Banana republic or the road to a Trump republic?
The American political and economic elite had for long disparagingly referred to Latin American countries as banana republics. They were unstable countries, dependent on the export of primary products like bananas and far removed from genuine democratic governance as practised in the US, the presumed fountain of democracy. We swallowed this, even though the corruption and instability had much to do with Americaâs incursions into those countries, helping to overthrow governments and doing the bidding of corporations like the United Fruit Company that virtually controlled the economies of some countries.
America is a country with checks and balances, central props of its democracy. The dominant realms of government constitute the President, Congress, and Court system. The free press is unofficially recognised as the fourth estate, the peoplesâ watchdog. President Trump is putting this to the test and it is left to be seen if the institutions that are supposed to preserve democracy will prevail intact.
One of the mistakes that those of us who brag about our countryâs strong disposition to democratic governance fail to acknowledge is that the institutions that are supposed to serve as underpinnings have no life of their own and depend on the citizens for their sustenance. The Court system has so far shown the president the limitations of his power, but Trump never accepts defeat and often reacts irrationally to any sign of opposition. To him the Court system is a humbug, an obstacle to the work the people elected him to do. Members of Congress on his side are wavering, with only a few having the guts to stand up to his erratic and sometimes infantile behaviour. What has made a difference so far is people protesting his insane policies and challenging their Congressional representatives to deny him support.
Then there is the press. To the president, they are the enemy and he is at war with them. They are driving him totally insane. Many had jumped to his tunes during the election and gave him unprecedented coverage, as they swallowed his idiosyncrasies, all in the name of media âratingsâ. But there is only so much one can take; his inflated ego, his blatant lying, his alleged ties with Russia, which is suspected of involvement in the last presidential campaign through electronic hacking, his sexism and the realization that he is unqualified for the position he holds have pulled that marriage of convenience apart.
There are so many things about Trump that are hanging in limbo that the press has its work cut out, since there is so much that demands commentary and investigation. Trumpâs strategy, which is perhaps working with his base, is to present the press as propagators of falsehoods against him. This war that he has started, hopefully, he might not win.
Most disconcertingly is the role of his family in his presidency. His son-in-law Jared Kushner is one of his top advisors. His daughter Ivanka is apparently going to be given an office in the White House, although not officially an employee of the state, while still carrying on family business. Is the setting one that will allow the Trump family to add to their financial empire through privileges offered by places they hold in the White House, with apparent access to confidential matters? There is so much that is unconstitutional, unethical, and ill- conceived that one awaits a crash. Will the institutions that the founding fathers put in place prevail, or will the Trump presidency deliver a severe wound to its body? Really, will the democratic institutions withstand Trumpâs seeming madness?
Dr Adrian Fraser is a social commentator and historian.