Principalities & Powers

A Banner With a Strange Device

As the House of Representatives slithered toward its vote on the North American Free Trade Agreement last November, the regiments of lobbyists who were peddling the pact set up their tents in what the New York Times described as "a stately conference room on the first floor of the Capitol, barely an elevator ride away from the action in the House chamber." There, amidst the high-tech opulence in which the public interest is bought and sold, the real rulers of the United States bargained and bickered over the economic future and national sovereignty of the country. According to the Times' account of the scene, the "stately conference room" was plastered with banners that proclaimed the ethic of the New World hog trough into which the lobbyists were bartering the nation and that were intended to inspire those who required inspiration with a firm moral grounding for the bribery and lies by which they earn their bread. One of the banners tells us all we need to know about both NAFTA and the larger issues that stood on the auction block that week. "We defend," it blared, "and we build a way of life not for America alone, but for all mankind." There was a time not too long ago when such banalities of humanitarian universalism were left to gather cosmic dust on the surface of the moon, but today they are taken seriously as formulas by which the managed evanescence of the United States is...

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