“Banana Republicans”: A nation of laws or men?

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America’s fascination with conspiracy theories is not new. A widespread rumour that British agents were buying Connecticut sheep to sabotage the textile industry influenced the public approval for their first war declaration in 1812. Two years into the war would see a defeated Washington D.C. in the British destruction of the Capitol and the Presidential Mansion (later rebuilt as the White House). This historic event marked the last time the Congressional building was breached by force before last Wednesday: when a smokescreen not of fire, but of delusional theories, manifested as violence and stormed the Capitol.

A smokescreen not of fire, but of delusional theories, manifested as violence

As Trump supporters marched to obstruct the certification of President-Elect Joe Biden, it did not take long before media coverage captured a forced entrance into the House and Senate Chambers. Media pundits were quick to highlight the lack of security enforcement, contrasting the disproportionate military measures taken before the BLM protests last year.

Some commentators described the situation as “a televised decline of Rome”, whilst many surprised U.S. officials, among them former President George Bush, juxtaposed the situation to that of “banana republics”. This hypocritical analogy is ironically appropriate, beyond the possible intent of those who used it, to explain but not necessarily compare the United States’ slow democratic deterioration.

The term “Banana Republic” derived from the perceived governmental instability of those South American countries whose economies relied on the banana monopoly of the American United Fruit Company. Through its internal and external economic influence, the monopoly provided anything but stability, as it lobbied for its own interests through U.S. military interventions.

In Guatemala and Honduras, this lobbying led to the U.S. overthrow of democratically elected governments on exaggerated claims of fraud and communist influence. In 1928 Colombia, U.S. government officials threatened invasion if the national government did not act to quell the UFCO workers’ protests in the northern banana plantations. The Company is said to have lobbied for the massacre of 3,000 workers protesting for better employment conditions. The protesters were too, characterised as “communists” with “subversive tenancy” by the U.S. government.

The Trumpian narrative that sought to undermine over seven million votes… is as conspiratorial and culturally ignorant as the narrative that pushed for the Iraq War

This analogy highlights the instrumental use of political narratives, like “the need to spread democratic values” or exaggerations of “electoral fraud”, to legitimise unjustified actions that ultimately further the interests of those already in power. The Trumpian narrative that sought to undermine over seven million votes, 60 American courts and the textual interpretation of the Constitution, is as conspiratorial and culturally ignorant as the narrative that pushed for the Iraq War, and undermined both domestic and international law in 2003.

America’s decline as a constitutional republic is then not of Red Republican or Blue Democratic fashion, rather of cultural and institutional nature. The public’s growing instrumental appreciation of institutions as only means to achieve specific ends, has progressively abdicated the determination of legitimacy to the hands of political narratives. When equality can be legitimately achieved through theft, and freedom can be declared through acts of violence and oppression, there is no social order, no science of politics, and no social happiness left in a system.

The failed attempt to undermine Biden’s certification succeeded in fundamentally questioning the stability of U.S. democracy

At the close of the Constitutional Convention of 1787, Benjamin Franklin was asked by the public “What kind of government have you given us, Dr Franklin?” he replied, “A republic, if you can keep it”.  As Republican rioters return to their homes from Washington, the American people will come to ask them “What have you given us?”.  A Trump flag left hanging at the Capitol flagpole, and pictures of President Ford’s statue with a MAGA hat certainly depict something less of a republic.

The failed attempt to undermine Joe Biden’s certification, succeeded, fundamentally in questioning the stability of U.S. democracy. At the moment, it is clear both Republican and Democrat elites will only preserve the status of their 234-year-old constitution by fighting the same instrumental approaches that, through lobbies, and empty narratives, filled their pockets but now spread chaos throughout their “banana republic”.

Image by Michael Candelori via Creative Commons

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