Like Rome, America apparently can coast for a long time on the fumes of its wonderful political heritage and economic dynamism — even if both are little understood or appreciated by most who still benefit from them.
By A.D. 200, the Roman Republic was a distant memory. Few citizens of the global Roman Empire even knew of their illustrious ancestors like Scipio or Cicero. Millions no longer spoke Latin. Italian emperors were a rarity. There were no national elections.
Yet Rome endured as a global power for three more centuries. What held it together?
A stubborn common popular culture and the prosperity of Mediterranean-wide standardization kept things going. The Egyptian, the Numidian, the Iberian and the Greek assumed that everything from Roman clay lamps and glass to good roads and plentiful grain were available to millions throughout the Mediterranean.
As long as the sea was free of pirates, thieves cleared from the roads, and merchants allowed to profit, few cared whether the lawless Caracalla or the unhinged Elagabalus was emperor in distant Rome.
Something likewise both depressing and encouraging is happening to the United States. Few Americans seem to worry that our present leaders have lied to or misled the Congress and the American people without consequences.
Most young people cannot distinguish the First Amendment from the Fourth Amendment — and do not worry that they cannot. Washington, Jefferson and Lincoln are mere names of grammar schools but otherwise unidentifiable to most.
Separatism is believed to bring dividends. Here in California, universities conduct separate graduation ceremonies predicated on race — sometimes difficult given the increasingly mixed ancestry of Americans.