- - Monday, January 20, 2020

For nearly five decades, Cal Thomas has pursued a varied and successful career in journalism. A widely syndicated columnist, his columns regularly appear in newspapers across the country, including The Washington Times. A veteran of radio, he has worked as a TV reporter and anchor for KPRC-TV in Houston, NBC in Washington and Fox News Channel. For 10 years, he wrote the Common Ground column for USA Today with his friend and fellow journalist Bob Beckel. 

That column, which took the conservative-liberal point-counterpoint format, would be difficult to duplicate in today’s poisoned atmosphere. And who did the poisoning? For 50 years now, while Mr. Thomas has remained essentially the same mainstream conservative, it would be extremely difficult to find an old-school traditional liberal journalistic counterpart still practicing today. The national media no longer has a place for them, or for the outdated belief that there may be two legitimate sides to many controversial issues.

A symptom, to be sure, but perhaps symbolic of a what Allan Bloom famously called the closing of the American mind, and might also be called a denial of the American spirit — an unwillingness to admit that we may be putting all those old American verities and values — the same verities and values that gave our nation shape, soul and substance — in the rearview mirror. 

The signs of this retreat are sufficiently intense and widespread to awaken deep concern in all thoughtful Americans, especially among those to whom and for whom Mr. Thomas speaks. For these concerned Americans, the culture, with the nearly total support of the media, seems to encourage immorality, the schools and universities make a mockery of decency and morality, and the family is treated as an obsolete entity, impeding progress by adhering to outdated and reactionary values.

In “America’s Expiration Date,” Mr. Thomas enumerates these warning signs, seeing in them the essential ingredients that led to the eventual downfall of the world’s great civilizations.

“If America doesn’t learn from history,” he writes, “our own and the world’s — we are likely to suffer the fate of other great nations, rotting from within before either being conquered from without by an invading army or collapsing under the weight of self-indulgence, decadence, debt, a sense of entitlement, greed and envy. It’s up to those now living and the next and perhaps last American generation … to turn things around.” 

But as Mr. Thomas points out, quoting the 19th century philosopher Georg Wilhelm Hegel, “‘We learn from history that we do not learn from history.’” 

In large part to remedy that deficiency, Mr. Thomas provides thumb-nail sketches of the dialectic process of triumph, decline and collapse of eight of the world’s great empires, running from the Persian to the Soviet, with date of the American collapse left open. These sketches are supplemented with brief cameos of representative figures from those empires. America’s is Hugh Hefner, champion of and profiteer from moral decline, who died with his pajamas on. 

“Given the history of other empires and great nations, the decadence that now is tightening its grip on America almost guarantees our demise or at the very least a radical decline that will leave the country devoid of the liberties we now enjoy but are rapidly exchanging for a license to do whatever we wish.”

Mr. Thomas, a professing Christian who lives his beliefs, thinks it futile to expect our country’s system of government to slow our collapse. (In fact, politicians and government officials are helping drive the train.) A turnaround “will not come from the top down, no matter how righteous government officials appear to be … It can come only from a restored community of believers and from the bottom up, which means it must come from you and from me. It won’t be easy.”

Mr. Thomas supplies a list of steps that concerned Americans can take in their communities and with their families to combat the spread of decadence. Among them: Set standards of decency and morality for your family; guide your children gently but firmly to make wise choices; remember your marriage vows, and keep them; gather with others to worship regularly; and “Temper your skepticism with hope, never allowing it to fall into cynicism and always finding opportunities to lift up what is right and good and true.”

Just a sampling of the individual steps proposed by this deeply concerned veteran journalist to combat the spread of decadence and extend our nation’s expiration date, presented in forceful and evocative prose. 

• John R. Coyne Jr., a former White House speechwriter, is co-author of “Strictly Right: William F. Buckley Jr. and the American Conservative Movement” (Wiley).

• • •


By Cal Thomas

Zondervan, $22.99, 192 pages

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