I am writing this column from Rome, Italy, where I stopped on the way to Greece, the country which originally invented democracy. Ours is currently in bad shape, obviously, so I thought I'd see whether Pericles and Plato had any ideas as to how we might get democracy back on track.
They are dead, naturally.
But they weren't brain-dead, which is more than I can say for our present leadership, national and state. As I write this, former FBI Director James Comey is delivering more than enough evidence that President Donald Trump obstructed justice.
This is about as surprising as the news that a chimp left alone in a Lladró store for five months would break some of the priceless porcelain figurines. The Italians I've talked to have no use at all for Donald Trump. They had their own swaggering aggressive strongman 80 or so years ago, Benito something.
That ended badly, just in case you weren't paying attention in high school world history.
True, Italy has had a few nutty leaders since. Perhaps the closest to what we've been going through was their several bouts with Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi, who also had three wives and seamy financial connections. In the end, he was convicted of paying for "bunga-bunga" with a 17-year-old.
That was eventually reversed on technicalities. Like Trump, Berlusconi was a billionaire clown who tried to play footsie with Vladimir Putin, but there was a difference.
Nobody, even Berlusconi, ever pretended that he was a world leader or that Italy is a world power. He was zero threat to start a war with anyone other than his wives.
Incidentally, if you want to know what's really going on in the world, or how other countries see us, the best way to do that is by reading the British newsmagazine The Economist, which is vastly superior to any newsweekly published here.
The Economist sees the world through an essentially free-market lens, so you might expect them to look favorably on conservative governments. But the magazine (whose editors insist on calling it a weekly newspaper) is also fundamentally committed to sanity, and week after week, their worldwide staff of reporters have made it clear that the most powerful country in the world is now being governed by a corrupt crazy person.
That, indeed, is how the rest of the world sees us — and the ongoing worldwide story is that of everyone else on this planet struggling to cope with the facts that the United States of America has become unhinged. I fear we will be paying for this long after Trump is gone and the Oval Office fumigated.
Meanwhile, back in Lansing, you could say our legislature is also corrupt and crazy. That would indeed be true for some of them, but mostly, they ought to be seen as corrupt, utterly incompetent, and stupid. We do know this:
The lawmakers running the show hate teachers — and absolutely love weapons of any kind, the way a heroin addict loves the last fix of fentanyl he shoots in his veins.
Earlier this month, the big story was a possible shutdown of Michigan government when the present fiscal year ends Sept. 30. Hardline Republicans, led by Senate Majority Leader Arlan Meekhof, were insisting on blowing up the current system under which new teachers get a so-called hybrid pension, which combines a small fixed benefit with a 401(k) plan.
This plan, which replaced a full pension program a few years ago, is fully funded and solvent. But Meekhof, who never went to college, seems to loathe those who did.
He wanted to take away their entire guaranteed pensions. Gov. Rick Snyder, who after all is an accountant, opposed this. That's not necessarily because he cares about teachers and education, but because the costs of terminating the plan would have cost the taxpayers more than doing the right thing.
Eventually, they seem to have reached a compromise which would involve weakening the teachers' pensions a little more slowly. The net effect, however, will be the same: We are making it harder and harder for young people to even consider teaching as a career, which is helping to destroy our future.
That seems to be fine by our legislative leaders, by the way. Just in case you need further proof of what they are, their higher education budget this year calls for Wayne State University, where I teach, to get an increase of barely 1.6 percent, less than any other state university.
This is terribly unfair. In fact, you can make a good case that Wayne State should get more than any other state-funded school. Our students are not the children of the rich, but largely the first in their families ever to go to college.
Most of them work. They know this is their chance to better themselves. They are least able to afford college, but somehow they do. We also have the highest proportion of African-American and immigrant students of any school.
Which is the problem. To the Republicans in charge in Lansing, we are the "Black Democrat College."
So they are more than happy to screw us. By the way, while the Michigan Senate worked on weakening education, the Michigan House of Representatives was instead busy with an issue that was far more important than roads or jobs.
They were passing a law that gets rid of the requirement that a person carrying a concealed weapon get a permit and have some training before sticking a hand cannon under their coats. State Rep. Lee Chatfield, the religious nut from Levering who earlier tried to abolish the state income tax, said the state constitution was the only permit anyone should need.
Actually, there may be something redeeming about this; sooner or later, a few chuckleheads who don't bother to learn how to handle a weapon are likely to shoot themselves.
Unfortunately, a few more will shoot their own children, but apparently that's a small price to pay for distorting the meaning of the Second Amendment to please the lobbyists of the NRA.
And if all that wasn't bad enough...
Frogs aren't formally listed as an endangered species in Michigan, but biologists have been increasingly concerned about their decreasing numbers, as developers destroy their natural wetland habitats. But don't expect your legislators to care.
Earlier this month, the Michigan Senate overwhelmingly passed a bill to allow hunters to kill frogs year-round, and also said for the first time that it was just fine to use artificial light to spear them in the middle of the night.
Those who backed this bill justified it by claiming that it would help promote outdoor recreation. After all, everyone knows your penis will grow one inch and you'll be totally irresistible if you kill frogs under a floodlight late at night.