Story goes that a man kept his pig in his own cottage because of his love for it. One day, when someone remarked, looking at him, that a person is known by the company he keeps, the pig quietly walked out and never came back. Such is the situation today when the tiny banana republics, which depend on the cultivation of bananas for a living, see that any country in turmoil and anarchy gets to be called a banana republic, creating a wrong image for the original ones.
The newest candidate for such an appellation is the USand the real banana republics are horrified that they are in the company of a superpower, which has acquired the attributes of the proverbial banana republics. They may want to call themselves members of the Organisation of Banana Producing and Exporting Countries (OBPEC) just to avoid the opprobrium.India may well be the chairman of the consortium as it is the largest producer and exporter of bananas in the world, though no one calls India a banana republic as yet, though such thoughts have been expressed occasionally.
The celebrated short story writer, OHenry (William Sydney Porter) of the ‘Gift of the Magi’ fame,was in Honduraswhere he had fled for a few months to avoid prosecution in Texasfor embezzling money from the bank where he workedwhen he coined the term to describe Honduras and neighbouring countries which were being exploited by US corporations. A typical banana republic was a large impoverished society of stratified social classesand a ruling class composed of the business, political and military elites of that society. The term, banana republic,became a pejorative description for a servile dictatorship that abets and supportskickbacks and the exploitation of large-scale plantation agriculture, especially banana cultivation.
None of these characteristics is present in the US. In fact, all the lovely, shapely and golden Chiquita bananas are imported from Central America. But the situation in the US today is much worse than in any of the banana republics. Those countries do not have raging coronavirus, racial conflict, economic collapse or a defeated presidentthreatening not to vacate the White House. But for lack of another word, keen observers of the US today have begun to use the term banana republic for the US.
‘Painful to see a bastion of democracy turning into a banana republic,’tweeted Nobel Laureate and former Director General of the IAEA,Mohamed ElBaradei. In fact, as early as 2016, Donald Trump invoked it. “This election will determine whether we remain a free country in the truest sense of the word or we become a corrupt banana republic controlled by large donors and foreign governments,” he told a cheering crowd in Florida.After the second presidential debate in October, Robby Mook, the campaign manager for Hillary Clinton, countered, “Donald Trump thinks that the presidency is like some banana republic dictatorship where you can lock up your political opponents.”
Since then, the phrase came to be used to suggest it as a catastrophe that may befall the US. Nancy Pelosi, the Speaker of the US Congress, asked MSNBC in total frustration, “What is this, a banana republic?” The answer was, “We’re not quite there yet. But we may be on the verge of becoming a banana republic. It was correct of her to ask the question.”
The developments in the US between now and January 20th, 2021 may qualify the country for other comparisons. When Donald Trump was elected, many compared him to Richard II, adding a Shakespearean flavour to the tragedy. More recently, commentators began reaching for other historic characters to compare with him. Of these, the most notable is Richard II, according to The Atlantic. If Trump is finally deposed, he might say, like Richard II:
Not all the water in the rough rude sea
Can wash the balm off from an anointed king;
The breath of worldly men cannot depose
The deputy elected by the Lord
In India, Donald Trump will come closest to the fourteenth century Sultan of Delhi, Muhammed bin Tughlaq. In spite of all his credentials, he is referred to as the ‘wise fool’ in Indian history because he undertook numerous administrative reforms and most of them failed due to the lack of plan and judgement. The most celebrated of his stupidities was the shifting of his capital from Delhi to Daulatabad. He ordered the whole population of Delhi as well as the royal household, including scholars, poets, musiciansand others to move to the new capital. During the relocation, many people died. By the time people reached Daulatabad, Tughlaq changed his mind and decided to abandon the new capital and move back to his old capital Delhi. It is believed that he wished to shift the capital to safeguard it from a possible Mongol invasion. Trump did not move the capital but created so much havoc therebecause of his Tughlaqian ways. The hope is that Joe Biden will rescue the US before it becomes worthy of other despicable names.