The Banana States of America — Part I

dana milbankA 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 …

24 thoughts on “The Banana States of America — Part I

  1. Frightening. I live south of the border, where (latest count) 90 people are killed every day. 25,000 last year, that should lead us to 32,400 this year. I always try to find solace in the fact that France (my home country) or the US (where I went to grad school) were possible shelters, where the rule of Law was still in place, but… France is still not out of a spiral of mediocrity and the US is dragging the world into war?
    Donald Tramp has destroyed the very fabric of America: the word given. America (so to speak) is not a country. It is a contract. The fathers of the American Independence had read Rousseau and the other French philosophers and built the country on a contract: you follow the rules, work hard, and you can get as high as you can. The American Dream. But that is based on one thing: my word is my bond. You do business in or with the US according to the rules. You sign a contract (Treaty of Paris, Iran, whatever,) you honour that contract. You set a business meeting with Mr. Kim, you keep the meeting.
    But Mr Tramp? He tears away any contract he doesn’t like. What is the conclusion abroad: America’s word cannot be trusted anymore… The American contract has been torn to pieces. Trashed. Inside America and out.
    So, a Banana republic? Yes. Getting close.
    Thank you for your thoughts.
    Question: Where are the Democrats? Gone into hiding?

    Liked by 4 people

    • You are so right … we have let our allies down and Trump has destroyed whatever good reputation this nation had around the globe. For a while, he was, and thus we were, a laughingstock, but when he withdrew from the Paris Accord, the world stopped laughing. Now we are simply seen as bumbling, bungling, untrustworthy and a pariah among nations.
      Where are the democrats? In part, I believe they are still licking their wounds from 2016. I have long been urging them to get some cohesion, find some good candidates with solid platforms and without baggage that can be used against them, and stir some excitement, some enthusiasm. So far, I’m not seeing it. As for the democrats in Congress, there are only 2-3 who routinely speak up, and their voice is not enough by themselves.
      Thanks for stopping by! I hope you’ll pop in again!

      Liked by 3 people

      • i’ll do my best Jill. Licking their wounds for over a year? They should have new candidates, completely new faces and platforms at the ready. Otherwise, the Real Tramp will keep majority in both houses. God forbid.
        have a nice weekend all the same.

        Liked by 3 people

        • Thank you, and Welcome! I fear that with some of his recent moves to take huge chunks out of ACA and to nominate a justice to the Supreme Court who believes that basically the prez should be above the law, he is quickly turning himself into a dictator while we stand on the sidelines with our mouths hanging open, scratching our heads and asking “wh-wh-whaat happened?”


  2. Jill, your list reminds me of Bill Maher’s list of ten things that a dictator does. I think Trump is up to nine. He needs to be called on the carpet more by leaders within his party. Keith

    Liked by 2 people

  3. Let us be fair about the point? This so-called banana republic situation has been going on, since WW2. Maybe before? Once the bankers got their hooks into the US central bank. It’s been instigated. The main strength of USA has been food output and industrial. The industrial was sold off into China and the food production is in decline, because of over productions. Mechanization helped, yet since most of the world now has that? The advantage has been in lost. As for Mr. Trump your focus on his poor qualities, is obsessive. You seem blind to the fact of how Democratic Presidents have not swerved from the agenda, of these same bankers. Politicians lie … is an oxymoron. Cheers Jamie

    Liked by 1 person

    • I would argue the point that it has been ongoing since WWII or before. I think that during the Civil Rights era we did make a number of strides. Are we not reversing those strides? Maybe, at least to an extent, but for a time we were improving and doing some things right. Your argument, I think, takes into account only economical viewpoints, and not humanitarian values. True, politicians sometimes lie, but I’ve never known of one for whom the truth was as vague a concept as Trump. And as for blaming the bankers … I’m still unclear on that one, my friend. There is blame enough to go ’round, and likely bankers play a role. But others, too, must bear a portion of the blame.


      • While America has many problems, I don’t concur with the comment that the Banana Republic has been going on since WWII. The 1950s were a period of significant growth and employment that benefitted a booming middle class. The downside that was rectified some in 1964 and 1965 is people of color did not get the same opportunities under Jim Crow. Unfortunately, this continues today to a noticeable degree.

        The other inflection point is the tax changes, technology gains, offshoring jobs and purposeful denigration of unions in the 1980s which began a much wider differential in wages for the haves and have nots Our poverty and declining middle class have been created long before Trump. To your point Jill, while he appealed to the disenfranchised, his changes are more heavily weighted to helping those at the top. He is also ignoring the biggest concern for jobs which is technology gains. And, by retrenching from the world, he is foresaking our allies who will go on without us. Our allied relationships are a strength which he is frittering away. Keith

        Liked by 2 people

        • Thanks Keith! Yes, I disagree that we have been on a downhill slide since WWII, but realize we have been on this path for more than just the 16 months Trump has been in office, too. But Trump, I believe, is doing more damage at a more rapid rate than any other 3 presidents combined. And you are right … there are a number of areas that gravely concern me, but the demolition of our relationships with our allies is at or near the top of the list. Enjoy your long weekend!


        • True, but the question is … WHY? And how do the religious right justify overlooking all the politicians sexual misdeeds, from Roy Moore’s pedophilia to Trump’s seemingly sexual obsession … how do they reconcile this to their so-called beliefs? Ah, if we could answer all the “why” questions, we could fix this world!


  4. Pingback: The Banana States of America — Part II | Filosofa's Word

  5. Enjoyed reading your post. The four elements you mention here in Part I of your assessment are not entirely new, but have been evolving for quite some time. So what has changed? We have an occupant of the White House who challenges institutional checks on his authority at every turn. And what we are learning is that our much-vaunted “checks and balances” are not as robust as we’d always believed. The ethics violations and abuses of the office for personal enrichment mount, and the Office of Government Ethics is entirely ineffectual in reining in this behavior. Effectiveness depends on a a Chief Executive who can be shamed, a Congress willing to act regardless of partisan alignment, and a public that is not lulled into accepting these abuses of the office as normal.

    Please see my post on “The Troubling Question of Democracy in the West”:

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thank you! And you are right … we are seeing that our system of checks and balances holds tight only so long as those with power in government respect it. The Constitution is being chipped away at almost daily, and frankly, I wonder if we will ever see a return to the foundations we once knew and respected.
      I did check out your post and like it very much, thus I am now following. I don’t get as much time to read others’ blogs as I would like, but I will pop in as often as I can. On occasion, I reblog the work of others that I find relevant or exceptional. Do I have your permission to do so in the future?


  6. Dear Jill,

    I couldn’t agree more. President Donald Trump is turning the USA into a banana republic. It is important that when we call our legislators that we refer to this. The definitions fit perfectly.

    I haven’t had the stomach yet to cover the fact that he ordered the FBI and DOJ to turn over evidence about his supposed FBI mole ( a complete falsehood) as I am still seeing red over this. How about Jared Kushner being granted his security clearance. And then there is his pulling out of the planned S Korean Summit without previously informing S Korean officials and his own Secretary of State Mike Pompeo. This is just within one week.

    I need another rest. How can there be republicans in the US Congress justifying this insanity?

    Hugs, Gronda

    Liked by 3 people

    • Thanks Gronda! I’m with you — that show of blatant authoritarianism has sickened me and I find I simply cannot even write about it just yet. Perhaps because I am waiting for the other shoe to drop? We all need a rest … I’d like one on a desert island where there is no Wifi, no radio/television, and NO DONALD TRUMP! Sigh. How was Epcot, by the way? I hope you did manage to relax and enjoy yourself. Many hugs, dear friend!

      Liked by 1 person

  7. You paint a grim picture Jill, but unfortunately one that exists. With the Republican majority of Congress beholden to the NRA for providing election monies, you can see the gun control problems just disappear like they were never mentioned.

    Liked by 4 people

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