A recent OpEd piece in The Washington Post by journalist Dana Milbank, carried the same title as this post … yes, I ‘borrowed’ it from him. The premise of the article was that this 115th Congress is the most authoritarian in the history of the United States. An excerpt from Mr. Milbank’s column …
“Hillary Clinton warns of a “full-fledged crisis in our democracy.” Rex Tillerson, the former secretary of state fired by President Trump, now warns that “American citizens are on a pathway to relinquishing our freedom.” (Too bad he didn’t say so when he was on the job.)
They are both correct, in a sense, but right now the fear of the United States going totalitarian doesn’t feel quite right. This crowd is too clownish to be Stalinist. Rather, the United States is turning into a banana republic …”
That is precisely what our friend Roger has been saying all along. And he (Milbank, not Roger) goes on to cite some specific examples, such as …
“The president of the United States orders the Justice Department to investigate his political opponents. The Justice Department complies.
The president, The Post reports, personally urged the postmaster general to double the rate it charges Amazon, apparently because he doesn’t like the coverage by The Washington Post, owned by Amazon founder Jeffrey P. Bezos.”
But rather than dwell on the article, which you can read from the link above, I wanted to find out what, exactly, constitutes a ‘banana republic’, so I did some research. Technically, the term ‘banana republic’ refers to a country that is politically unstable with an economy dependent upon the exportation of a limited-resource product, e.g. bananas, minerals, etc. But in today’s conversations, it became an epithet for a country whose governing institutions are corrupt, arbitrary, and generally inadequate. Clownish.
I came across a list of ten criteria that defines a banana republic in the modern day usage. The United States, at this point under the leadership of Donald Trump, fits the bill for 8 of the 10, the only two missing being ‘torture’ and ‘high unemployment rates’. I think we should take a look at these points. As I researched, pondered, and wrote, this piece well exceeded my self-imposed outer limit of 1,200 words, even though I trimmed as much as I felt it appropriate to trim. Thus, this became, over the course of a few days, a two-part series. This is Part I, and Part II will follow this afternoon. I also subtly changed the direction of my thoughts as I read, studied and learned more. Where feasible, I have included links for those who may wish to learn more. Please forgive my wordiness, but I do hope you will give some thought to what I am about to say.
#1 – Rising income inequality and a shrinking middle class. This isn’t a new complaint, for five years ago, in 2013, a well-researched report in the Journal of Economic Perspectives asserted that the U.S. now has the highest income inequality and lowest upward mobility of any country in the developed world. They found that while the picture grows increasingly bleak for American’s embattled middle-class, “the share of total annual income received by the top 1% has more than doubled from 9% in 1976 to 20% in 2011.” And earlier this year, a report by the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development OECD also found that the U.S. now leads the developed industrialized world in income inequality.
#2 – Unchecked Police Corruption and an Ever-Expanding Police State. Let me just throw out a few names for you, folks, starting with Trayvon Martin, Philando Castile, Samuel DuBose, Freddie Gray, Sandra Bland, Walter Scott, and the list goes on … and on. Unarmed black men and women who were killed by police only for the crime of … being black. And in every case except that of Walter Scott, the police who did the killing walked away scot free. But more … add to that the way immigration raids by ICE are conducted, the way drug raids are conducted, enhancements to FISA, and you see a pattern of an authoritarian police force.
#3 – Highest Incarceration Rate in the World. The U.S. has an incarceration rate of 737 per 100,000! The next highest is Russia, with 615 per 100,000 people. Does this mean that U.S. citizens are the most criminal in nature? No, not at all. Much of it is due to the ‘war on drugs’, which has emphasized draconian sentences for nonviolent offenses. The prison industrial complex has become quite a racket. From prison labor to construction companies to companies specializing in surveillance technology, imprisoning people is big business in the United States—and the sizable prison lobby has a major stake in keeping draconian drug laws on the books.
#4 – Corrupt Alliance of Big Business and Big Government. Need I say more than gun-makers, NRA and Republicans in Congress? Consider Benito Mussolini’s definition of fascism: the merger of state and corporate power. Consider the previously unchecked power of the too-big-to-fail banks. And now, with Trump rolling back the Dodd-Frank banking regulations, we are returning to that state. Banks, oil & coal companies, the gun manufacturers and others are holding hands with the Trump administration and the 115th Congress as regulations to protect the environment and the people are demolished.
To be continued …