Decline and Fall of The U.S. Empire

Back when typewriters dotted the earth, I read Gibbon’s Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire, but I can’t remember, when did they realize the end was near? Probably between the bottom of the eighth and the top of the ninth. Can’t remember whether they played baseball either.

I’m not sure what inning we’re in, but if Dayton, Ohio is our frame of reference, a few pitchers and catchers are stirring in the bullpen.

Recently, in the deep recesses of my pea brain, I’ve been outlining a course that explores our nation’s decline. This intellectual exercise was prompted by an incredibly tight and excellent 55 minute long ProPublica/Frontline documentary that I highly recommend on Dayton, Ohio titled, “Left Behind America”.

Other likely resources include:

One question we will consider is how does our country improve the life prospects of young impoverished boys and girls in Dayton, Ohio; Janesville, Wisconsin; and Troy, New York, especially when addiction and mental illness are so common in their families?

We’ll also ask whether the challenges are best understood through the lens of psychology and concepts such as “internal locus of control” or sociology with its emphasis on systemic impediments to upward mobility like institutional racism, the loss of manufacturing jobs and the associated dismantling of labor unions, and educational inequities. Related to that, we’ll debate what roles local, state, and/or our federal government should play in providing Dayton’s youngest residents more equal opportunities in life.

We’ll also read two books that broaden our frame of reference to include rural America:

And given the President’s incessant demonizing of immigrants, I need your help finding materials, beyond the segment in Left Behind, that examine the important role immigrants are playing in reviving places like Dayton. Or any other materials that offer hope if not practical solutions.

Who is in? What other literary, artistic, non-fiction, and/or multimedia resources should we consider and what other ideas do you have for strengthening our course?

6 thoughts on “Decline and Fall of The U.S. Empire

  1. This is a neglected topic, and it’s great that you chose to focus on it. People would just as well forget about those that have been left behind in America. Trump recognized their importance, and connived to capitalize on it, which he did in spades. I’ve heard of Hillbilly Ellegy, haven’t read it, but intend to. I hope you keep us updated about this project—needs to be addressed!

  2. I’m a little late to “the show” because we’ve been traveling but a book I recently read which would seem to be a good (perfect?) fit for this type course is “The Unwinding: An Inner History of the New America” by George Packer. It explains how insidious national decline can be and how people in the midst of decline, as it is occurring, have no idea about the overall, and final, effect of the decline upon their personal lives and local areas. I highly recommend it even if, after reading the book, you choose not to include it in your curriculum. Sounds like a tremendous course – I’d love to audit the course (with no grade being issued) as I’m sure i couldn’t pass any of your exams!

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