For a political junkie, the Dubai ports debacle has been a bit like the movie “Pulp Fiction”—just one freaky story inside another, unfolding at a rapid pace and leading to an unexpected ending that made no darn sense and yet was really quite satisfying emotionally. I give it two thumbs way up.
Unfortunately for the President, he played the part of “Marcellus Wallace” in “Port Fiction.” He talked tough at the start of the whole thing, but really took it hard in the end. (Bada bing!) And along the way we got to see Chuck Schumer support racial profiling, Hillary Clinton claim to be concerned about national security, Lawrence Kudlow play the (Arab) race card, Fred Barnes complain that some conservatives were too cantankerous, and Rush Limbaugh congratulate his own audience for defeating him. Now that’s a movie that should have got an Oscar!
Two of the subplots really stood out in my mind though. One was how eagerly the disciples of “free” trade took to attacking the conservative base as a bunch of xenophobic ignoramuses storming the harmless castle Globalstein with torches and pitchforks. That sort of animosity couldn’t be over just one relatively minor business deal for Dubai. I’m sensing that the Beltway Boys and the Wall Street Wonks have been entertaining some animosity against Main Street and the Heartland for some time.
Whatever their motivation, they came across as nothing less than petty and absurd. The restructuring of the world economy and the American legal landscape by the proponents of free trade over the last two decades has been nothing short of a revolution—and it was all made possible, ultimately, by the votes of the fly-over country conservatives with whom Kudlow and company have shared a big tent for so long.
And yet at the first sign of hesitation or reluctance to indulge further on mom and pop’s part, the free trade faithful turned on them with epithets and disdain. According to some pinstriped pundits, the most open nation on earth, at the most internationalist time in its history, is suddenly and dismissively labeled “xenophobic,” “isolationist,” “protectionist,” “nativist,” “racist” and “ignorant” of the fact that world is global, or some such insight. Given 99% of everything they want, some free traders turned petulantly on their enablers over the 1% they didn’t get.
This behavior is very familiar to anyone who has small children. You can take them to the park, the mall, the museum, a game, an arcade, an ice cream shop, McDonald’s and Chuck E Cheese’s, then after spending the whole day and $200 on them, you tell them it’s time to go home and they explode into tears and theatrics while flopping about on the floor calling you “a meanie,” which is like “xenophobic,” but without the overeducated pretense.
And what was the tone-deaf expectation behind conservatives of any stripe, pin or otherwise, playing the race card in an internal political debate? Perhaps, like an abused child who grows up to be a child abuser, the name callers thought that they might get the same sort of instant capitulation from their base that they are used to giving to Democrats and the media when they themselves are accused of racism—or of just having used the word “niggardly” in a college essay once.
Way to solidify the base! Why not just say that Republicans are "a pretty monolithic party. They all behave the same. They all look the same. It’s pretty much a white Christian party," or "The Republicans are not very friendly to different kinds of people"? When some in the party start sounding like Howard Dean while bashing the rest of it, it could be time to take a deep breath.
The second subplot that really stood out to me, is how clueless many in the Republican Party are to the true source of public misgiving about the port deal. This does not bode well for avoiding a repeat of the debacle in the near future. I’m going to go out on a limb here and say that the average voter does not normally concern himself with the minutiae of cargo management and port personnel. So why the big opinion all of a sudden over Dubai Ports World?
Well, in my opinion this is sort of like an argument in a marriage. It may have started over a specific incident, but it’s really about something else and has been building for a long time.
This minor uprising was about a general feeling that, whatever merits free trade, open borders, and corporate globalism may have financially, they are often not good for the nation in many ways that fail to be accounted for in the theoretical models of economists. Free trade fails to take account of cultural consequences, and it places no value on concepts such as national loyalty. To the value-free traders, labor is simply a commodity, and people are interchangeable parts. And they are entirely correct—economically speaking. A widget is a widget, and the cheaper you can get them made, the better.
But the problem is that all nations are more than just economic systems. They are each somebody’s home. And each has a culture, and a language, and a set of common ideals that they want protected—even more than they want another 0.3% added to next year’s GDP. Some things matter more than the economic opportunity cost we pay for having them. The American Revolution, for example, was bad for the economy while it was under way. But that was not really the point of the whole thing, was it?
The emotion surrounding the ports deal, and illegal immigration, and outsourcing, and homeland security and a dozen other aspects of breakneck international economic integration is no longer simply a quiet misgiving. It is rapidly being formed into a single coherent message from average citizens to those in power—both on the right and on the left- that see it as their job to make sure the “inevitable” rise of a single world economic entity actually happens. People are saying, “Stop!
They’re saying “OK, we’ve tried it your way and it never seems to end. No amount of globalization, tolerance, equalization, outsourcing, internationalism, interventionism, human smuggling, and security risk is ever enough. There is always a push for more—even before the last round has proven itself wise or foolish. Treaty piles upon treaty, migration upon migration, integration upon integration. Now people want a break and a reassessment. They’re not sure they are against it all. They’re just no longer sure they’re still for it.
It is not Xenophobia. It is Xenonausea. People are sick of having the whole world shoved down their throats at once and being told it tastes like ice cream. They are sick of every street corner and parking lot being filled with criminal aliens waiting to work off the books and outside the laws that are applied so enthusiastically to actual Americans. They are sick of pressing “1” for English. They are sick of being at war with foreign terrorists and simultaneously being economically and demographically bound more tightly to the nations producing these terrorists. They are sick of being told that the world is global or flat or smaller or at their doorstep or all coming for dinner on Tuesday.
They are sick of hearing that America is just an economic opportunity zone and not a distinct nation, a culture—their home. They are sick of being told that human beings are interchangeable parts, that the nation-state is passé, that there are some jobs that Americans just won’t do, that there are some contracts that Americans just won’t bid, and that any cost that cannot be measured in money cannot be very important. They are sick of having the world purposely knit together in a tighter tangle everyday and then being told we are so entangled that America must now run the whole world and solve all its problems. And they are sick of being called ignorant and racist and xenophobic just for having the temerity to raise questions when abstract trade theory conflicts with their common sense.
And they want a break. They want some breathing room and some limits; and they don’t want to hear elitist children cry themselves hoarse after all they’ve been given already.
If absolute globalization really is inevitable, it doesn’t need such a vociferous lobby. It will happen at its own organic pace. Trying to force it prematurely will just cause a backlash here and abroad—as it already has from Van Nuys to Venezuela to Vladivostok.
And if it is not inevitable, then it needs to be justified beyond the boardroom and the lecture hall. It may not be something that everyone wants to pay the costs of, whatever benefits it may bring to our bank accounts and stock exchanges.
Soon, Congress will consider a new illegal immigration bill. Failure to acknowledge the new mood in the country could break the Republican Party.