Every society has its rituals. Indeed, while the details vary from place to place and time to time, ritual itself is a human universal, according to anthropologist
I'm a big believer in the importance of rituals. They provide an important conduit for the transmission of priorities, meaning and respect in any society. Where I think civilizations run into trouble is when they don't recognize a ritual for what it is.
The Roman Empire was full of rituals and rites. These customs helped the Romans organize into the most formidable social organization the world had ever seen, ruling a vast swath of the globe. But over time, the rituals of the empire drifted away from the demands of governing.
This is how empires fall: when the facts on the ground do not fit the rules and expectations of those who govern.
The 1987 film "The Last Emperor" chronicles the life of Puyi, the last emperor of
Of course, it's not just empires. This is how all regimes -- monarchies and democracies included -- ultimately perish. The rituals that once helped enforce order become distractions from the demands of reality.
This thought occurred to me recently while watching the spectacle of the latest
The unveiling of the presidential budget is an odd ritual in
My point is not to defend every spending priority of the Trump administration, nor to say that Trump's proposed budget is indefensible.
Rather, my point is that the game itself is disconnected from reality. It is the budgetary equivalent of a gladiatorial contest -- a distracting spectacle that has little bearing on the fundamental problems we face. We argue about whether or not Cookie Monster should be fed to the lions. We beseech the crowd to answer whether
These are all entertaining battles, but it's theater, little more than budgetary stagecraft.
To strain the metaphor a bit, the real threat to the Republic isn't inside the gladiatorial arenas of talk radio and cable television; it's the barbarian horde of debt and entitlement.
Non-defense discretionary spending amounts to roughly 16 percent of the budget. You could cut all of it to zero and you would only slightly delay the fiscal reckoning that would come from the metastasizing growth of the national debt and the entitlement spending that fuels it. In 2008, the federal debt was 39 percent of GDP. Last summer, it was 75 percent of GDP. According to the
With regard to the president's rumored plan to cut $10.5 trillion over the next 10 years, the
But neither President Trump nor the Democratic leadership wants to cut entitlements. Trump's budget simply moves the money around, and he has yet to unveil the costs of his additional spending for his big infrastructure push.
The causes of
The Caesars and the senators simply found it too difficult a problem to fix, so they played their ritualistic games until reality had its say.