While medical science determined the identity of "Patient Zero" when AIDS spread across the United States, the index case for another disease is generational. Although manifesting itself sometime within the Generations X and Y timeframe (approximately early 1960s to 2000), the argument can be made the baby boom generation provided the fertile ground by which the disease took root. Nonetheless, today it is endemic within America.
Like cancer, this disease comes in different stages. Stage 1 is curable; Stage 2 isn't. Recently, one patient's Stage 2 self-diagnosis made headlines.
Former District of Columbia Council member Harry Thomas Jr. stood before U.S. District Judge John Bates earlier this month. Thomas was found guilty of stealing hundreds of thousands of dollars from a fund intended for youth programs. He explained he suffered from "a sense of entitlement" causing him to lose sight of his moral compass. A 38-month prison sentence was imposed to help him regain his bearings.
By his criminal act, Thomas' disease -- i.e., a "sense of entitlement" -- had spread beyond the boundaries of legality, causing him to violate the public trust. He was in Stage 2 of the disease -- a sense of "illegal" entitlement.
While few Americans suffer from Stage 2, it is Stage 1 -- a sense of "legal" entitlement -- that is endemic to the population. What was initially intended by politicians as a genuine effort to financially assist those truly in need of various forms of government financial support has exploded into a stream of assistance programs that effectively desensitize the population to the work ethic upon which this great nation was built.
And the disease continues to drain our public treasury as our politicians today fail to make the tough decisions needed -- to curtail or even eliminate such programs -- for fear of offending those afflicted by Stage 1. Therefore, those afflicted continue to vote these politicians into office.
The 18th-century British lawyer referenced above was Alexander Tytler. He observed: "A democracy is always temporary in nature; it simply cannot exist as a permanent form of government. A democracy will continue to exist up until the time that voters discover that they can vote themselves generous gifts from the public treasury. From that moment on, the majority always votes for the candidates who promise the most benefits from the public treasury, with the result that every democracy will finally collapse due to loose fiscal policy, which is always followed by a dictatorship. The average age of the world's greatest civilizations from the beginning of history has been about 200 years."
Tytler went on to share the sequence through which democracies pass during their estimated 200-year existence, labeled the "Fatal Sequence:"
"From Bondage to Spiritual Faith,
"From Spiritual Faith to Great Courage,
"From Courage to Liberty,
"From Liberty to Abundance,
"From Abundance to Selfishness,
"From Selfishness to Complacency,
"From Complacency to Apathy,
"From Apathy to Dependency,
"From Dependency back into Bondage."
While U.S. democracy has survived 35 years beyond Tytler's estimated 200, we are somewhere on the downside of abundance. Selfishness is a sense of entitlement to something earned by the work of others. As more people embrace the entitlement and less do the work, it starts democracy on a downslide back to bondage. The transition through complacency, apathy and dependency so consumes the former, they may not even consciously recognize what is happening as it occurs.
It isn't unlike what Britons experienced a century ago. From the sun never setting on their empire, through Pax Britannia and into its wake, they eventually found themselves in decline as a great power. It was only after this realization Britons came to wonder how and when it happened.
It appears, how went Britain, now goes America.
Americans too will wonder, at some future date, how and when it happened.
Perhaps 2008 will be cited as a benchmark year in America's downslide. It was in early 2009 that linguists and lexicographers selected the 2008 "Word of the Year" -- settling on "bailout." While use of that word goes back as far as 1932, its use died out not long thereafter. However, U.S. economic actions of late 2008 brought the word back into vogue as the market laws of capitalism gave way to government entitlements in the form of bailouts.
Perhaps 2011 will be cited since it was then the Occupy Wall Street movement evolved. While lacking consensus on its focus, common themes involved social and economic inequality. The movement started in New York's financial district but quickly spread globally. Its slogan, "We are the 99 percent," attempted to underscore income inequality and wealth distribution separating protesters from the wealthiest 1 percent of the U.S. population -- while making no complaint about a similar separation from the 1 percent fighting America's wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. Occupiers selfishly sought redistribution of benefit but not responsibility.
Some politicians recognize action needs to be taken; one does not. On May 10, the U.S. House of Representatives voted to cut billions of dollars from entitlements rather than the defense budget. U.S. President Barack Obama, however, has threatened to veto such a bill if it reaches his desk.
The "Three Little Pigs" fairy tale was told in early America -- its moral now well enshrined in Western culture: A strong work ethic earns security; a weak one does not.
Security not dependent upon one's own hard work, whether discussing anthropomorphic pigs building their homes or Americans building their financial future, cannot endlessly endure. It was a lesson two of the pigs learned the hard way.
Unfortunately, so, too, will the United States.
(James. G. Zumwalt is a retired U.S. Marine Corps officer who heads Admiral Zumwalt and Consultants, Inc. He is author of "Bare Feet, Iron Will -- Stories from the Other Side of Vietnam's Battlefields" and the e-book "Living the Juche Lie -- North Korea's Kim Dynasty.")
(United Press International's "Outside View" commentaries are written by outside contributors who specialize in a variety of important issues. The views expressed do not necessarily reflect those of United Press International. In the interests of creating an open forum, original submissions are invited.)