“Bread and circuses” (or bread and games; from Latin: panem et circenses) is a figure of speech, specifically referring to a superficial means of appeasement. As a metonymic, the phrase is attributed to Juvenal, a Roman poet active in the late first and early second century AD — and is used commonly in cultural, particularly political, contexts.
In a political context, the phrase means to generate public approval, not by excellence in public service or public policy, but by diversion, distraction or by satisfying the most immediate or base requirements of a populace — by offering a palliative: for example food (bread) or entertainment (circuses).
Juvenal, who originated the phrase, used it to decry the selfishness of common people and their neglect of wider concerns. The phrase implies a population’s erosion or ignorance of civic duty as a priority. Source
Here we are at the end of 2018 and the beginning of 2019. It’s been a whirlwind ride with few highs and ever increasing lows. This is the year that future generations will mark as the beginning of the cracking of our democracy by the Donald Trump and his merry, but rabid, ban of deplorabbles. When Hillary first made the “basket of deplorables” comment, I literally and figuratively cringed. I feared she was exacerbating an already undeniable truth – people just didn’t like her and alienating Trump’s base was not the wisest political path she could have chosen.
I was wrong. Trump’s base has proven themselves time after time to be a pack of scoundrels, misfits, and emotionally and intellectually dead individuals, and it is only getting worse. The quote about bread and circuses above has come to fit this administration’s modus operandi to a tee. Today, however, our bread and circus are the world wide web coupled with Twittter as the arena and sensationalism and dishonesty (fake news) the bread that people feed on daily. In these opening days of the new year, America needs to come to grips with the reality that our democracy is broken and fixing it is going to take a lot of harsh decisions and more than a little gumption to get us through to the other side.
On the bright side, the Democrats take control of the House on January 3 bringing with them a ray of hope that the Orange One will finally find a modicum of supervision, but with Trump in the mix, who knows how that will work out. Frankly, I have serious doubts about both major political parties doing anything but line the pockets of their donors and the large corporations that control our political system. Still, one of my New Year’s resolutions is to take an optimistic view in these blogs, rather than the doomsday approach I’ve taken often in the past. In my defense . . . they made me do it.
Having said that, as bad as the Democrats have the potential of being, they are far more positive and rational than what is now the Republican Party, which has for all practical purposes, abdicated control of the party to the House Freedom Caucus led by former Tea Party members and ultra conservative House newcomers. While few in number, some estimates list its membership in the mid-thirties, as a block, they have tremendous sway on the outcome of legislation and the actions of the president. It was the Freedom Caucus along with Anne Couture and Rush Limbaugh who put the screws to Trump when he capitulated to the Democrats and a portion of his own party in December that passed a bill to avoid the current government shutdown. Trump’s reversal of course was meant to appease his base, of which, the Freedom Caucus can be counted.
American linguist, philosopher, historian, political activist, and social critic, Noam Chomsky (Video Transcript), makes an even bolder claim about the current condition of the political system and those who are involved in determining the life of Americans when he stated,
I’ve said sometimes, what’s considered an utterly outrageous comment, that today’s Republican Party is the most dangerous organization in human history. Sounds outrageous, but think about it for a moment. I mean, Hitler didn’t intend to destroy the prospects for human existence; Attila the Hun didn’t intend that – nobody has. But that’s what these guys intend, and it’s not ignorant, uneducated you know, religious fundamentalists [or] whatever you want to blame people. These are the most educated, sort of best supported people in the world, and they’re doing this eyes opened because you make more profit tomorrow. It’s hard to imagine anything like it. Source
In the fog of our current cultural war, I think it is easy to single out Trump and place the majority of blame for the current democratic crisis we find ourselves in today. Yet, reread the “bread and circus” quote at the top of the page. Then consider this from Chomsky’s video above,
Trump’s role is to ensure that the media and the public attention are always concentrated on him. So every time you turn on a television set: Trump; open the front page of the newspaper: Trump. And in order to maintain, he’s a conman, basically a showman, and in order to maintain public attention, you have to do something crazy, otherwise nobody’s gonna pay attention to you. . . In the background, the wrecking crew is working Paul Ryan, Mitch McConnell, [and] the guys in the Cabinet who write his executive orders.
What they are doing is systematically dismantling every aspect of government that works for the benefit of the population. . . I mean, anything you can think of
is being dismantled and all efforts are being devoted, kind of almost with fanaticism
to enrich and empower their actual constituency which is super wealth, and corporate power; who are delighted. Source
A simple Google search will turn up a litany of real accomplishments the Republicans have achieved while the rest of us have been watching Trump scream “Squirrel” including both his base and those who oppose his actions. Read any number of outlets that have tracked Trump’s nefarious behind-the-scenes machinations. Anthony Zurcher’s, Ten Ways Trump Has Changed America, he wrote for BBC News is a typical compilation. While most of America has been sitting quietly around the nation, either wallowing in Trump’s craziness or grumbling about his ineptitude, the bread and circus continues.
Complicating the situation even more are the misconceptions that all American have about what it is to live, work, and die in America. Basically, America is run on myths. Myths about our freedom, our rights, our national consciousness. Keeping us believing these myths is the job of the elites, social media, and the corporate ruling structure. Read American Society Would Collapse If It Weren’t for These 8 Myths. The author, Lee Camp, systematically dismantles our foolish beliefs that all Americans hold dear including our democracy, voting/electoral system, consumerism, truth about the media, and on an on. It isn’t pretty how we have been led to this point in our nation’s history. This has been an ongoing train wreck that survives only because it is so much better here in the United States than in other less fortunate parts of the world. But every train wreck has its end, and America is perilously close to that point.
Chomsky uses the Doomsday Clock put out by the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists to measure just how badly America has slumped though the ages up until December 2017. He wrote,
They (scientists) just moved it to 2 minutes to midnight. That’s where it was in 1953 when the U.S., and later the USSR, exploded thermonuclear weapons which were, could totally destroy the world. It went to 2 minutes, now it’s back to 2 minutes, and that’s the Republican Party. [They’re] the ones who are running the country and dominating the world. There’s never been a situation like this. Bulletin
So much for my morphing into an optimistic man full of joy and wonder. As long as Trump is in the White House and long after he is gone, we will face this existential crisis until Americans wake up and take their destinies seriously in light of rising greed, lack of empathy, and give up on political correctness to reshape America into something different. A nation of laws and governance that takes both the environment and individual liberties into consideration would be a far cry from our situation in the opening days of 2019. Happy fucking New Year.