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Voices / Viewpoint

Our banana republic

Much of our democracy has been dismantled or is under heavy attack from within. Truth and logic have lost their place in our culture, just as they rarely had a place in efforts against Cuba since the end of Batista.

Jerry A. Sierra plans to retire in Windham County within a few years. Born in Havana, he and his family came to the United States in 1969. His site explores the island’s heritage and its people through a Cuban expatriate’s lens.

San Francisco, CA

Sometimes I see Cuban history everywhere I look.

Sometimes, lately, I just see Cuba.

This wet-paper blur on the sidewalk, between a Starbucks and the post office, looks a lot like Cuba in more ways than one. It sits there, with concrete oceans for borders, withstanding assaults from the heavy shoes of predatory capitalists, yet it survives.

I take a snapshot of wet-paper Cuba, and later, in a cab, I recall the picture and imagine that it could not have looked that much like Cuba, that maybe I was projecting my thoughts. Was Cuba on my mind?

Before my stop, I look at the viewer in my camera, and the image looks more like Cuba than I recalled.

But even after seeing this unexpected vision of the most precious Pearl of the Antilles and wondering why it would appear along my path, I’m more worried about my other country. The one where I live and love and work and play and vote. Our country — the U.S. of Donald Trump.

Today, our country is the world’s biggest banana republic, in the hands of an irresponsible conman who is dedicated to destroying its values, institutions, and ideals while making himself richer, thanks to the most irresponsible Republican Congress in U.S. history.

Which, again, reminds me of Cuba, the Democratic Years (1902–59), in which “majority” was not usually determined by arithmetic, and presidents left office much richer than when they started.

* * *

In the long, painful year that was 2017, much of our democracy has been dismantled or is under heavy attack from within.

Much of what made us unique, exceptional, and truly great (such as our judicial system) is in complete disagreement with the White, centrist/corporate-flavored winds blowing from the White House.

Almost singlehandedly, President Trump has destroyed the view many of us have of the highest office, turning it into a for-profit endeavor and acting more like a villain from Vertigo Comics than the president of the United States.

It is clear that Vladimir Putin hired the right guy to destroy us from within. The Soviet Union couldn’t hurt us, but there’s no diffusing Trump before the explosion. Red wire? Blue wire?

Boom! That was the United States of America, folks!

Among Trump’s most remarkable achievements of 2017:

• Bringing back the Cold War against Cuba

• Pushing through a generous tax break for corporations and billionaires

• Erasing President Barack Obama’s accomplishments via executive orders (going after pot smokers in states where it’s legal, eliminating pollution standards for power plants, bowing out of the Paris climate accord, etc.)

• Increasing anti-immigrant sentiment tenfold

• Embracing open racism against Mexican communities and Mexican-Americans

• Supporting and defending sexist and sexually abusive behavior

• Insulting world leaders and political enemies

• Repealing anti-bribery rules that required oil and gas companies to disclose payments to foreign governments

• Implementing “pay-to-play” corruption at the presidential level, from which he now profits

• Embracing institutional attacks on civil rights reminiscent of authoritarian regimes

• Issuing attacks and threats against the FBI and the CIA (you’d think he was “the enemy” and not “the president”)

• A clear and open disrespect for truth, ethics, and decency

• Moving us closer to a nuclear confrontation with North Korea

• Issuing directives to the Justice Department to protect his personal interests

And that’s the partial list. Our president escalates hostilities as if it just isn’t masculine to diffuse them.

* * *

Civilization, it would seem, has grown fragile as President Trump becomes the undisputed poster boy for the Ugly American. And true to his sense of scale and expressed prowess, isn’t he the Ugliest American ever?

Who would have thought that our America would try to eat itself from the inside until there’s nothing left? Racism, sexism, anti-Semitism, xenophobia, homophobia, bigotry, authoritarianism, fascism... this is the new face of national politics. And it features a level of profanity, new to U.S. politics, that promotes violent behavior.

Truth and logic have lost their place in our culture, just as they rarely had a place in efforts against Cuba since the end of Batista.

I hate to see that level of extreme harshness aimed at the fabric of U.S. life, but it seems obvious that Trump learned a thing or two from the anti-Castro community’s long years of supporting terrorism against Cuba and lying about it openly.

* * *

This new level of institutional meanness will surprise Americans who normally look the other way when elected officials (U.S. Representative Ileana Ros-Lehtinen and others) go before a U.S. president to seek forgiveness for a terrorist — and get it.

Many of us refused to see this possibility within us at all, looking the other way whenever possible — and now, many of us still refuse to see where we stand today.

In his year in office, Trump has killed the “spirit” of America. And we may never recover.

Even if the 2018 elections bring back some decency and sanity to public life, we’ll always remember shamefully that we could fall so low as to have this man for president.

We must face the possibility that Trump will hang on, that he’ll “reorganize” the FBI and fire people (not loyal to him) and hire people (loyal to him) and that Congress could support an excuse to cancel elections and prosecute his political enemies (Hillary Clinton, Joe Biden, Paul Krugman, et al.).

Some claim that we deserve this for our complacency over the years, for not handling our political corruption and educational shortcomings when we should have. I’m not in that camp.

An article by José Martí from the Jan. 16, 1886 issue of La Nación (Buenos Aires), on the state of “The American Soul Today,” could have been written this week with only a minor change at the end.

“It is each man for himself. Fortune, the only object of life. Woman, a luxury toy....”

“In this gigantic nation there doesn’t seem to be enough soul, that marvelous cohesive stuff without which everything in a nation comes crashing down catastrophically.”

“The reading of things beautiful, the knowledge of the harmony of the universe, the mental contact with great ideas and noble deeds, the intimate acquaintance with the better things the human mind has been pouring out through the ages, stimulate and broaden the intelligence, place in man’s hands the reins to control the simple, fugitive pleasures, to produce much deeper and more delicate satisfactions than the mere possession of fortune, to sweeten and ennoble the lives of those who are without fortune and create, by uniting equal men on a high level, the national soul.

“A nation is not a complex of wheels, nor a wild horse race, but a stride upward concerted by real men.” I would add, “and women.”

As an immigrant and a naturalized citizen who has never missed an opportunity to vote, I fear that the grotesque behavior we’ve seen from President Trump is just the beginning.

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Originally published in The Commons issue #445 (Wednesday, February 7, 2018). This story appeared on page E1.

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