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How the West Was Lost

CAFTA and the Disassembling of America

by NIRANJAN RAMAKRISHNAN

I am working on my computer when I discover that the House has passed CAFTA. I turn on the TV for the eleven-o-clock news. The local channels are full of reports…about an uptown homicide. On cable, both Fox and MSNBC each have a specialist standing near a pond in Aruba talking with great earnestness (I have the sound turned off). On CNN, Paula Zahn is interviewing an expert on the size of the debris from the space shuttle.

The House has just passed CAFTA, and the discussion on television is all about Natalee Holloway and flakes of foam.

CAFTA comes twelve years after NAFTA, about which every dire prediction — job losses, erosion of the manufacturing base, mounting trade imbalances — has been borne out in spades. Against this background the Senate voted 54-45 for the bill a few days back, and the House
has followed with 217-215.

Watching CSPAN the following day when the Senate re-voted on the revised version of the CAFTA bill after just 20 minutes of debate, I saw a couple of senators extoll the bill, saying how it would remove tariffs on American exports to Central America. I was reminded of an old remark by my cousin, "If we had ham, we could have ham and eggs —- if we had eggs!" When all the manufacturing has fled, Senator, I felt like shouting, what do you plan to export? Like the morning-after pill, Democrats complained the next day about the House vote (took place at midnight, was kept open for forty-five minutes until a majority was….assembled), complaining how the rules were bent after the original tally actually rejected CAFTA by five votes. Why did they then not stage a sit-in or register a vociferous protest? One Democratic senator referred to this ploy, but when the vote came, I counted many Democrats — Dianne Feinstein, both the Washington Senators, and the Old Reliable, Joe Lieberman himself, all voting for CAFTA.

Any other country would have made a huge stink about a re-enactment of such a fire-sale of its wealth. But not   
America of the New American Century. If Socrates died cheerfully sipping hemlock from a chalice, we will likely reach our end propped up on a couch, watching the latest ‘breaking news’ of a high-speed car chase or a disappeared bride, maybe even to the background music of ‘Suicide is Painless’.

Unlike many others, I have somehow admired President Bush for his knack, like Mr. Dick (he of David Copperfield, not he of the undisclosed location), of revealing profound truths even when appearing to speak in toungues. Remember his interview last year where he said he didn’t think something like the ‘War on Terror’ could be won? Or during the 2000 campaign when he thundered, "They think Social Security is some kind of a Federal Program"?

But his purest vision of clarity came some weeks back, when he introduced ‘disassembling’ back into the popular lexicon. Everyone laughed at his not knowing that the word he wanted was ‘dissembling’.

But they were misunderestimating him once more. He was right. Disassembling is mot juste. My only regret is that he didn’t save the word till January — he could have uttered just that one word and delivered the shortest and most accurate State of the Union speech in history.

Disassembling covers everything that’s happening around us. The government’s sole purpose seems to be to dismantle every protection the country has, leaving the borders unguarded, splurging on an empire project that sputters even before getting under way, and financing foreign reveries and domestic revelries with borrowed money hiding the bottom of a Hubbardian treasure chest. The loyal opposition — loyal not to the nation’s interests but to focus groups — silent or spouting cant while freedoms are freely curtailed, jobs vanish abroad, and economic security disappears. The press is rotted (I have reported only the facts in the opening paragraph), and a once proud people, now riven by anxiety at one level and addled by a half-century of don’t-worry-be-happy television at another, have no idea what to do after two generations of systematic alienation from politics. The notion of a nationalist bourgeoisie seems to have vanished too, and big industry is no longer American in any meaningful sense, being indifferent to American plight in more ways than a Bermudan or Caymanian registered address alone might suggest.

All this is accompanied (and accelerated) by an equally rapid ‘disassembling’ at the cultural level. Whatever one’s view of Ricardo’s theory of  comparative advantage, there is no  doubt that having one language — and that language be English — is one of America’s major assets. In fact, the Indian Prime Minister (incurring criticism at home for obliquely praising the Raj) recently thanked the British for the legacy of English (Doubtless he wasn’t just being grateful for Shakespeare and Milton:  on a more prosaic level, No English, No Call Centers!). The Chinese and Japanese have introduced English in the primary classes. America has chosen this opportune moment to exalt a multiculturalism of the most imbecilic variety. What Me Advantage? seems the Newmanesque cry.

I saw a hospital bill the other day. Jostling the English version was the Spanish, followed by the Russian and Vietnamese ones. I have seen utility notices with information in seven languages. These are not excesses by some politically correct government bureaucrat. One is a large private hospital, the other a big utility company. Within the last year our local Home Depot redid all its signs, adding Spanish text below the English on all the signs. The large stores at our mall have done the same thing, as has our DMV. Neither the political nor the cultural, and certainly not the business, leadership seems to realize the chaos that lies at the end of this path, or seems to care.

"Watch carefully", said the old Russian nobleman in Dr. Zhivago. "You are seeing the last half of the last cigar in Moscow!"
With the CAFTA Senate vote today, I felt I was witnessing one of the last nails being hammered into the casket of twentieth century USA.

I can report with confidence that this hammer and this nail at least were both Made in America.

NIRANJAN RAMAKRISHNAN is a writer living on the West Coast. He can be reached at njn_2003@yahoo.com. His blog is at http://njn-blogogram.blogspot.com.