Countries, governments, empires rise and fall.  I was not a bad student of history. I learned the three to five to seven reasons why Greece and Rome and the city states of Italy and England and France and various dynasties of China fell.  Somewhere in those reasons was usually some catastrophic event— a war lost or a prolonged war won but leaving a weakened empire or a natural disaster. I imagined that the linchpin of any fall was that catastrophic event.

When David and I lived in Frascati, Italy, we would talk politics with our landlord and his young adult children.  Mr. Maoli told us that the United States was powerful now but that as a nation we were children. He said that once there was nothing stronger than Rome, and in another age Venice, Siena, Florence and Genoa were all powerful. And now, they were not. I agreed. He made sense. Nothing, even a democracy, even the leader of the free world, lasts forever.

But to the extend that I imagined anything, I was hard pressed to imagine the United States losing our power, our prestige, our moral leadership in my lifetime. Perhaps in many, many years. Not in any now I could conjure up. We have a Constitution that our leaders respect.  We have three independent branches of government with checks and balances, members of each branch respecting the work of the other two.  Working in the judicial branch on the state and federal level, my respect for our institutions grew. Not that I agreed with every opinion issued but I believed in the process. Not that I imagined us perfect but that we generally leaned towards equality and justice and compassion. And those ideals would always save us.

We have process.  And we have leaders, who for the most part, have good educations, a moral compass and the intention to uphold the process.

But since last November, my faith in our process and our leaders seems incredibly naive. I don’t know if what has held this country together for a few hundred years will survive this awful president, his ghoulish advisors, his selfish, short sighted congress, and the supporters of this Rule by Republicans. The decline that I could not imagine 30 years ago may have begun.  Not with some natural or man-made catastrophe but with one awful president and his minions.

And today, in a Rose Garden celebration as a military band played soft jazz, reporters and loyalists waited in the hot sun for their leader to diminish us further in the eyes of the world as he declared “I was elected to represent the citizens of Pittsburgh not Paris.” I grew up with a president who declared, “Ich bin ein Berliner.”

The legend of Nero fiddling while Rome burned comes to mind. How will our legend read?