With columns of jagged clouds, a nation changed.

On this day, January 28, 1986:

I saw the strange, jagged clouds in the northern sky as I left my apartment in Port St Lucie, FL to go to work on that cold morning. I had no idea what they were.

I tuned my radio to WRMF. At the time, I thought it was the best programmed, best imaged adult contemporary music station, and paid close attention to what they did and how they did it. I was the music director at WSTU Stuart and wanted to crib what I could.

Strangely, there was no music. There was only a live feed from a news network. They were talking about some terrible accident. They said they just couldn’t see how there could be any survivors.

I thought maybe an airliner had crashed.

It was a few minutes later one of the anchors mentioned something about the Kennedy Space Center. I looked again at the jagged clouds to the north. Then I understood.

I had been watching the countdown to the launch on CNN before I left for work but had to turn off the TV to finish getting ready. I couldn’t conceive that it was going to be anything other than a typical, routine launch, like the many I had seen before.

There was no music on WSTU that afternoon. We too carried a live network news feed. We carried it all the way through President Reagan’s address on the Challenger tragedy. Nothing felt much the same after that day.

No republic is eternal. It lives only as long as its citizens want it.

Most people, if they compare the fall of Rome with the impending fall of the United States, are thinking of the fall of the Empire that led to the so-called Dark Ages. But the comparison isn’t really valid.

What’s happening right now, not just in America but in several other democratic republics around the world, is more like the fall of the Roman Republic before the advent of Caesar Augustus.

The similarities between then and now are eerily disturbing and frightening. We’re at the cusp of what could be a disastrous change for America and democracy on our planet.

That’s why I highly recommend the book, Mortal Republic: How Rome Fell into Tyranny┬áby Edward J. Watts, professor of history at UC San Diego.

An excerpt:

1606933485This book explains why Rome, still one of the longest-lived republics in world history, traded the liberty of political autonomy for the security of autocracy. It is written at a moment when modern readers need to be particularly aware of both the nature of republics and the consequences of their failure. We live in a time of political crisis, when the structures of republics as diverse as the United States, Venezuela, France, and Turkey are threatened. Many of these republics are the constitutional descendants of Rome and, as such, they have inherited both the tremendous structural strengths that allowed the Roman Republic to thrive for so long and some of the same structural weaknesses that led eventually to its demise. This is particularly true of the United States, a nation whose basic constitutional structure was deliberately patterned on the idealized view of the Roman Republic presented by the second-century BC author Polybius. This conscious borrowing from Rome’s model makes it vital for all of us to understand how Rome’s republic worked, what it achieved, and why, after nearly five centuries, its citizens ultimately turned away from it and toward the autocracy of Augustus.

No republic is eternal. It lives only as long as its citizens want it.