The United States becomes a Banana Republic under Trump

Donald Trump has learned from Valdimir Putin that to carry the day you need only to overwhelm your adversaries with lies, distortions, and diversions that drive them to distraction, leaving them no opportunity for coherent, much less effective, opposition.

So, we have had five Senate confirmation hearings for cabinet officials on one day. The hearings were scheduled before some of the nominees had been cleared by the ethics office, and in some cases before they had even submitted their paperwork. Trump has set the tone. He has never submitted his tax returns or other information sufficient to identify his conflicts of interest, which appear to be enormous.

Just like in a Banana Republic, he hired his 36 year-old son-in law, Jared Kushner, to be a top adviser, to help do his thinking in the White House, just like he did his thinking during the campaign.

With a few important exceptions (Defense Secretary Mattis, Secretary of State Tillerson) Trump made little pretense of finding the best qualified people in the country to fill cabinet positions. With some exceptions, he named people who were fellow billionaires, or prominent retired military officials.

Generally he seemed to like individuals who were either billionaires or multi-millionaires, or who looked the part, as if they were contestants on one of his televsion shows. In one case, this led to an Indian-American governor, Nikki Haley, capable but with no foreign policy experience, to be nominated to be ambassador to the United Nations.

The U.N., as a former U.S. ambassador who was a wry observer of American attitudes decades ago once told the author, is where all the “funny-looking people” are. This attitude reflects the way many people thought 30 or 40 years ago.

In any event, Trump hasn’t nominated any “funny-looking people” to other cabinet posts, except for Ben Carson, or many women, or indeed many individuals under the age of 60 or 65. There are generations of Americans who are not represented in his cabinet picks.

As for Carson, the full story may not be known as to why he remained in the primary race long after he had lost any serious support, further dividing the votes among Trump’s rivals.  He has no obvious qualifications to be Secretary of Housing and Urban Development, aside from his personal experience growing up poor and then becoming successful.

As in a Banana Republic, policy is made or not made in a dramatically haphazard way. Leading opponents of different departments and their programs have been named to head these same departments. One thing most though not all nominees have in common is that they hold extreme right-wing views, far from the mainstream of American politics.

The United States is in for a difficult slog, with a president of authoritarian tendencies and impestuous temperament, who will have in his undisciplined hands the power to destroy, and who has given every indication of his intent to use it.

He will have the power to destroy alliances and cooperative relationships with other countries or groups of countries, such as NATO and the European Union, or the current cooperative relationship with China leading the effort to slow global climate change.

He will have the power to enter war, to engage in abject appeasement of Vladimir Putin, and to make mistakes which could lead to nuclear war.

Psychologically, he shows little evidence of being a well-balanced person. This emotionally unstable person, our president, will have the power to destroy the world.

Before becoming president, Trump repeatedly violated the Logan Act, which makes it a felony for a private individual to interfere with the conduct of the foreign policy of the United States. Already by telegraphing his intent to do nothing to support the moderate Syrian rebels, he has emboldened Vladimir Putin to commmit massive war crimes in one final push to eradicate the rebels in Aleppo.

Trump has uttered not a word of criticism of Putin or Russia, not even of the Russian intervention in the 2016 presidential elections aimed at throwing the election to him.

Citizens are dumbfounded as the president-elect continues the same pattern of behavior which characterized his campaign and his earlier life. Supporters hold their breaths, in blind faith and clinging to blind ideology. Opponents are paralyzed by their own disbelief at what is happening and by the mantra of their democratic values, despite the accumulating evidence that disaster awaits us.

Trump may be smart, or clever, in an unprincipled way. But he has an authoritarian personality, is a compulsive liar, shows no respect for any individual, and to date has shown himself to be a man of low moral character.

The only question is how long it will take citizens who supported him to come to their senses, if they do, and to realize the catastrophe they have brought upon the country, and the world.

How long it may take for democrats and others to organize disciplined and determined resistance to Trump’s assault on longstanding traditions, values, and even laws, sufficient as to halt or greatly slow the damage he will do, is a question upon whose answer the fate of the republic may depend.

Until such resistance by leading figures emerges, we can look forward to America becoming one of the biggest Banana Republics in history. Instead of directing rational and analytical arguments at Trump, citizens would do well to view again Woody Allen’s classic 1971 film, “Bananas”.

The Trenchant Observer

About the Author

The Observer
"The Trenchant Observer" is edited and published by The Observer, an international lawyer who has taught International Law, Human Rights, and Comparative Law at major U.S. universities, including Harvard, Brandeis, the University of Pittsburgh, and the University of Kansas. He is a former staff attorney at the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights of the Organization of American States (IACHR), where he was in charge of Brazil, Haiti, Mexico and the United States, and also worked on complaints from and reports on other countries including Argentina, Chile, Uruguay, El Salvador, Nicaragua, and Guatemala. As an international development expert, he has worked on Rule of Law, Human Rights, and Judicial Reform in a number of countries in Latin America, the Caribbean, Africa, the Middle East, South Asia, and the Russian Federation. In the private sector, The Observer has worked as an international attorney for a leading national law firm and major global companies, on joint ventures and other matters in a number of countries in Europe (including Russia and the Ukraine), throughout Latin America and the Caribbean, and in Australia, Indonesia, Vietnam, China and Japan. The Trenchant Observer blog provides an unfiltered international perspective for news and opinion on current events, in their historical context, drawing on a daily review of leading German, French, Spanish and English newspapers as well as the New York Times, the Wall Street Journal, the Washington Post, and other American newspapers, and on sources in other countries relevant to issues being analyzed. The Observer speaks fluent English, French, German, Portuguese and Spanish, and also knows other languages. He holds an S.J.D. or Doctor of Juridical Science in International Law from Harvard University, and a Doctor of Law (J.D.) and a Master of the Science of Law (J.S.M.), from Stanford University. As an undergraduate, he received a Bachelor of Arts degree, also from Stanford, where he graduated “With Great Distinction” (summa cum laude) and received the James Birdsall Weter Prize for the best Senior Honors Thesis in History. In addition to having taught as a Lecturer on Law at Harvard Law School, The Observer has been a Visiting Scholar at Harvard University's Center for International Affairs (CFIA). His fellowships include a Stanford Postdoctoral Fellowship in Law and Development, the Rómulo Gallegos Fellowship in International Human Rights awarded by the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights, and a Harvard MacArthur Fellowship in International Peace and Security. Beyond his articles in The Trenchant Observer, he is the author of two books and numerous scholarly articles on subjects of international and comparative law. Currently he is working on a manuscript drawing on the best articles that have appeared in the blog.