Political and racial polarization, combined with the rejection by some of founding principles and faith, don’t bode well for America’s future, says Cal Thomas, author of “America’s Expiration Date: The Fall of Empires and Superpowers … and the Future of the United States.”
Thomas, one of the nation’s leading syndicated columnists and political commentators, joins “The Right Side of History” podcast to talk about his book. Listen or read the lightly edited transcript below.
Fred Lucas: We are lucky this week to have a really big guest: Cal Thomas. He is the author of “America’s Expiration Date.” He is also one of the most widely syndicated columnists in the entire United States.
He has been a well-known pundit across many networks: Fox News, NBC News, other places. And for a long time, he was a USA Today columnist along with Bob Beckel in the “Common Ground” column. Welcome.
Cal Thomas: Thank you. Appreciate it.
Lucas: So, this book, it’s about history, but it really seems timely to what we’re experiencing right now. Seems like, in a lot of ways, America is just burning down, if you turn on the TV.
What do you think this book can teach us about what we’re experiencing today in America?
Thomas: Well, there’s a flow to history, and there are a lot of cliches and famous statements out there. The only thing we learned from history is that we don’t learn from history is one of them.
And the book is based on an essay by the late British diplomat Sir John Glover, who found after studying 3,000 years of human history that there was a pattern to the decline of nations. And among them, the last stage he said before collapse, is what he called decadence.
And under decadence, he outlined massive national debt. We have $26 trillion and counting. [Democratic presidential nominee] Joe Biden wants to add to that with more government programs.
A loss of a shared moral sense—there is no right or wrong anymore. There’s only subjective truth. You have your truth. I have mine. And all ideas are equal. So, you can’t even debate anything anymore.
A loss of a sense of God, right and wrong. All of these things seem to be happening. Uncontrolled immigration without assimilation. That’s another one. We have hyphenated Americans now.
Nobody wants to become a full American. They all want to bring the baggage from the countries from which they left and with their political attitudes and perspectives here, which the left is happy to have because they think that’s more voters for them after they get them hooked on government programs.
So, [President] Ronald Reagan used to say, we’re only one generation away from losing it all. A constitutional republic is not the normal state of humanity. Otherwise, we’d see more of it around the world.
Instead, we see dictatorships, denial of women’s rights, religious fundamentalism imposed on other people and all kinds of things. We are an oasis in the midst of a vast desert, but my fear is, as you mentioned, we’re seeing on television now, just anarchy in our streets and a loss of any sense of law and order, or a higher power to whom we are ultimately accountable.
Jarrett Stepman: Well, it’s interesting. Your book was released earlier this year, just before, really, we had a major global pandemic break out.
Of course, now through the summer, we’ve had protests over the killing of George Floyd by a police officer that have turned into nothing short of riots. Many American cities have literally been in flames. I live in Washington, D.C., and many others, and we’ve seen a lot of destruction in the city, and this is really something that’s repeated the country over.
For many, it seems like this came out of the blue. I mean, America was peaceful and prosperous. We had a strong economy, especially the last few years, but suddenly we have people marching in the streets saying essentially that America was built on bad things. It was built on racism, things like this.
Can you explain kind of where this is coming from? I think a lot of people are blindsided by the sudden radicalism that we’re seeing across this country that’s turning to destruction.
Thomas: Well, the radicals have always been there, of course. We’ve had them ever since the beginning. Some of the Founders were regarded as radicals. It’s not radicalism. It’s living within the law and order, and changing the system from within.
It’s a great system. Yes, it has its flaws. But the way you fix the system with flaws is to fix the flaws, not to bring down the whole system. A lot of these things we’re seeing now are excuses.
If we had not had the pandemic, [President] Donald Trump would probably be in a 60% approval rate. We had, as he often points out correctly, across all demographics, some of the lowest unemployment in history: African American, Hispanic women, all of these things were going well. The economy was doing great. And it’s coming back, though slowly.
So, I think that these unfortunate incidents of white-on-black shootings, which are not reciprocated when it’s black-on-white or black-on-black, are used as an excuse by the anarchists to foment upheaval and further division within our country.
But the real problems in the African American community have nothing to do with what you’re reading in the headlines and seeing on television.
If you put a stable family together, a loving husband and a father in the home who properly and lovingly disciplines his children, you’re going to have a very strong African American community that won’t be the victims.
And many of them are victims, by the way—not perpetrators—of violent crime, but you never hear that talked about.
The problem isn’t systemic racism. The problem is breakdown of the African American families or families that never started. The problem is 14-, 15-, 16-year-old girls having babies out of wedlock.
We know what the problems are, but the left doesn’t want to talk about it.
They want more government programs, more spending. If Washington could solve these problems, wouldn’t they have been solved by now? We’ve been hearing some of the same lines for the last 50, 60 years.
As [The Heritage Foundation] has pointed out … trillions of dollars spent on anti-poverty programs, and yet we have just as many poor people as there were in the [mid-1960s], when some of this legislation initially began to be passed.
So, the real problems in America are not economic and political. They’re moral and spiritual, and have to be addressed on that level to be effective.
Lucas: Even before we saw the shootings, we did have this sort of attack on common culture within America that’s been there for, really, years in the making. Even more recently, I guess we’ve had “The 1619 Project” that was kind of a revisionism of America’s founding.
If you could talk a little bit about what you wrote in the book about the common culture and loss of a common culture, what role that played in the decline of past empires?
Thomas: Well, you’re right. A lot of this, what became evident in the ’60s with the Playboy philosophy, where Hugh Hefner told men that they didn’t have to wait to get married to have sex, they could have it whenever they wished, with whomever they wished, and with however many they wished. And then Helen Gurley Brown, the editor of Cosmo magazine, told women the same thing.
And out of this came unplanned pregnancies, abortion, venereal diseases, and a separation in our culture … and shacking up. You have so many people living together now, fewer and fewer people, according to The Wall Street Journal, are getting married anymore. A lot of them because they’ve seen their parents and the horror of divorce, of the legal expense and the anger. And so they just don’t want to go through this. They live together.
All of these things, I think, are contributors to the erosion of a culture, and a government is not the way to get it back again. It’s a moral and spiritual problem.
And I think we need to turn to God more than we do to Washington, but these are all symbols or symptoms of a deeper problem.
Abraham Lincoln said that the main cause, he believed, of the Civil War was that we’ve forgotten God. Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn, when he came to America, gave two great speeches. One at Harvard, which the left hated, and another at the Templeton Prize, both of which are reprinted in my book, by the way, warning the West of what happens to a culture that becomes radically secularized and that has lost its sense of purpose.
We used to have a common purpose in America. Nobody can say what that purpose is anymore.
Very few people can even define what it means to be an American. We’re all hyphenated Americans now.
One of the few things I ever agreed with Whoopi Goldberg [on] was when she said a few years ago, “I’m not an African American, I’m an American.”
Now that used to be the attitude of immigrants in the turn of the 20th century, who came from all over the world. They wanted especially their children to be fully integrated and immersed in the United States of America, not to bring a lot of their baggage with them from the countries they left.
If they thought those countries were so great, they wouldn’t have come here in the first place. So, I think all these things contribute to an erosion of culture and an erosion of who we are. I think we’ve forgotten who we are.
Stepman: So, obviously, one, you said, of your inspirations for this book was Sir John Glubb, who calculated actually the average age of empires and world superpowers was about 250 years, which of course leads us in American history to the date, July 4th, 2026. Not so long from now.
Of course, everything we’re seeing right now, I think, Americans are very much worried about the future of their country, not just of course the strength and prosperity of America, but whether the United States as it currently is will even exist at that point, certainly in its current form.
Can you talk about ways that America can turn this around? Of course, nothing in history is inevitable. There’s no eventual arc of history. Is there a way for Americans right now in 2020 to turn things around, to really start to change the direction of the civilization so that we potentially have another 250 years of greatness in the United States?
Thomas: Well, I think there are two ways. No. 1, which I think most people could identify with, is we’ve got to rescue the next generation. You can’t expect to put your children and grandchildren in … progressive schools, where they’re taught that they evolved from slime and their nearest relative is down at the zoo, and that’s why they like bananas on their cereal.
They rewrite the history of America. They teach that America is not a unique nation and not a great nation. And then they send them off to universities, where it’s even worse.
Now, we don’t send our troops to enemy countries like Iran, Russia, China, to be trained there. We train our troops here, and yet we send our children and grandchildren into the enemy’s camp, if you will, to be trained in ideas and ideology that is counter to what the Founders intended and what the Constitution says and undermines not only their intellectual foundation, but also their moral and spiritual growth, and expect them to come out of these places with the same kind of beliefs and ideology that we sent them into.
It’s the most crazy thing I’ve ever heard. And I’ve heard all kinds of excuses on why conservative and Christian parents send their kids into these places, but none of them make any sense. That’s one thing.
The other thing is, as many have said before, that we need a spiritual revival in this country. And for those who are Bible believers, this only comes from God himself. It doesn’t come from the politicians. It doesn’t come from Washington. It doesn’t come from think tanks or anywhere else.
If you look at the revival of 1857, it’s a great example of the thousands and thousands and thousands of people [who] were converted when it happened. And they all started living different lives. And that had a cultural impact. We’ve got it backwards. We think by electing the right people or reelecting the right people, things are going to get better.
In fact, it’s bottom-up. It’s not top-down. When the people, we the people, decide to live by different values and different objectives, then we’re going to see that reflected at the top. But as long as we continue to think that the answer is in government and in politics, it’s never going to work.
Lucas: Do you think we’re almost on an inevitable path toward extinction?
Thomas: I’m not a prophet or the son of one. I’m not walking around like you saw in an old cartoon with a sandwich board, “The end is near,” like a guy with a long, white beard. I’m just saying that history is a great teacher. And while some of these empires and nation-states like Rome, of course, lasted more than the 250 years that is the average that John Glubb describes.
They all follow the same pattern, no matter how long they lasted, because human nature never changes.
You can wear a suit or a toga. You can ride around in a horse and a cart, or in an airplane and an automobile. You can change your hairstyles. You can put on makeup or not, but inside, human nature is the same throughout history, and subject to the same temptations, and all of these other things I write about in the book.
So, you have to address human nature. Now, when I was growing up, I was taught three things by my parents. Inspiration, followed by motivation, followed by perspiration, improves any life, but now we flipped it. And it’s envy, greed, and entitlement.
We have income inequality. The notion that you make $2 and I make $1 that you owe me 50 cents to make it fair is socialism.
I interviewed a lot of wealthy and successful people as a young reporter. I didn’t envy them.
I didn’t envy their cars or their clothes or the amount of money they made. I asked them, where’d you go to school? What did you study? What’s your worldview? What’s your philosophy of life? I want to be like you someday.
But now the attitude is we have to, we have to bring down people who are successful and subsidize people who are not successful, and that kind of attitude gets you more unsuccessful people and fewer successful ones.
[There’s a] great line, a great quote from Calvin Coolidge. He said, “You don’t build up the weak by tearing down this strong.” I don’t think I’ve ever heard it put any better than that.
Stepman: So, what’s next? What happens if America can’t stave off this decline and collapse? Obviously, the United States, certainly in the last 75 years, has been the preeminent world superpower. We’ve been a source of both prosperity and, I think, hope for a lot of mankind and civilization.
What happens if the United States goes into this period of decline and perhaps other nations around the world—of course, many would point to communist China—become and sort of supplant the United States. What does this world look like without the United States in the position that it’s been for so long?
Thomas: Well, I think it would be a very different world. You look at all the good we have done in the world. The hospitals that have been built, the missionaries that have been sent.
You look at what happens even before there was a United States. The tribal wars, some of which still exist.
I think that we could, and again, I’m not a prophet, but we could become like the United Kingdom. England was once a great, great empire. I’ve got a chapter on them in my book. But now they’re a shadow of their former selves.
It used to be said of Britain that it had an empire on which the sun never set. Now, it’s a tiny country with, you’ve got Scotland now with a separation movement. They’ve lost all of these colonies. And it’s just a tiny shadow of its former self.
I think the United States could become that. And you mentioned China. … The rise of China, that atheistic state, but is becoming a major economic power and a military power in the world.
But if we don’t have the resolve to stand up against this sort of thing, and I’m not for intervention, I think the president’s done a really good job of pulling back from some of these wars that have been going on forever that has cost us so much money and blood and lives, but you can’t just unilaterally retreat from the world.
You have to be strong, and you have to have a credible deterrent. Otherwise, the totalitarians will take over.
So, I don’t know what’s going to happen in the next 20 years or so, but I know if we continue on this path that I write about in the book, it’s not going to end well.
Lucas: You mentioned Britain. That’s one of the more benevolent empires you wrote about in here, but most empires gained influence and expanded, based on expanding and gaining territory.
America’s influence has largely been based on spreading values. And even though we clearly have problems with morality, problems with culture, problems with debt, most of the expansion historically has been based on expanding positive values of democracy and freedom.
Could that make a difference? Could that help extend our distance a little longer?
Thomas: Well, people have to decide for themselves whether they wish to embrace democracy and freedom, and freedom of the press and pluralism and religious tolerance and all of these other values that we’ve held dear for so long.
We can’t impose it on others. We’ve tried that. We tried it in Vietnam. We’ve tried it in a number of other places, and it just doesn’t work unless sufficient numbers of people want it.
[President John] Kennedy started the Peace Corps. That was a very good thing. We can tell others. We can model before others. We can share with others why our system of a constitutional republic and capitalism works best for the most number of people, but we can’t impose it upon anybody, any more than you can impose your values or faith on me.
I have to choose those things after an examination of their validity. And so, I think we can continue to export the ideas and values that we have traditionally embraced in this country. But it’s up to others to decide that they want to live by those values, not us.
Lucas: Can you elaborate a little bit? You mentioned, I think, the importance of education, how a lot of young Americans have been, I think, miseducated whether or not what their parents want or not, their local public school and certainly in higher education, we’ve seen really, I think, an indoctrination of not just one generation, but multiple generations.
Can you give advice, especially to parents right now who are very concerned about … what their young people, what their children are learning in schools, what they can do right now to raise informed patriots in a time where the mass culture in this country seems very much against the moral values that you talk about, in bringing this country back.
You give them advice as to what they can do in this world that has so many counterweights to the right path.
Thomas: Let me share one of my favorite quotes from Barbara Bush, the former first lady, who said that our success as a nation, your success as a family, depends less on what happens in the White House than [on] what happens in your house.
She also said that men and women, if you have children, they must come first. Children are not just a tax deduction. They are people who need to be trained and inculcated with the values and faith and history of the United States that their parents believe in.
But I want to return to what I said earlier. You can’t expect them to have those things reinforced and embraced in their lives if you send them into an education system that so often teaches the opposite. It’s like oil and water. It’s like having a glass of milk and pouring water into the milk glass. It will dilute the milk. And if you pour the water long enough, it will replace the milk.
So, the analogy is, if you pour the water of secularism and progressivism into your child, that is what is eventually going to take the place of the virtues and values that you believe in and that you’ve taught them.
So, No. 1, the public school system is the last monopoly in this country. Every other monopoly has been broken up, from the phone company to you name it. You have choices on everything for delivery of packages, to just about everything. The only thing you don’t have choice on mainly, thankfully, the Supreme Court now has allowed school choice is the choice of where your children should go to school.
Various surveys in the minority communities have found that if minorities had the choice, they would send their kids to a better school, a better public school, a better private school, a better religious school.
They ought to have that choice. For the secular progressives who are so adamant about choice when it comes to abortion, why are they so against choice when it comes to education?
It just doesn’t make sense. Well, it does make sense from their perspective, because it’s the only way they could raise more secular progressives.
So, people say, well, I can’t afford it, but one of the side benefits, maybe the only side benefit to this pandemic is that so many people, so many young people are now being educated virtually and at home, and more and more people are discovering homeschooling as a result.
So, you just can’t dump them in day care or expect somebody else to bring them up, or you’re going to get “The 1619 Project” from The New York Times, rewriting history. You’re going to get secular progressive taught to your kids. We’ve got to rescue the next generation.
And again, Reagan said, we’re only one generation away from losing it all. So, if you want your kids to at least have the opportunity to turn out all right with the values that you have been teaching them and the faith that you’ve been infusing in them, and hopefully modeling before them, you’ve got to work at it.
You can’t get in shape by watching an exercise video. You got to go to the gym. And you can’t expect to have these set of values reinforced unless you actually do it yourself.
Lucas: We’re talking, again, with Cal Thomas, author of “America’s Expiration Date.” … I guess one more, just kind of piggybacking on my previous question, which I did refer to America’s positive influence in the world, spreading capitalism, democracy, freedom.
But based on what you’ve said, we have so much rejection even today from Americans about American values and what America stands for. Is that something that is just an extensive problem on any kind of influence we can have on the rest of the world?
Thomas: Well, you’ll notice that the people who are rejecting those values are people who are already here. The immigrants are not rejecting the values, or they would not want to come here.
So, I think you’ve got a whole generation of spoiled people who have never had to invest anything in this country. These people on the streets have not served in the military. They’ve not given anything back to the United States to make it a better nation.
If they think there are flaws in this country, let them work to repair those flaws. Let them start with themselves. Let them start with a stable marriage and home. Let them start with teaching their children right from wrong.
You look at the testimony of somebody like Ben Carson or the wonderful comments by the attorney general of Kentucky at the Republican National Convention. Or you look at Clarence Thomas, or you look at Thomas Sowell, or you look at so many other, not just African Americans, but other people who have come up through difficult circumstances. Wrong side of the tracks, as we used to say: single-parent home, a parent, a father who abandoned them when they were children, and yet they overcame, and we don’t teach those kinds of things anymore. We don’t talk about overcoming.
We talk about victimhood. And as long as you continue to perpetuate victimhood, you’re going to have more victims and you’re not going to have more overcomers. And so, while I always think I’m optimistic in some ways about the future of America, I’m pessimistic if we don’t turn this around, and we don’t have a lot of time left, in my view.
There’ve been a number of people who have said over the years that if America is to collapse, it’s not going to be because of an invading army. It’s going to be because we’ve committed suicide. And I think that’s what the Chinese communists are hoping for, [Russian President Vladimir] Putin is hoping for, and a lot of others in the world are hoping for, because they’re jealous of us, and they don’t want to embrace our values and our constitutional principles, because that would be a threat to their power.
Dictatorships cannot stand pluralism and tolerance. The very definition of dictatorship is the opposite. So, I think we need to come to our senses in America.
Each generation has a chance to renew those things that our parents and grandparents fought for in wars and endured through a Great Depression. Now it’s our turn. And if we blow it, there may not be another chance.
Stepman: Absolutely. Exactly. Well, again, the name of the book is “America’s Expiration Date: The Fall of Empires and Superpowers and the Future of the United States.” It is an incredibly timely read, especially important right now with everything that is happening in this country.
Cal Thomas, thank you so much for joining us on “The Right Side of History.” We very much appreciate it.
Thomas: My great pleasure. Thanks for having me.
Lucas: Thank you, sir.
Thomas: All right. Enjoyed it.