President, Governor turning country and state into banana republics
August 4, 2017

 

We hope you don’t mind Gazette Chicago beginning this editorial with a brief civics lesson. Let’s take a look at what normally defines a banana republic.

A banana republic is a politically unstable country with an equally unstable economy. Typically, the banana republic has a society of hierarchical social classes, usually a large, poor working class and a much smaller ruling-class plutocracy, composed of the business, political, and military leaders of that society. Such a ruling-class oligarchy controls the economy by exploiting labor. Thus, the term banana republic describes a dictatorship that supports, for its own profit, the abuse of workers and the general populace.

Economically, the country is operated as a private business enterprise for the profit of the ruling class. Such exploitation is driven by collusion between the state and favored businesses, in which the profit derived from the private exploitation of the public sector is private property, while the debts incurred are the financial responsibility of the public treasury.

Hmmmm, does any of this sound eerily and troublingly familiar?

When we think of a banana republic, we usually conjure up an image of a bumbling dictator-type, whose protruding belly is ready to pop the buttons on his military uniform (those in power eat well, even in banana republics). He swaggers about his third-world country in a military vehicle or limousine with flags flying and a pistol on his hip, trying to make the case he should be playing with the big boys. Here in the United States, we have always scoffed at such cartoonish figures.

Until now, that is, judging by the current state of affairs in Washington, DC, and even in our state capital in Springfield.

Is it too much of an exaggeration to think we’ve crossed the line to the absurd? Could it be that in a very short period of time we have gone from being the greatest nation on earth to our own version of a banana republic? Well, let’s take a spin for a moment in that whirring limo, sort of like Carmen San Diego searching for our long-lost Democracy (with a capital “D” to show how dire things truly are).

First stop, our nation’s capital. Six months and a couple of weeks into the Trump presidency and what do we have to show for it?

• A daily, no almost hourly, Tweet storm of lies, innuendos, and constant attacks on the media and anyone else who might dare to challenge the intelligence, authority, or moral fiber of this President. No apologies here, as we don’t live in the Trump bubble, but we are frankly sick and tired already of “President Tweet-iot” and the mockery he is making of the highest office in the land and, sadly, how our country is being viewed in the eyes of the rest of the world as a result of his lack of leadership

• The swirl of daily breaking news of a determined, able-bodied, and anything but “fake” media peeling away the cloak of secrecy around the President, his family, and former and current cabinet members and their dalliances with Russian President Vladimir Putin and his stable of emissaries, lawyers, and characters coming at us right out of a spy movie. Collusion? Obstruction of justice? We will leave discovery of all that to the very capable former F.B.I. director, Robert Mueller, who also recently was the subject of a Trump tirade.

• A President who is brazen enough to test the true mettle of our Democracy by believing he has the authority to pardon his staff, his family, and himself of any wrongdoings. Who would ever had thought a U.S. President would need this ace card in his back pocket?

• Six months in and not one piece of viable legislation passed. No infrastructure bill as of this writing. No ethical approach to dealing with immigration and the Dreamers. But what do you expect when Trump’s chief strategist and  architect of anarchy Steve Bannon has the President’s ear? A travel ban that is blatantly oppressive of one religious group, keeps finding its way in and out of state higher courts, and will be heard by the Supreme Court in October.

• A Republican controlled Congress that can’t govern. No repeal or replacement of Obamacare as of this writing, even though the President, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, and Speaker of the House Paul Ryan, are all frothing at the mouth to do something, anything, to rid themselves of their personal demons of an Obama legacy and to pave the way for billions of dollars in tax breaks for the wealthiest of Americans. Seven years and counting to come up with a replacement for Obamacare and they give us…absolutely nothing. First, we would drop 22 million Americans off the healthcare rolls with Ryan’s embarrassing House bill. Then the Senate came along and couldn’t do any better—actually their plan was worse. When their own folks with the “R” at the end of their names wouldn’t vote for this toxic version, they thought they would just repeal and not replace the Affordable Care Act. But, that would only swell the numbers of Americans losing their healthcare coverage to 32 million and devastate the private insurance models. If you voted Republican last November, is this what you were expecting of your leadership? Did you hear Donald Trump or any Republican on the campaign trail ever utter that they would destroy state Medicaid funding? Didn’t think so. Yet, 80% of Trump voters still back their President. That’s one big, impenetrable bubble.

• Continuing on the healthcare front, there is Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell saying how Republicans and Democrats should work together after he spent eight years blocking all of President Obama’s initiatives. No surprise there, but we were originally greatly disappointed with Senator John McCain, flying across the country after benefiting from great free healthcare to vote for debate on what Senator Bernie Sanders called the most dangerous piece of legislation in modern history. In McCain’s Senate speech, he also spoke on how Republicans, Democrats, doctors, nurses, and patients should work together—after his own GOP had frozen most of those groups out. In the end, however, we were heartened to see McCain do the right thing and vote against Obamacare repeal.

• A President who is so vain that he cannot admit he lost the popular vote by nearly three million. And, why should that matter anymore? When the President should be leading us somewhere besides a road to nowhere, what does he do? He appoints political hack Kris Koback, Secretary of State of Kansas, to drum up the Commission on Election Integrity. This seems on the surface just to be an effort to appease Trump’s vast ego. Don’t fall for that bag of tricks, folks. This disgraceful commission is much more about increasing voter suppression nationally. And, it’s working already as Americans concerned that their vital personal information will get into the hands of the commission are taking themselves off the voter rolls. How devastatingly sad.

• As of this writing, 357 high-level appointments that are so critical they need Senate approval remain unfilled. Hundreds more across the Federal government lay vacant as well. We truly have an administration that doesn’t know how to govern or worse yet, doesn’t care about the responsibility of governing. Remember what Republican Grover Norquist said about government? He would rather “drown it in a bathtub.” So would a despot from a banana republic.

Carmen San Diego, would you kindly turn that limo around and head back east to the Prairie State—Illinois? Things have to be better here, right? Sigh. Look again.

• Governor Bruce Rauner, fresh off a devastating defeat when enough Republicans in the Illinois General Assembly had the courage to stand up to the would-be dictator and helped to override his veto of the fiscal year 2018 budget, fired several key members of his staff and replaced them with a cohort from the Illinois Policy Institute, a far right wing think tank. Never mind that the Republicans who joined with their Democratic colleagues couldn’t stand pat and watch the carnage play out in Illinois any longer. They wanted to see our State be able to pay its bills and make right by those caught in the political cross-hairs—mainly social service agencies and our higher education institutions.

• Several other Rauner staffers quit in protest of his house cleaning and he then suffered the embarrassment of having his “body man” (really, a “body man?”) resign his first day on the job for previous anti-gay and racially incendiary comments. Then a communications aide was found to have compared abortion to the Holocaust. Either there is a lack of “extreme vetting” going on here or a race to the bottom when it comes to a Governor and his campaign staff gearing up for an ugly election fight in 2019.

• Yes, there was real sacrifice to be made in the FY 18 budget—especially the increase in the State income tax from 3.75% to 4.95%. Yet, instead of standing tall and taking his share of the responsibility for finding the only revenue stream that would provide for his first-ever budget, and stave off junk bond status for the State and certain financial devastation, Gov. Rauner dug in his heels, refused to work across the aisle, and stood idly by while House Leader Michael Madigan and Senate Leader John Cullerton convinced their colleagues there was only one sane way to enter FY 18—with a budget.

• With some $60 million in his campaign war chest, Gov. Rauner took off on a whirlwind tour of downstate Illinois, doing his level best to pit those citizens against Chicagoans as he vowed to veto the State education line item. With only weeks to go before school bells ring throughout the state, the Governor was more interested in division and turmoil than a fair and equitable way, through Senate Bill 1, to fund education across the State.

Division and derision. Personal attacks rather than collaboration. Dismantling of healthcare coverage, labor unions, voting rights, and education, just to name a few.

Banana republics come and go and their power-hungry leaders flash across the sky only to eventually flameout. We celebrate their demise, but give little thought to the people in their countries left behind who suffer from a dearth of political leaders with empathy and honesty, fair and just economies, and equitable educational systems, and who also suffer from rich and powerful individuals and corporations more interested in keeping the downtrodden from climbing the social ladder rather than offering a helping hand upward.

Over the years, we have scoffed at such bad behavior. Now, we find ourselves in such a sorry state of affairs both in Washington, DC, and in Illinois. Banana republics appear in far-away lands not right under our noses. Right? Yeah, we thought so, too. Not anymore.