TCS Daily


El Norte, In the Year 2054

By James Pinkerton - January 12, 2004 12:00 AM

Washington Nuevo, Districto de Colombia, January 7, 2054 -- In our chronicle of the formation of the North American Union, we must pay special attention to the period half a century ago, at the beginning of the 21st century. In those critical years, it became clear that the logic of continental integration was unstoppable. And yet few saw the coming Paradox of Prosperity, which proved to have so many ironic, even tragic, manifestations. In fact, the most crucial event in our story occurred 50 years ago today.

In 2000, the second president of the Bush Dynasty, George W. Bush, won the White House. Outreach to Hispanic voters was a major plank in his "compassionate conservative" platform, and that solicitude to Latino concerns included Mexican in-migration. As he said during the 2000 campaign, "Family values don't stop at the Rio Grande." Indeed, the 43rd president's first meeting with a foreign leader, in February 2001, was with Mexican president Vicente Fox, whom Bush gallantly described as "an old friend."

The two amigos agreed on a joint plan to help ease the passage of people, goods, and services across the 2100-mile border between the countries, and also to begin to "normalize" the status of Mexicans living in America. A few sticklers about national sovereignty were upset; they noted that even before meeting Bush, the Mexican president had been bold about claiming extraterritorial influence north of the border. Fox liked to say that he was the leader of 118 Mexicans -- that is, 100 million in Mexico, plus another 18 million Mexican-Americans in the US.

However, both men's visionary hopes had to be put aside after the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001 -- at least for awhile.

Contrary to the expectations of many, the American economy continued to grow strongly, even after the combined whammies of 9-11, the deflation of the dotcom bubble, and the Afghan and Iraq wars. And so trade and trafficking of all kinds continued across the Rio Grande; at the end of 2003, American exports to Mexico were 20 percent higher than they had been at the end of 2001.

To be sure, Americans were preoccupied with border security, but observers of the time pointed out that the Canadian border posed much more of a security threat than the Mexican border. Moreover, they argued, the real threats to the US were overseas, in the remaining Axis of Evil -- plus, of course, France. And so, for all practical purposes, the pre-9-11 status quo prevailed, as Mexicans and others from Latin American countries made their way to El Norte.

As a result, Americans grew accustomed to seeing more Hispanic faces in the US, and just about everyone saw something to like. To many natives, the Hispanic influx was a source of pride, proof that America was upholding its historic mission, providing hope and uplift to teeming masses. After all, what good was America, in the minds of many, without ever-expanding "diversity?" Yet at the same time, some pointed to the relative success of Hispanics as proof that non-Asian "people of color" could make it just fine in America, thus belying the claims and pleadings of African Americans. To others, Hispanics were a harbinger of urban revitalization; to others, they were a source of cheap labor. Many natives decided that they needed to learn Spanish; some wanted to be trendily multicultural, and others wanted to learn enough to communicate better with their household help.

The result of all these changes was that it became harder to stigmatize newcomers, or even accurately to describe their status. The word "illegal alien" came to be regarded as racist, and so euphemisms, such as "undocumented workers," or "migrants," became fashionable. But once the stigma of illegality was taken away, the phenomenon itself increased. Thus it was that at the beginning of 2004, America was host to at least eight million illegal -- oops, undocumented -- workers from other countries.

On January 7, 2004, President Bush proposed a "reform" of immigration laws. The reaction of the "Paleo" Republicans -- they are now extinct, of course -- was immediate. Before he was struck down, Congressman Tom Tancredo, of Colorado, went into high dudgeon. But his voice, obviously, was snuffed out by the Neo-Republicans, who, in their zeal to marshal maximum support for the President's Iraq war policy, purged the GOP of all dissent.

Meanwhile, on the Democratic side, Massachusetts Senator Edward Kennedy, long his party's point man on immigration issues, dismissed Bush's proposal as "woefully inadequate."

But it was never the President's intention to propitiate either the right or the left; he was playing for the center, and that's what he got.

After Bush's historic landslide victory in the 2004 election, the legislative wrangling -- some called it a "bidding war" -- began in earnest. And so the familiar pro-immigrant coalition, consisting of the right-tilting business community plus the left-tilting minority community, found itself in the catbird seat. This left-right alliance was first observed in the 1980s; it was successful in enacting the Simpson-Mazzoli Act of 1986, which "amnestied" millions. And it reappeared again in the early 1990s, when the first President Bush signed the North American Free Trade Agreement, which was ratified by the first President Clinton. In those days, The Wall Street Journal routinely editorialized on behalf of a constitutional amendment declaring, "There shall be no borders." And while that libertarian view from the Reagan era was too radical for the statist 21st century, the vision of a borderless world always bewitched both haute capitalists and ethnic activists.

And so the basic logic of the North American Union became apparent. Some argued that the NAU was always inevitable, because the fates of the USA, Mexico, and Canada had always been intertwined. To put it another way, geography, as well as demography, is destiny.

It was during this same period that the European Union became a distinct entity, with a political will and bureaucratic life of its own, in Brussels. Still other geopolitical agglomerations, such as the Arab League, the Organization of African Unity, and Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation, also strove to achieve supranational status. Yet while the impetus for such political federations was frequently based on hard-nosed economics -- the desire, for example, to facilitate free trade -- a dreamy kind of politics was a big factor, too. Idealists of a certain stripe always yearned for a future when, as Tennyson wrote in 1842, "The war-drum throbb'd no longer, and the battle-flags were furl'd/In the Parliament of man, the Federation of the world." In other words, in the minds of many, economic and political harmony were inseparable, and rightly so.

But in the meantime, another force was at work, especially in America. That force was the quantum leap of the US economy. The beginning of this leap was Moore's Law, first mentioned in 1965 as the casual prediction of Intel's Gordon Moore, declaring that the power of integrated circuits would double every 18 months or so. As we now know, of course, that prediction proved out for a half-century, defying any number of predicted demises. And then came Moore's Law2, and the rest is history.

A few prophets of the Information Age, such as George Gilder, had been arguing since the 1980s that humanity was on the threshold of a radical increase in productivity and wealth -- what has come to be known as "The Long Boom." In 2000, another pair of prophets, James K. Glassman and Kevin Hassett, published a book called Dow 36,000, which seemed radically optimistic at first, but which now seems absurdly pessimistic. With all that computer power, and all that wealth being generated, age-old problems, such as poverty, were mostly eliminated. And newer problems, such as pollution, were made small, too.

To be sure, human reason was not put to work on every ill -- at least not in the US. George W. Bush's administration attempted to thwart the progress of stem cell research. Obviously, the only result of this bio-prohibition was to push the industry overseas. Later, American policy was brought into the 21st century, but by then, countries such as Singapore, South Korea, and, most portentously, China, had gained a substantial lead in the biotech industry, reaping windfalls of economic, therapeutic, and strategic advantage.

But as we all know today, it wasn't the economy or technology that caused so many problems for America and the North American Union in the 21st century; it was demography. Three related demographic factors had a seismic, even tectonic, impact on the US, in three ways.

The first demographic factor was the huge jump in the gross number of new Americans. Dramatic changes in immigration laws seemed reasonable enough in the early '00s, when only a million or two people were entering the US each year. But by the end of that decade, the combination of opening borders and accelerating economic growth made America the destination country for the rest of the world. Thus the population of the old 50 states has doubled in the last 50 years. Without a doubt, most of the new immigrants were eager to get jobs and work, but once they arrived here, they were also happy to partake in the social welfare benefits offered by a rich and generous country to active workers, as well as their passive dependents. At the turn of the last century, the US consistently "sweetened the pot" for all Americans, no matter what their status. To put it bluntly, a series of new programs -- an expanded Earned Income Tax Credit, a new prescription drug benefit, school vouchers -- all increased the enticement to come to America. The Golden Door really was golden, and the streets were paved with the same precious metal -- so why not get over here? Indeed, why not hire a lawyer, or a lobbyist, or a politician to enable new blocs of immigrants to stay and sup at the feasty table? And this was before the enactment of a deluxe national health care program, which President Bill Frist was proud to sign on the first day of his second term in office.

As America became one huge Houston, the flow of human migration jumped its traditional banks. It wasn't just poor Mexicans and other Latin Americans who wanted to come to the US; it was everyone, seemingly. After the spike of anti-Semitism in Europe, most of the hundreds of thousands of Jews fleeing that continent elected to come to the US, not to Israel.

The second factor in changing America was the change in its population, linguistically and culturally. In the 1980s, some natives on the political right made a concerted effort to establish "English Only" rules for cities, states, and the country as a whole. These pro-English efforts were popular at the grassroots level, but they were extremely unpopular at the elite level. In fact, politicians and judges in many jurisdictions were so eager to spike "English Only" that they mandated not only bilingualism on official documents, but polylingualism. The wisdom of the great sociologist Emile Durkheim -- "There can be no society which does not feel the need of upholding and reaffirming at regular intervals the collective sentiments and the collective ideas which make its unity and its personality" -- was not only ignored; it was actively derided.

The vanishing "Paleos" had always argued the need for a common language and culture, but their view was dismissed as hopelessly reactionary by newer factions on the right, as well as the left. Partisans for major business interests didn't really care whether young workers and consumers spoke English or not; it was easy enough for bosses and marketeers to shift into Spanish, or Tagalog, or Chinese. And partisans for the multiculturalists were perfectly happy seeing whole minority neighborhoods and communities isolated from the mainstream of American life, dependent instead on ethnic chieftains and ideologues for guidance.

Many well-meaning observers said that there was no need to worry about what was once quaintly called "assimilation," because television would provide new Americans with their communal and collective needs. So the US launched a vast experiment, in which shows such as "The Simpsons" were presumed to define what passed for a common culture. We all should have known that this lazy plan would fail when that cartoon show was dubbed into a dozen different languages, just for showing in the United States.

But at the beginning of this century, many conservatives preached a "What me worry?" approach to issues of national cohesion, putting forth two justifications -- both of which were proven wrong. The first Alfred E. Neumanesque justification was the idea that the free market itself would provide centripetal pressure on people to "get with the program." But one of the principal tenets of capitalism is also the first rule of salesmanship: "The customer is always right." That is, if the customer wants centrifugal multiculturalism, that's what he or she should get. And the second Neumanesque justification was the idea that so long as Republicans controlled the national government, the problem of centrifugal multiculturalism and ethnic separatism could never get out of hand. Yet these conservatives underestimated the power of judges to rewrite the laws, and they also underestimated the alacrity with which even Republican officials would pander to pressure-group demands for more "culturally sensitive" instruction. That's how, for example, the "No Child Left Behind" legislation of 2002 morphed into "Ningún niño se fue detrás." Even so, Bushite Republicans managed to use the carrots and sticks embodied in the legislation to force school districts to improve instruction. Yes, these federal efforts violated state's rights, but yes also, they worked -- at least for awhile. But the whole conservative strategy of trying to centralize education backfired disastrously when power in Washington changed partisan hands. During the administration of President Maria Shriver, the same Uncle Sam that once demanded higher test scores became an Uncle Samantha, seeking superior performance on new metrics, such as diversity-awareness and homotolerance. And so, the weight of the federal government forced imposed an Inquisition-level series of programs to combat a proliferation of real and imagined sins, all ending in "ism" or "phobia."

The third demographic factor was the political change. For years, Americans had been assured that it was OK to abandon civics education; experts acted as if young people would pick up the basics of representative government on the street, or on TV. But watching "Court TV," we learned, is no substitute for reading the Constitution -- or having at least an inkling of what that document was all about.

Here, the changes within the conservative movement were of no help. The late '90s witnessed the beginning of the attitudinal "South Park Republicans," who were little interested in traditional understandings of conservatism -- for one thing, because they didn't understand it themselves. And so the names of such conservative and free-market icons as Locke, Smith, and Spencer all slipped down the memory hole. Even famous Americans, such as Jefferson and Madison, were neglected. The result, of course, was a retreat from the principles of republicanism and a headlong tumble into majoritarianism. The Founders would have horrified at the thought that America was a democracy; as Ben Franklin said in Philadelphia in 1787, the Constitutional convention has given each American "a Republic -- if you can keep it."

What the Founders feared most was "caesarism," defined as a man on a white horse, out to seize power through charismatic or revolutionary glory, ignoring the delicate workings of the clocklike Constitution. The first Caesar, Julius, came back from conquering Gaul as a national hero; he was determined to use his heroic status to put an end to the Roman Republic and install himself as an emperor -- maybe even as a deity. Two thousand years later, that's partially what happened in the United States; its Pentagon won a string of military victories, and each victory emboldened another set of glory-seeking generals to reach for the brass ring of political power, so as to rule over them all.

In addition, the Founders' 18th century mind would have been staggered by the sheer size of the new America. As Edmund Burke (a prominent British conservative who was openly sympathetic to the rebellious Americans) observed in 1766, "There is not any more difficult subject for the understanding of men than to govern a Large Empire upon a plan of Liberty."

But such concern for reference and proportion was mostly forgotten in the 21st century. The big issues early in the '00s were managing the surging prosperity and fighting overseas wars. Amidst economic plenty and military necessity, little regard was paid to lesser preoccupations, no matter how important they might prove to be in the longer term.

In fact, the Middle Eastern Wars served to complete the weave of Hispanics into the American tapestry, just as the Civil War of the 19th century had sewn the Irish into the national psyche. Just as the legend of the Irish Brigade's valiant sacrifice at Fredericksburg softened attitudes toward "Papists," so the legend of "green card" soldiers in Iraq, who fought for a country in which they couldn't vote, moved many to an embracing emotional response, both personally and politically. Such heightened military sensitivity, of course, opened the way to the election of President Ricardo Sanchez, the hero of Operation Iranian Freedom.

So these three factors -- numerical, cultural, political -- helped set the framework for the formal creation of the North American Union. An NAU made sense, of course, only at a time when some 75 million Americans held dual citizenships.

But even though the United States was poised for a new integration, it still took a massive shock to convince Americans to submerge their independent United States into the NAU.

That shock, as we all remember, was the turn in American fortunes toward the end of the Wars of Moral Clarity, during the administration of the last Bush to sit in the Oval Office -- and also the last president to sit anywhere in the old White House. To be sure, the US gave better than it got in the subsequent WMD exchanges with the Archipelago of Evil, but that didn't change the fact that Washington DC was destroyed, and that radiation poisoning made the city uninhabitable thereafter.

The United States, suddenly feeling intensely vulnerable, rushed to help establish the NAU. It was time. Hispanics on both sides of the US-Mexican border wanted to see some sort of ratification of "Mexamerica," and of course, most Canadians had already fled south to the US anyway, fleeing the dirigiste policies of the Quebecois.

But in the wake of the Second 9-11, America found itself in a weak bargaining position with its own constituent parts. The Mexicans insisted on a new location for the capital, a place that would symbolize the shifting power relationship among the peoples of North America. After all, majority rules. The result was the creation of a new capital for the new North American Union, in a new federal district, along the banks of the Rio Grande, in between the NAU states of Texas and Tamaulipas. The historically minded noted the same logrolling process had led to the establishment of the first District of Columbia, on a compromise location between north and south. And while the move from the Potomac to the Rio Grande might not have seemed to many like a good compromise, the Spanish speakers had the power of the ballot box -- in this case, political values stopped at the Rio Grande. And there were no hoary notions of small "r" republicanism to stop this exercise of raw, majoritarian clout.

Not so long ago the Rio Grande was a frontier river, barricaded by the Americans. But today, it is not at the periphery -- it is the core. On its banks is Washington Nuevo, Districto de Colombia, symbolizing the New Continental Order, stretching from the Bering Strait to the Isthus of Panama. (Yes, one irony of the NAU is that its frontier has been pushed south, to include Belize, Honduras, Guatemala, El Salvador and Panama, all the way to the edge of the continent of South America, because the land bottlneck south of the Canal was judged to be the optimum line upon which to defend North America against further influxes from South America.)

So the old United States of America is hardly recognizable anymore. The old 50 states are richer beyond anybody's imaging a half century ago, as is the whole NAU, thanks to energetic redistribution policies. But at the same time, Americans haven gotten into a war rut, and have had a hard time getting out -- which is one more reason they threw in with the Spanish-speakers, because they tend to make fiercer fighters. The downside is that Hispanics, true to their own historic culture, seem to prefer statism and paternalism -- although many resentful "Anglos" speak derisively instead of "caudilloism," or "Peronism." (Clearly, it is time to invoke the Shriver Rules against racism and ethnnocentrism.)

However, it is apparent that the excrescence of state power in the NAU in recent years has notably slowed the economy of late; some hold that economic growth has fallen below the rate of population growth, although, sadly, government statistics are no longer to be trusted. Meanwhile, inflation and interest rates rise, as the value of the NAU stock and bond markets fall.

Which leaves us with one sure indicator that something is rotten in the billion-person NAU: the politicians here are looking, once again, to territorial expansion as a substitue for economic expansion. That's an old trick, to squelch consumerist discontent with nationalist fervor. Yet it usually works.

So goodbye NAU, hello AAU -- the All American Union, from the North Pole to the South Pole.

Yes, as we look back to the early 00's, it's been a wild half century. And to think, it all started with a little immigration reform -- 50 years ago today. That may seem like a small factor upon which so much history hinged, but there's nothing more important in the history of a country than the population of a country.


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