of destruction and despair, it falls to us to remember that we must heed the call to the quest for continued enlightenment, to carry the torch, to continue making our way onwards, one step at a time, towards the light, along the long arc of history that ultimately bends towards justice.

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