Up today at The Baffler, Patrick Blanchfield and I take on the morally obtuse trope of comparing the United States to a “banana republic.” It erases the U.S. role in creating dysfunction in the “banana republics.” If you’re not using it like this, you’re doing it wrong:
America in 2016 is not O. Henry’s Anchuria. And yet someone is winning big from the dysfunction, and this is the entirely unused sense in which the banana republic comparison is a good one. The politics of banana republics took their form because certain elites in those countries could benefit themselves at the expense of their country’s population and development, and saw U.S. exploitation as an opportunity for personal enrichment and political aggrandizement. In a similar way, Republican intransigence and the general investment of our political elites in making U.S. government dysfunctional is also an instrument of class power.
The difference remains that when banana republics tried to make their own politics more effective and democratic, outside intervention from the United States generally stopped them. Americans have no foreign power to blame for our current condition: the fault lies within.