American Bananas

Back in 1971, before anyone knew Woody Allen was a creep, this was funny:

The film opens on Howard Cosell’s coverage of the assassination of the president of the fictional “banana republic” of San Marcos and a coup d’état that brings Gen. Emilio Molina Vargas (Carlos Montalban) to power.

Fielding Mellish (Woody Allen) is a neurotic blue-collar man who tries to impress social activist Nancy (Louise Lasser) by trying to get in touch with the revolution in San Marcos. He visits the republic and attempts to show his concern for the native people. However, Vargas secretly orders his men, disguised as Vargas’s opponents, to kill Mellish, to make the rebels look bad so that the U.S. will send Vargas financial aid.

Mellish evades Vargas’s assassins, but is shortly after captured by the real rebels. Vargas declares Mellish dead regardless, leaving Mellish no choice but to join the rebels for two months. Mellish then learns, clumsily, how to be a revolutionary. When the revolution is successful, Esposito, the Castro-style leader, goes mad. The rebels decide to replace him with Mellish as their president.

It was all absurd, because Fidel Castro was absurd, and banana republics were absurd, which is why Allen titled his film “Bananas” – that’s what all these people were. We aren’t like them. No one is shooting our politicians, at least not regularly. Our system is orderly. Violence is for rather comic and quite pathetic small banana republics far away – somewhere else in the world.

No, America has gone bananas. Violence is for Trump patriots out there. There’s fear in the air. The Washington Post’s Marianna Sotomayor and Paul Kane report this:

As House members head out of Washington for three weeks, anger at each other is turning into fear of what could await them back home.

Tensions among lawmakers have been running high since the Jan. 6 attack on the Capitol by a pro-Trump mob and have only increased in recent weeks. The two parties are clashing over how to investigate what transpired that day and whether, or how, to ease precautions put in place to keep members and staff safe during the pandemic.

The tenor of the debate has been highly personal, with Democrats expressing a sense of distrust toward their Republican colleagues with regard to their personal safety and health, while many GOP members are accusing Democrats of using the tragedies of the attack and the pandemic to score political points.

Now, several Democrats said they are concerned that the toxic political culture on Capitol Hill could greet them back home as their communities open up, with the pandemic waning and vaccination rates rising, and there is pressure to hold more in-person events.

Someone may shoot them. Who knows what Donald Trump will implicitly suggest? He won’t be explicit – go shoot so-and-so – but his base will get the general idea. That’s the worry:

“Obviously we’re going to return to more outward-facing live, in-person things and I’m thrilled about that. I want to do that,” said Rep. Susan Wild (D-Pa.). “I think we’re going to have to be very cautious. I think there’s going to have to be some ramped-up security. Hopefully it’s going to be low key, I don’t want people to feel like they’re walking into an armed event, but I imagine doing a lot of events in parks, in the daytime, staffers and local police are around.”

Several Democratic members have privately expressed their concerns to leadership about security back home as threats have risen, according to people familiar with the discussions who spoke on the condition of anonymity to describe the conversations. Some of these Democrats said they have paid out of their own pocket to increase security at their district offices or install security systems in their homes out of an abundance of caution.

Many spoke on the condition of anonymity because they said they feared that calling attention to their security concerns could make them or their staff targets for people looking to do harm or cause problems.

And they do have a point:

Members’ concerns have been validated by the U.S. Capitol Police, who report that threats against lawmakers have increased by 107 percent in just the first five months of the year compared with last year.

“Provided the unique threat environment we currently live in, the Department is confident the number of cases will continue to increase,” the Capitol Police wrote earlier this month in response to an inspector general report.

But this cannot be fixed:

Democratic leaders said they are trying to be responsive to the concerns of members and included $21.5 million for member safety regarding travel and district office security upgrades as part of a $1.9 billion proposal to fortify security at the U.S. Capitol following the Jan. 6 attack. The bill passed the House on a narrow 213 to 212 vote last week.

Senate Republicans have objected to the price tag.

Why spend all this money? People get what they deserve. Patriots will do what they will. And yes, things are tense:

Several Democrats said Republican Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene’s decision to aggressively confront Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.) at the Capitol earlier this month sparked a fresh round of concerns not only about safety on the Hill but whether it would inspire or prove to be a preview of similar behavior by people back home.

Greene (Ga.) followed Ocasio-Cortez off the floor and began yelling loudly, calling out to her and asking why she would not debate her over the “Green New Deal” set of climate-change policies before falsely accusing her of supporting terrorists, naming the Black Lives Matter movement and antifa, a loosely knit group of far-left activists.

The incident led Ocasio-Cortez to call on leadership to do more to make the Capitol a safe workplace, while Greene responded by calling the New York congresswoman “chicken” for not agreeing to debate her.

Now, Marjorie Taylor Greene isn’t going to shoot Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez on the House floor, but she has tagged that woman as a supporter of terrorists – the Black Lives Matter people want to kill all White people right now, and antifa wants to burn down every block in every city and town in America. Anyone who watches Fox News knows that. Greene is just reminding them that Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez wants the same, and someone should do something about that. That’s a bit of a worry:

“It’s very uncivilized behavior and I think it does put an extra target on the members that Marjorie, whatever her name is, going after somebody then her followers will, I think, continue to target AOC or the Squad, so it’s really unfortunate and I think it’s dangerous,” said Rep. Tim Ryan (D-Ohio), referring to the nickname for Ocasio-Cortez and a small group of liberal lawmakers who are women of color who arrived in Washington following the 2018 election.

Yes, they are targets, but that’s their own fault:

Rep. Rodney Davis (Ill.), the top Republican on the House Administration Committee, said Democrats share the blame for the overall tension inside the Capitol because of false allegations that unnamed Republicans gave reconnaissance tours to Trump supporters ahead of the Jan. 6 riot.

“There is zero evidence of that at all,” said Davis, who co-signed a complaint to the Ethics Committee against Democrats for making that charge.

He said that for public events back home each lawmaker’s staff can contact to the Capitol Police to coordinate with the respective local police force to provide sufficient security…

In short, they’re just whining, but there’s this too:

There also has been anger over coronavirus precautions put in place by Democrats and the reluctance by some House Republican members to get vaccinated or to tell Brian P. Monahan, the attending Capitol physician, whether they have been.

Last week, the House rejected a Republican attempt to relax guidelines on the wearing of face masks in the chamber.

Defying House rules, several GOP members were in the House chamber Tuesday night and Wednesday without masks – some posing for selfies – drawing fines for their actions in violation of rules established amid the coronavirus pandemic.

Yes, patriots don’t wear masks, never have and never will, and will refuse any vaccination of any kind too:

Tensions over mask usage have been simmering since the attack on the Capitol, because several members tested positive for the coronavirus after spending hours with hundreds of lawmakers and staff in a House hearing room used as a secure location, where several Republicans refused to wear masks.

Monahan has said the current rules are consistent with Centers for Disease Control and Prevention guidelines and “are necessary given the substantial number of partially vaccinated, unvaccinated, and vaccine-indeterminate individuals. Additional medical safeguards are required to reduce the risk of coronavirus outbreak in this vital group.”

Democrats have put the problem of a lack of vaccinations squarely on the shoulders of Republicans, whose numbers are far lower.

“If Minority Leader McCarthy wants to be maskless on the Floor of the House of Representatives, he should get to work vaccinating his Members,” said Drew Hammill, a spokesman for House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.), referring to Republican leader Rep. Kevin McCarthy (Calif.).

She said that and now no Republican will do either, which has turned awkward:

Several Democrats continue to refuse to work with Republicans who voted against certifying the 2020 presidential election, a growing point of contention as more GOP members portray the Jan. 6 attack as not as bad as it looked despite video showing violent and, at times, deadly clashes.

“If we’re going to hold somebody responsible for every vote that they’ve made, none of us are going to be able to work together,” said Rep. Earl L. “Buddy” Carter (R-Ga.) after Rep. Madeleine Dean (D-Pa.) declined to allow him to be the lead GOP co-sponsor on an opioid addiction bill. “She wanted me to apologize. It will be a cold day in hell before I apologize to her for my vote on January 6th.”

Rep. Susie Lee (D-Nev.) said she has continued to hold meetings with GOP colleagues, including with three Republicans who did vote against certifying the election. But when she heard that Rep. Andrew S. Clyde (R-Ga.) played down the Jan. 6 riot at a recent hearing, likening the mob to tourists, she canceled an introductory meeting to discuss mutual issues of interest.

This is a good way to shut down the government:

Rep. Katherine M. Clark (D-Mass.) said member safety is a bipartisan concern, but added that the reluctance of many Republicans to acknowledge the facts about what happened on Jan. 6 and the role President Donald Trump played in inspiring the mob with his falsehoods about the election will make it hard for tensions inside and outside of Washington to die down.

“It is hard to look at some of those colleagues that I know believe and know that the election was secure but chose to vote against the electoral college, and by doing that they are perpetuating this,” Clark said. “I think there’s fear for them as well. I think this issue of member security flows both ways, but we are not going to fix this and bring down the temperature around partisan divide if we’re not operating from a common set of facts, however we may differ on policy.”

But of course a common set of facts is the real problem. What are the facts on the Republican side? Michael Scherer and Josh Dawsey tell the story of a giant pig that didn’t matter at all:

The Republican Party’s metamorphosis starkly showed this week in the faceoff between a parade float championing Donald Trump and “Mr. Perks,” an 18-foot pink pig on wheels emblazoned with the words “End Washington Waste.”

Americans for Prosperity, a free-market group that helped propel the tea party uprising in 2009, drove in the pig to make a point at a conservative rally about federal earmark spending. The Trump rig, equipped with a sound system and pulled by an old ambulance, posed a threat.

“This event is not about Trump,” said Annie Patnaude, the Michigan director for AFP, explaining why the Trump display had to move away from the live band and full buffet tables she had set up. “This is about pork.”

But no one cared:

Rob Cortis, the float’s owner, hails from the now dominant part of the Republican Party, in which the former president is still celebrated by many as the rightful winner of the 2020 election, a debunked claim. A list of Trumpian priorities – from “infrastructure” to “Stop the Steal” – were bolted to his trailer, with no mention of the old conservative traditions of limited government or lower debt.’’

The last time conservatives found themselves with a new Democrat in the White House and no control of Congress, Americans for Prosperity played a prominent role in an April 2009 rally in nearby Lansing that brought out thousands of activists to denounce spending, with the same oversized pig as a prop. But the energy has shifted in the Republican Party. About 100 people showed up Wednesday, even as Cortis had moved to the other side of the parking lot to cool off.

“I don’t need the aggravation and drama,” he said.

Perhaps he should just give up:

Aggravation and drama have defined the Republican Party since Trump left office. In just the past two weeks, Republican leaders have punished his enemies, continued to pursue a revisiting of the election results and, on Capitol Hill, opposed bipartisan efforts to create a commission to investigate the Jan. 6 insurrection there. A few members expressed concern for those who broke into the building where they work.

Those people have been charged with crimes! That’s just not fair! They’re patriots! And so is this guy:

A new generation of Trumpist acolytes – such as Missouri attorney Mark McCloskey, who became famous for drawing a gun on Black Lives Matters protesters – have announced their intention to run for high office with a set of Trump issues that motivate them. McCloskey has announced plans to run for the Senate.

He was willing to shoot those bastards. He may win that Senate seat. The Republican Party has changed:

The moves pose a threat to the party’s efforts to reclaim moderate, largely college-educated voters who were turned off by Trump, while muddying an attempt to shift the national focus to the less popular parts of Democratic policies.

They also mark a continued repudiation of the orthodoxy that last restored Republicans to power and governed the party for two generations.

Republican leaders have been alarmed by GOP-leaning voters moving away from the traditional conservative political conversation. Some even showed early support for parts of President Biden’s policy agenda, including another round of government checks for Americans, which Trump also supported, and plans for a massive infrastructure spending bill paid for with tax increases.

Yes, these people may be turning into something like Democrats, oddly, because of Donald Trump:

Trump was able to push away from GOP traditions, ride populist anger and marry it to a zest for cultural battles that resonated among a wider swath of voters. Trump advisers said he was totally unconcerned about spending, which was an animating issue of the tea party, sometimes remarking that he wouldn’t be around to pay the debt, urged aides to “run the presses” and often pushed for packages with higher prices than some of his more conservative aides wanted. In a sign that his position was persuasive, the House GOP caucus voted in March to once again allow members to push for earmarks that spend federal money on specific projects they favor, reversing its tea party-era opposition.

Yes, it’s time to park the pig float, permanently, to keep Trump happy:

In an effort to reorient the party away from the diverging priorities, House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) and Rep. Jim Banks (R-Ind.), one of the party’s most influential new strategists, have called for a new framing of the GOP around class divisions.

“Corporate America is [the] Democratic Party,” McCarthy said in a late-April interview with the conservative think tank American Compass, laying out the new message: “The American worker is the Republican Party.”

Banks considers it a mistake, for instance, that the last Republican tax bill included permanent cuts for corporations but only temporary cuts for people…

“That told working-class Americans that cutting corporate rates is more important than individuals and families,” said Banks, who also opposes raising tax rates. “All of our members should go back to their districts, pull together working-class voters and do town halls and just shut up and listen.”

Corporations are evil? Now they sound like hippies from the sixties, or like every pro-labor Democrat since FDR was first elected, but Biden, and inertia, won’t make this easy:

Democrats are skeptical that Republicans will be able to make the case without Trump on the ballot, especially because Biden has focused his communications about the economy on winning support from working people. They point to polls that have long affiliated Republicans with the interests of the wealthy and big companies and the party’s broader refusal to raise taxes on upper-income Americans.

But they’ll try:

Two Trump allies, Sens. Josh Hawley (R-Mo.) and Tom Cotton (R-Ark.), backed his call for larger stimulus checks for Americans and have separately backed plans to raise the minimum wage. Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) has more recently urged Republicans to look favorably on unionization efforts at Amazon.

But there’s a backstory there. Jeff Bezos owns Amazon. Jeff Bezos owns the Washington Post. Donald Trump hates that damned liberal “woke” Washington Post. The union vote would hurt Amazon. That would hurt Jeff Bezos. That would hurt the Washington Post. That would make Donald Trump quite happy. Marco Rubio knows this, not that it matters. The vote to unionize that bit of Amazon failed.

But that’s where the action is:

The bulk of the Republican pitch so far has been on cultural issues, which the party has attempted to reframe as a matter of class oppression, feeding into the sense of grievance so successfully mined by Trump.

“Right now, what are the dominant concerns among conservative voters?” Banks said. “A lot of it is free speech or political correctness, the wokeness of the moment.”

It’s a 1619 Project, Critical Race theory thing. White patriots will not feel guilty about slavery, if there ever was any at all, and even if there was, everyone has seen “Gone with the Wind” – all the slaves were happy – they were family. Anyone who doesn’t see that hates America. No one should be allowed to teach our children to hate America, and so on. So forget computations and tax policy. Forget big business. This is about the Old South! And this has splintered the party:

The question is whether these divisions fade as the nation gets closer to another election and Republicans turn their attention more on their opponents.

“That’s the main priority: to stop the Democrats,” said Sen. Lindsey O. Graham (R-S.C.), who said he has been working with Trump on drafting a new policy agenda for 2022, though advisers say the former president remains more interested in re-litigating the past election. “Democrats have done a better job of uniting us than we have.”

Graham is in a tough spot. He wants to work out what the party is now about. Trump keeps interrupting him – I won reelection and I can prove it!

This is a mess, and John Harwood has a message from the past:

The essay described congressional extremists, their rejection of truth, a party turning into authoritarians or “an apocalyptic cult.” It bore a striking headline:

“Let’s just say it: The Republicans are the problem.”

It didn’t mention Marjorie Taylor Greene, the deadly January 6 insurrection or Donald Trump’s Big Lie. In fact, the words “Donald Trump” did not appear at all.

Published in 2012, that Washington Post piece demonstrates more than the foresight of its political scientist authors, Tom Mann of the center-left Brookings Institution and Norm Ornstein of the center-right American Enterprise Institute. It shows the disease within the Republican Party had spread long before Trump metastasized it.

The original 2012 Mann and Ornstein essay is here – odd reading now – because then is also now:

Their conclusions – that the GOP had become “ideologically extreme, scornful of compromise, unmoved by conventional understanding of facts, evidence and science, dismissive of the legitimacy of its political opposition” – did not gain wide acceptance then. Many journalists joined leading Republicans in dismissing them.

“Ultra, ultra liberals” whose views “carry no weight with me,” sneered Senate GOP leader Mitch McConnell.

“I thought they overstated things,” Republican Charlie Dent, then serving his fourth term in the House from Pennsylvania, recalls now.

“People like me were thinking, ‘Yeah, there are some kooky people around, but c’mon,’“ says William Kristol, who was then editing the conservative Weekly Standard magazine. With John Boehner as House speaker and Mitt Romney winning the GOP presidential nomination, Kristol saw the Republican mainstream still in command.

Oops. Mann and Ornstein, to their dismay, had it right:

Kristol’s magazine, having diverged from Trump-era orthodoxy, no longer exists. Of his earlier sources of reassurance: Boehner fled Congress to author a book decrying his colleagues’ dysfunction; Romney has become a pariah as the only Republican senator who twice voted to convict Trump on impeachment charges.

Dent, now a CNN political commentator, quit the House after moderates like him became further marginalized. McConnell was shaken by violence inside the US Capitol for which he declared the defeated Republican President “practically and morally responsible.”

“I don’t get much satisfaction out of being right,” says Mann, now retired in California. “A country, and a system, like ours has to have two strong governing parties. The fact is, we only have one.”

“It’s a grim picture for the foreseeable future,” adds Ornstein. “We have a serious risk of losing our democracy.”

They now know that this is where this was heading all along:

Denying the scientific facts of climate change no longer suffices. House Republican have made honesty a disqualification for party leadership.

They fired Rep. Liz Cheney as conference chair for refusing to obscure the truth about President Joe Biden’s victory. Most rank-and-file Republicans, polls show, believe Trump’s lies about voter fraud.

Mann and Ornstein described party leaders’ refusal to rein in lawmakers like Allen West of Florida, who falsely asserted that “78 to 81” congressional Democrats were communists. Out of Congress and relocated, West now chairs the Texas GOP.

And now it’s banana-republic time:

When Mann and Ornstein wrote their 2012 analysis Tea Party Republicans had menaced the American economy with a debt crisis. But this year’s insurrection created physical menace – for Capitol Police, lawmakers of both parties, even then-Vice President Mike Pence.

Cheney warns that Trump may incite further violence. She told CNN’s Jake Tapper that House GOP colleagues voted against impeaching Trump because they were “afraid, in some instances, for their lives.”

A White Missourian who gained fame by pointing a gun at racial justice protesters got invited to speak at Trump’s 2020 nominating convention; he has now launched a GOP Senate candidacy. An AEI poll this year found most Republicans agree “the traditional American way of life is disappearing so fast that we may have to use force to save it.”

Mann and Ornstein see things even more clearly now:

What alarms them are the evolving demographic, cultural and economic realities of 21st century America. The country continues to become less White, less Christian, less financially rewarding for workers without advanced technical skills or higher education.

The GOP voting base is increasingly dominated by older, blue-collar, evangelical Whites in economically lagging towns and rural areas. Conservative media outlets stoke nativist anger over their loss of status and power.

Democrats have drawn more popular votes in seven of the last eight presidential elections. So in key states like Georgia, using Trump’s lies as fuel, Republicans now seek new election rules to help them win.

That’s the end of democracy. The April 2012 JUST ABOVE SUNSET discussion of the Mann and Ornstein analysis ended with this:

When do people get fed up with extremist nonsense, finally? What will it take for that to happen? Obama seems to think that, at some point, ordinary good and decent Republicans will tell the leaders of their party to just shut up and sit down…

But it’s probably a safe bet on things getting worse before they get better. Mann and Ornstein do agree with Obama – there are good folks out there, conservative folks who don’t agree with him, but also want to get things done, one way or the other – they’ll show up and we’ll get back on track.

And pigs will fly.

Nine years have gone by. Pigs don’t fly. And now that Woody Allen movie isn’t funny at all.

About Alan

The editor is a former systems manager for a large California-based HMO, and a former senior systems manager for Northrop, Hughes-Raytheon, Computer Sciences Corporation, Perot Systems and other such organizations. One position was managing the financial and payroll systems for a large hospital chain. And somewhere in there was a two-year stint in Canada running the systems shop at a General Motors locomotive factory - in London, Ontario. That explains Canadian matters scattered through these pages. Otherwise, think large-scale HR, payroll, financial and manufacturing systems. A résumé is available if you wish. The editor has a graduate degree in Eighteenth-Century British Literature from Duke University where he was a National Woodrow Wilson Fellow, and taught English and music in upstate New York in the seventies, and then in the early eighties moved to California and left teaching. The editor currently resides in Hollywood California, a block north of the Sunset Strip.
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