A “banana republic” or “banana” state is a term used in political science to characterize politically unstable countries. Often these countries are in Latin America and feature economies largely dependent on exporting a limited-resource product, such as bananas. Considering our status as a first world superpower, this depiction is not how we think of the United States. Unfortunately, the cesspool that is the 2016 election cycle is turning us into the very type of banana republic we used to sneer at.
A recent post on alternet.org gives ten ways we have come to resemble the nations we once mocked for their corruption and political upheaval. They focus on our new economic realities (shrinking middle class and high unemployment) and social conditions (high incarceration rate, torture & expanding police state), so I am going to add an eleventh: The devolution of the election process.
How We Got Here
By most accounts, the political campaign of 1800 between Jefferson and Adams was the nastiest in American history. It was so bad, the Twelfth Amendment to the US Constitution was adopted so the loser no longer assumed the position of vice-president. Its ratification ultimately led to the development of political parties that dominate our political landscape today.
There have been other brutal election cycles as The Tab points out, and despite appearances, the 2016 election cycle may not come close. With the advent of social media and the dominance of the 24-hour news cycle, it sure feels that way. Americans have been bombarded with the negativity surrounding this election and these candidates for over a year now. With so much at stake, so much polarization from the political parties, and so much negativity in the media, is it any surprise that the country is acting out?
“We the People” and Banana Republic-style Political Mania
By acting out, I don’t mean attend rallies or advocating on Facebook. Speech is a protected right, and voicing our opinions is not only encouraged, but is a necessity in a free society. Those opinions can come in the form of engaging dialogue and debate, but also in humor. Comedians engage in satire on late night talk shows and SNL, and memes about the election and the candidates have flooded the Internet. It’s harmless and fun, even if not for the candidates they mock.
Mocking the election and the candidates does not make us a banana republic, but violence does. Acting out is taking matters into your own hands. Stealing campaign signs may seem like a good idea, but it’s suppressing an opinion and the right to voice it. Under no circumstance should rioting ever become a norm at a political rally. It should not be advocated by a candidate on the stump, nor coordinated by a competing campaign.
In October, the violence was taken to another level when a GOP office was firebombed. Luckily, nobody was hurt or killed, at least this time. The opposing party, in this case the Democrats, have recognized the horror of this act and started to fundraise to repair the damage.
Now, even Donald Trump’s star on the walk of fame has been vandalized. This is not who we are. Whether you love him or hate him, and there are strong opinions both ways, defacing property or defiling buildings is not the answer. It’s counterproductive and dangerous to walk down that road. It would be equally true if someone set fire to the Clinton estate in Chappaqua or tried to attack her at a rally.
Violence is not the answer in our political disagreements. That’s EXACTLY how our republic could become a banana republic. When people get hurt, it is not Republicans or Democrats, Independents or undecideds. It is your fellow Americans.
Shame! … Shame!
Some detractors might quietly cheer for any or all of these incidents. Some might seek retribution for them. In either case, shame on you and you should get the Cersei Lannister treatment for even thinking that way.
This is America, and we should be above that level of pettiness. Fine, you hate one candidate or the other. You think their ideas are poison and their personalities grating. They are an enemy to be vanquished before they destroy the nation. I get it.
Nobody wants to see their candidate of choice give a concession speech on election night. But do the ends justify the means? Does stealing signs, inciting violence, or promoting discord among your supporters solve anything? No, it creates the vitriol that leads to gridlock in Washington and the inaction we all decry. There has to be a better way, and there is.
Defeat them in the arena of ideas. Raise the level of debate, not the volume of it. Respect another person’s opinions, but demand they respect yours to disagree. Realize that every American wants what’s best for this country, even if their approach on how to solve our issues differs from yours. Liberals are not out to destroy America any more than conservatives are. We just all think differently, and when is that not a good thing?
The simplest and strongest act is to, come Election Day, vote. Too many of our countrymen take for granted this civic responsibility and sacred right . America is not a banana republic unless we make it one. You lose if you allow your final voice to be suppressed. Since we are all in this together, we will lose with you.
Election Day in America is November 8th. Until then, I’d love to hear your thoughts in the comments below.