Here are some of the problems with saying “This isn’t us. This is what they do in Banana Republics.”
The other night I had a long conversation with Katie about the use of the term “Banana Republic” in statements like this one: “This isn’t us. This is Banana Republic stuff, not what happens in the United States of America.”
She was disturbed by it and read up on the history of the term, and we talked about what is so wrong with this.
To condense a lot of reflection into a nutshell, the issue is that when someone says this, painful truths are suppressed by this strange and dysfunctional “other kind of country” that has nothing to do with us. This is what I hear when someone says this, but I’m pretty sure they don’t hear it at all: “This isn’t us. This is what happens in the countries that we turn into our plantations. This doesn’t belong in the imperial core, and is instead something we consign to the subjugated countries in the periphery, the ones owned by United Fruit Company (etc).”
I fell asleep after we talked, in a quite animated way, about how screwed up even these moments of realization are. Sorry, the United Fruit Company is, precisely, us too.
That night, I woke up from a nightmare that really nicely encapsulated the same dynamic of deep projection in our political culture. I dreamed I was laying in bed, with Clara holding Katie in fear beside me. Katie was saying, “It’s okay Clara. It’s just a luciferian body next to the bed. We’ll move it out in the morning. The people that used to live here kept it there so that they could blame whatever went wrong in the house on it. So if a dish broke or something, they’d say, oh, that’s the luciferian body.” Clara was, understandably enough, not comforted by this at all. She was terrified. I looked down on my side of the bed, and there was the partially desiccated corpse of a child, its eyes still decaying. I was sitting there wondering why we had gone to sleep with this thing next to our bed, and why Katie thought this would help calm Clara.
Banana Republics are our “luciferian bodies”: something unspeakable that we as the United States are responsible for, which we keep around, and which we use to help us deny all of the ways in which this all really is us. Specifically, what we saw on 1/6 was neo-Confederate politics coming home to roost. We’re seeing the fruit of Strom Thurmond (and countless others) repudiating the Civil Rights Movement, insisting that Jim Crow was good and decent and needed to stay, and leaving the Dixiecrat/Southern Democratic party for the Republicans. Most of these figures never repented, never pursued reconciliation, never really changed. Instead, they went straight to work trying to make the Republican party into the new vehicle for their anti-democracy brand of politics. Trump was working hard to get the band back together. Drawing on this deep well of anti-democracy tradition, he was combining bad-faith procedural chicanery and angry white supremacist mobs in the time-honored American tradition. The same tradition that defeated Reconstruction’s infamously defamed “carpet-baggers” and brought us Jim Crow. Only when it was clear that this time it would be a disastrous failure did Lindsay Graham, sitting in Thurmond’s very seat, decide to jump ship.
And of course as it all goes down, the scoundrels who went along with all of this for so long put it this way:
“This isn’t us. This is what they do in Banana Republics.”