Fake News (and History): The rise and fall of the New York Times

(Wikimedia Commons/ Michal Osmenda)

(Wikimedia Commons/ Michal Osmenda)

The New York Times has never been a big fan of Trump, but perhaps the reaction by Nicholas Kristof has taken the publication to a new low. One would expect to find that the winner of two Pulitzer Prizes would be able to understand basic history.

While reading Trump’s recently released budget, Kristof tweeted this, “Reading through the Trump budget, I feel as the Romans must have felt in 456 AD as the barbarians conquered and ushered in the dark ages.”

As a philosopher, and a lover of antiquity, I laughed when I saw this. Why? Well, because Rome didn’t fall in 456 AD. The widely accepted date for the fall of Rome is September 4, 476 AD. That is date the last Latin-born emperor was deposed. But more so, I am fascinated that, in their historical ignorance, they missed the obvious parallel between the US and Rome based on international power and overspending.

Now, I love history, and I knew this date off hand, but I am sure that a Pulitzer Prize winner can use Google to make sure that he doesn’t tweet out some crazy date. As The New York Times calls Trump’s tweets fake news, I can only imagine that this wasn’t a mistake in a tweet. It must be the date that they wanted.

I am not sure what they think they would have done in 456 AD. In 456 AD the Romans beat back the Visigoths, maybe that’s what they meant. The New York Times, the noble Romans that they are, must have beaten back Trump’s budget. But, they didn’t beat back the budget. So, that doesn’t work either.

So, what then?

If we look at the rise and the fall of Rome, we find many things. What caused Rome to fall is hotly debated, but one thing everyone can agree on is this: Rome fell, in part, because of economic troubles. The History Channel’s list of reasons Rome fell they say, “Constant wars and overspending had significantly lightened imperial coffers, and oppressive taxation and inflation had widened the gap between rich and poor.”

Looking at that, description, I would believe that it was talking about America in 2017, and it sounds like Trump’s budget cuts may have helped to fix the problems. We as a country are in debt, and lots of it. Our taxes are oppressive. Our coffers are empty.  We are in debt to the tune of almost $20 trillion. We’ve been stuck fighting several protracted wars, and hawks like John McCain are ready to take on Russia as well.

The parallel is striking. But it’s crazy that The New York Times could make a connection with this time period, and miss the bigger parallel — the budget of Rome. They completely miss the significance. Rome fell, in part, due to the fact they overspent.

While we are talking about the history of Rome, why not take note of the popular phrase, bread and circuses. Seeing the Roman populace moving from the honorable to servile the Roman satirical poet Juvenal said, “Already long ago, from when we sold our vote to no man, the People have abdicated our duties; for the People who once upon a time handed out military command, high civil office, legions — everything, now restrains itself and anxiously hopes for just two things: bread and circuses.”

Bread and circuses. The Roman leaders had started to buy the votes of Romans with what? Social programs. If the analogy of Rome and America were continued, it would be Healthcare and College. They bought votes by taxing the rich and giving that money to the poor. The rich fled the taxation of Rome and fractured its power.

A true student of history wouldn’t mock spending cuts and claim that they are like the fall of Rome. They would understand that had Rome cut spending, it might still be around. Yes, had the Roman people fought their subjugation, had they the nobility of spirit, Rome may very well have stood the test. But, alas, the Romans did not.

The Democrats run on the bread and circuses platform. Their economic policies are the same ones that killed Rome. The Republican platform is the very one that Juvenal extols in his statement. Principled voting, adherence to duty, and military service.

The irony is striking, The New York Times actually compared budget cuts to the fall of Rome, while supporting policies that would bring about our own fall.


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