Slippery Slope: America goes Bananas

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• by Rich Broderick, 4/27/08 • In recent months, some commentators have argued that the U.S. is evolving toward a peculiarly American form of fascism. They have based their analysis on a checklist of characteristics common to fascist states – the glorification of the military, the loss of civil liberties, the replacement of politics with spectacle – all of which certainly do sound familiar.

But while I think fascism is not quite ready to raise its black fist here on these shores, we may be closer to another, equally undesirable milestone. Consider, if you will, this checklist of characteristics of the backward and dysfunctional societies commonly known as “Banana Republics”:

1. Such nations have typically been ruled by oligarchies, a narrow ruling class often consisting of members of a small number of families. “Elections,” when they are held at all, are fixed.

2. Whatever the nation’s proclaimed economic model, whether a laissez-faire free market system or socialism or something in between, such countries have actually been run according to the unruly dictates of Crony Capitalism in which there is little or no distinction between the political and the economic elites and an unrestricted commingling of public and private wealth.

3. Not surprisingly, such nations also tend to have opaque financial and banking systems, poorly regulated and lacking in transparency, all the better to transfer money back and forth between private and public hands – and into secret accounts abroad – without any way of tracking the flow of funds.

4. Banana Republics are invariably debtor nations, unable to get their financial house in order owing to rampant corruption, waste, and the above-mentioned lack of transparency, all of which tend to diminish investor confidence and stifle economic development.

5. Lacking any sense of a commonwealth, such countries are infamous for crumbling or non-existent infrastructure. Roads, water treatment systems, schools, hospitals, all are either falling apart or never get built in the first place because of lack of funding or because funding appropriated for such projects gets funneled into kickbacks to public officials from favored contractors.

6. Banana Republics are marked by a dramatic inequality between the nation’s wealthiest and poorest citizens, with class differences often ramified by an intractable racial divide.

7. They possess an attenuated and struggling middle-class, when a middle-class exists at all.

8. Both the judiciary and the media in such countries lack independence. Either they are cowed into submission or co-opted into the ruling class.

9. They are burdened with legal systems in which members of the ruling class stand above the law.

10. They employ, sometimes openly, sometimes surreptitiously, torture, arbitrary imprisonment, and other forms of state terror to keep the population in line.

I could go on, but I think you see the point.

With the collapse of the housing market – and revelations of the existence, in the form of hedge funds and other “novel” financial entities, of what amounts to an unregulated, non-transparent banking system operating alongside our more traditional banks; with the politicization of the Department of Justice and the federal court system over the past eight years and the strong likelihood that the criminal justice system has been used to punish political rivals of the Bush Administration; with the possibility that this might be the 28th year in which no Presidential election has passed without a Bush or a Clinton on the ticket of one of the major political parties; with trillions in deferred maintenance hanging over our head just in the area of the country’s transportation system – the real culprit behind the 35W bridge collapse; with the evidence of a vast underclass virtually abandoned to their own devices as revealed by Hurricane Katrina and its aftermath; with the mainstream media’s willing, indeed eager, complicity in the crimes and cover-ups of George Bush and its brazen determination to distract and confuse the public with sports and celebrity trivia; with our embrace of torture and partial rejection of habeas corpus, as well as our willingness to imprison roughly one-percent of our country’s population; with our growing income inequality and increasingly beleaguered middle-class; and with our growing public and private insolvency it should be clear that the most immediate danger we are facing is not fascism. It is of turning into the kind of ramshackle society to which we used to dispatch the U.S. Marines to protect the interests of rapacious corporations like United Fruit and Anaconda Mines.

The kind of country we used to sneer at and call a “Banana Republic.”