It is curious and sad to witness the transformation of an imperial republic into a banana republic. When the first world power succumbs to this degradation, the central contradiction of the economic system accelerates and intensifies. The official scandal conceals the deep-rooted scandal.
For a long time, populism has been considered an original and exclusive product of Latin America. However, today it is widespread, from North to South and from East to West. There are progressive populisms and reactionary populisms, left-wing populisms and right-wing populisms. For now, the needle of the scale tilts over the latter. But they all have common traits, among those: distrust of the dominant elites, nationalism, autarky, abandonment of traditional political parties, loss of institutional legitimacy, verticalism, search for simple solutions, propensity to plebiscite, embrace of new leaders who present themselves as outside saviors and a tendency to chase vulnerable groups as escape goats. The fast mobilization of protest (boosted by social media) is at the same time disruptive and ephemeral and lays aside previous forms of doing politics, which are by nature much slower, such as: the organization and elaboration of alternative, coherent and, systematic proposals to a global system that today is favoring just a few, destroys the environment, and increases the risk of violence and warlike confrontation.
For its prevalence in the global board, the situation of United States is particularly interesting—and dangerous. In other articles and in my next book I analyze the causes of the American mismanagement of its position at a moment when other powers arise and the danger of economic, ecological, and warlike chaos increases.
The arrival of a right-wing populist leader to the American highest office has surprised many and provoked numerous controversies. In this succinct article, written exclusively from the geopolitical point of view, I would like to note that the clumsiness of president Trump’s administration has as main perverse consequence the following: it keeps the world distracted from the subjacent structural crisis. The turbulent surface of everyday politics and the sad spectacle of the scandals that succeed conceal the groundswell. In public opinion (American and global) Trump and his team offer a crass spectacle that splits the public into factions or tribes, which instead of discussing real problems and conflicting but reasoned proposals, devote themselves to the mutual opprobrium—something like hooligans in certain sporting events. Defending their people at any costs and despising the others is a zero-sum game that diverts attention from more serious challenges. The polarization—prodded by the media and new communication technologies—is the current form of the false conscience. Shakespeare, in Macbeth (5,5) described this situation much better than me:
“Life’s but a walking shadow, a poor player
That struts and frets his hour upon the stage,
And then is heard no more. It is a tale
Told by an idiot, full of sound and fury,
Trump’s administration is the kingdom of the fatuous. One might wonder: which are the main characteristics of this ill government, and what is behind it?
Let’s go one step at a time: on the one side, the executive and, on the other side, the rest of the government. The executive is in the hands of one character alien to the normal world of politics and, though very rich, also alien to the main course of the economic power. The main function of this character is to prod discontent of stragglers of the concentration and globalization process and lead them towards surrogate objectives: nationalism, racism, religious hate and immigrant rejection.
The rest of the government is left in the hands of the Republican Party, which is incapable of offering a coherent government plan. During the eight years of the preceding administration, it sole objective was to obstruct every intent of reform by president Obama, and it succeeded. But once in power, it has no strategic vision that can make it capable of governing from the right. The same happens with the Supreme Court; it has turned into another conservative but visionless forum.
Faced with this situation, the executive “pretends to be governing” by decree subjected to the cut and thrust of public opinion (run by the media) and the lower courts under the Supreme Court, as well as the governments of different states. The novelty of this executive is in the role that money plays in politics at a new level. Lobbies (intermediary pressure groups) that used to “buy” politicians by financing their campaigns are not needed anymore. President Trump has given power groups a green light without intermediaries. American diplomacy is in the hands of Exxon, the Ministry of Interior or Home Affairs is in the hands of the real-estate and agro-industrial sectors, the economic and financial politics in the hands of Wall Street and geopolitics directly in the hands of the industrial-military complex centered on the Pentagon. There is no government above the powerful particular interests. In my opinion, such is the main characteristic of the transition between what was an imperial republic into a banana republic.
Domestically, the banana republic is supported by 40% of the population, mainly in rural, lagged sectors and among those who despite being in a better position reject the new multiethnic and cosmopolitan profile of large cities and their cultural expressions.
Externally, a very powerful country that behaves as a banana republic loses strategic positions in the global trade and investments, at the forefront of new energy technologies, and in the conflicts that today swarm about Eastern Europe, Middle East, and Asia. The vacuum that it leaves is being occupied by other powers either in systematic (China) or opportunistic (Russia) form or by inertia (Europe).
At the global level, the danger of this situation resides in the following: United States, in its unusual banana-republic phase, and just with 4% of the world’s population, is at the same time epicenter of the world’s economic system; that is, the late capitalism. This in turn suffers from a fatal contradiction: forces of production have advanced to such a point of technological progress that every day and ever more forcefully they threaten to make the social relations of production we are accustomed to explode. Their scourges are at plain sight: huge concentration, excess of production with drying-up markets, marginalization of large majorities, and the destruction of the environment. The big scandal behind Mr. Trump’s stubbornness is the political, intellectual, and managerial inability of American society in addressing this contradiction. To explore this contradiction, I direct the reader to the Development section of our publication.
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