Long ago, in Middle Earth, Gondor was a great kingdom. Then it began to crumble.
They called the ruler "a steward" because the line of the true king had been broken. The stewards ruled in the king's stead, mostly to keep civil war from taking place.
"The rule of Gondor was given over to lesser men." That's what Gandalf called these stewards in The Return of the King movie (and maybe the books; I've not looked it up).
The line sticks with me.
"A thousand years this city has stood. Now, at the whim of a madman, it will fall," sayeth the wizard.
Throughout the history of this world - the real one, not the fantasy land of Tolkien - empires and realms have grown proud and tall, only to fall.
I remember learning in school that at one time there was a saying that the sun never sets on the British Empire, because the British held so much land in the 19th and early 20th centuries. At that time, it was the largest in territorial size of any empire in history. With lands stretching from Canada to Australia, that saying certainly holds up.
By 1897, the phrase was being used to describe the holdings of Uncle Sam. No one told me that in school, though.
Yes, we are the American Empire. Today, the sun never sets on American territory, properties owned by the U.S. government and its citizens, American armed forces abroad, or countries that conduct their affairs within limits largely defined by American power.
Most people in the United States do not think of the U.S. as an empire, I believe. We are not taught that we are an empire. We are taught that we do good and spread democracy, and never have evil intent. The word "empire" just sounds wrong and bad. We don't know that we are imperialists, asserting our influence in ways that are harmful to the people we are subduing. We prefer to think of it as doing no evil.
Google says it has no evil intent, either, but it sure as hell spies on my web crawling to the extent that I find it creepy, if not downright scary. I mean, I don't want anybody to know I've looked up how to fix an ingrown toenail. That's rather personal.
The idea of an American Empire is also creepy and scary. It's also a fact, one that cannot be denied if one looks at a map. Like the British Empire of old, we have military bases in Canada and Australia. Maybe we don't "rule" the territory, but we certainly have massive influence wherever we go.
Did our forefathers expect the United States to become an empire? Those men - greater men? plain ol' men? - did they expect expansion?
They were imperialists, these founders. George Washington himself called the U.S. an "infant empire."
Jefferson made the Louisiana purchase, so he was for expansion.
The Monroe Doctrine of 1823 indicates that by then the leaders of the United States considered all of North and South America - two continents - to be under their purview.
I believe it is safe to say the Founding Fathers were expansionists, and empire and imperialism was not beyond their thinking.
A world globe on my desk, one I've owned for about 25 years, is no longer accurate, particularly with countries that are no longer part of Russia, but it is close enough. To look at it, you would not think the United States is an empire.
It doesn't go into that much detail. It does not show military bases, or areas in which we are fighting now. It doesn't show who are leaders that are in power because we helped things along, so we could have the people we wanted in power, and not that other guy.
So much has happened in this new millennium, particularly in the Middle East. But also here, in the United States.
Many of us know now that we are an empire (and some don't care). Some of us are aware that others in this world do not like being under the boot of the red, white, and blue.
The Middle East once was an empire. Rome once was an empire. Byzantine was an empire.
They are empires no more. This should serve as some kind of warning about empire, imperialism, and expansionistic thinking.
These vast territories fell for numerous reasons - there is never just one. Economic factors, outside factors, internal strife, divisions from within and without all contributed to the downfall of these once might kingdoms.
Even Hitler could not have risen to power alone. He may have led his army into Austria to start World War II, but it was the soldiers who followed orders, the public who lacked the will to stand.
What constitutes a lesser man? Is it the brick layer who toils in the sun all day, doing his job with care and love? Is it the gambler at the table, tossing down his cards, a quartet of aces in his hand? Is it the wealthy man, who has through cunning and sleight-of-hand, made his fortune? Or is it the leader who takes the reigns of a mighty empire, and then quickly brings it down?
The brick layer is the best of the men I have listed. The farmer, the laborer, the doctor, even a lawyer - these are not the lesser men.
Even the gambler is preferable to a rich, uncaring man.
The lesser men are those whose ego leads them to lead lands astray, to take their greatest assets - these lowly, humble men who lay bricks and grow corn - and use them for cannon fodder. That leader, my friends, is a lesser man.
The United States will fall, if not in my lifetime, then shortly thereafter (depending on how long I live). I don't see this nation holding together much longer. That's a sad statement to make. Nothing lasts forever, though.
Regardless of who wins the presidency in a few weeks, the country will stumble and falter, because we have lost sight of the great men - the brick layers and ditch diggers - and placed our hopes into the hands of lesser men who know only how to use others for their own amusement and gain.
All this election will do, and the perhaps the next one and the one after that, will delay the inevitable, if the United States cannot find her footing, and put the greater good before the love of money and those who possess it. I don't know that we as a people can do that. I think we're too far gone.
In plain language, honor the brick layer. Don't cheer the rich. They may have the money, but they are the lesser men.