Welcome to the Inauguration of the Banana Empire: Pablo Neruda and Donald Trump

Here are a few thoughts on the big event of this week…

Not so long ago, banana republic was a term used to describe countries in Central America run as family dictatorships. These were countries under the thrall of US imperialism. They were also oligarchic tyrannies subjugated to one family and to one (maybe two) industries. Aside from serving US economic and foreign policy interests, the point of these countries—the reason for their existence—was (had been made into) the aggrandizement and enrichment of a ruthless strong man, his family and his cronies. Forget serving the common people of the country.

Pablo Neruda, possibly Latin America’s greatest poet of the twentieth century, wrote a poem about banana republics entitled “The United Fruit Company.” Here are a few memorable lines describing the United Fruit Company of the poem’s title:

it abolished free will,
gave out imperial crowns,
encouraged envy, attracted
… flies sticky with
submissive blood and marmalade,
drunken flies that buzz over
the tombs of the people,
circus flies, wise flies
expert at tyranny.

That was 1950 and Central America. Fast forward to 2017 and the inauguration of President Trump later this week.

Do the lines feel newly relevant?

Can you hear the drunken flies buzzing?

True, the United States is no vassal state, neoimperialized into submission. It is a global power, the most powerful on earth. Still, surely, there is no need for me to connect the dots regarding the reality that is slowly coming into being (everything is a process, and fortunately nothing is irreversible).

No, the United States is no Banana Republic.

Welcome to the Banana Empire.


Theses on Trump (With No Apologies to Karl Marx, On Whose Indispensable Text This Blog Is Based)

[You may read the Marx text here.]


The chief defect of all hitherto existing Presidents of the United States—and now inclusive of newly elected Trump—is that they are the creations/creatures of a deeply flawed political system that is democratic only in name.


Today democracy is a global idea. As we understand it, democracy—based on universal adult suffrage and elections through the ballot box—is a product of the twentieth century, the culmination of a longer historical process in which popular, even revolutionary, movements (the suffragette movement; decolonization) spread the utopian promise of a true equality through the idea of democracy.


When the suffragettes won in the United States, every American, man or woman, was deemed equal at least within the political system. When the British left India, the new republic granted political equality to every one of its adult citizens through the vote. This is the promise of democracy: Dear Citizens, you are all equal, and ultimately through the ballot box you are more powerful than those who rule you.


What a promise! Alas, the promise was twinned from its inception by its implacable enemy—revolution shackled to reaction from the beginning! Even as it was conceived in the most unlikely of places and times (for example, in eighteenth-century Haiti with leader of slaves Toussaint L’Ouverture) and came slowly to fruition in the twentieth century, the democratic promise was attacked, aborted, curtailed, sometimes KILLED (see Gandhi; see Martin Luther King; see Patrice Lumumba). Segregation, machine politics and an electoral college that has its roots in the 3/5ths compromise over slavery (United States); religious/casteist manipulation and patronage politics (India)—these are examples from just two countries of the counter-democratic reaction that everywhere shadowed the democratic revolution as its insidious twin.


Such is the history of struggle we must now pore over without despair. Such is the past that we must now diligently remember as we analyze the ascendancy of Not-My-President Trump to the most powerful office in the world. Let us state the matter bluntly. For some time now, the forces of counter-democratic reaction have been winning. American democracy is broken—though, of course, American democracy was always broken.


The evidence for this conclusion is everywhere if you will only look—the 46.9 % of the American electorate that did not vote in the just concluded election (why should they? what did they have to gain?); the 6.8 billion dollars spent (yes, that’s billion); the never-ending stories of a rigged primary contest within the Democratic Party that led to a flawed insider candidate being anointed the nominee; the cozy collusion between virtually all politicians and Wall Street and lobbyists. All the evidence points to a rigged system that is democratic only in name.


Not-My-Candidate Clinton is not, and never was, the solution. She—she of the unreleased Wall Street transcripts and a thousand shady transgressions—was always part of the problem. Here’s the truth: she and the Democratic Party elite enabled the rise of Trump by ruthlessly quashing the most progressive elements of their own party, by rigging the system so that the small sliver of hope named Bernie Sanders could not get the nomination. Can you say it? Counter-democratic reaction!


Materialist doctrine—a way of thinking and acting that does its homework by being attentive to circumstances of history and society—requires us to insist that Trump is not an anomaly, an outlier, of a system that is otherwise just and fair. No, the system is broken and it would not have been any less broken with Clinton as President.


I know. Clinton and Trump are not exactly the same. I understand. I get it. I really do (how could I not given who I am, given the color of my skin?). I have no doubt that the election of Clinton rather than Trump would have kept in check some of the worst hate we are now going to see.


I have no interest in posturing with a holier-than-thou righteous radicalism. Real lives are going to be affected because of the just-concluded election. Immigrants, Muslims, women—all the targets of Trump’s invective filled campaign are newly vulnerable. The crazies have a new bullhorn. And no amount of “correct analysis” uncovering “the conditions of possibility of reaction” and “the socio-economic roots of white rage” can erase the need to act now—NOW!—in material ways that protect the most vulnerable among us.


False democrats have only mouthed the platitudes, in various ways; the point, however, is to achieve true democracy. To that end let us recognize both the slow, hard work of understanding the deep past of the democratic struggle and the urgent task of defending those over whom the sword of repression newly hovers. Yes, this double task is hard—whoever said true democracy is easy? The road ahead is cloaked in darkness and filled with many impossible forks. But, dear fellow citizens, we are not entirely without rules of navigation. Practice compassion (see: the Buddha) and when at a fork, friends, go left, always left.