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Do I Live in a Banana Republic?

Photo by Coco Curranski | CC BY 2.0

I am back in rural Virginia after spending a week in Aotearoa/New Zealand, and came down to earth very quickly when I returned (I’m not talking about the descending plane I flew in).

Many in Aotearoa were still celebrating the election in October of the Labour Party’s Jacinda Ardern as the country’s third female Prime Minister.  The 37-year-old ex-Mormon Ardern, a self-described social democrat, opposes tax cuts for the wealthy and is strengthening the social safety net and labour rights.

Coming back to a country where the direct opposite is being done brought me back down to earth.

The rampant corruption (legalized of course) in American politics is something else that rendered me terrestrial in a jiffy.

The appropriately named Ajit Pai, a former Verizon lawyer, appointed FCC chair by the Orange Swindler, did his master’s bidding and abandoned net neutrality.  Ajit is ensuring that all internet users will pay for this utterly rancid decision. Equally ghastly are the Republican politicians who used this particular issue to line their pockets.

Morgan “the Morgue” Griffith, who represents the district I happen to live in, took $198,900 in handouts from the telecommunications industry.  The Morgue owes his soubriquet to his unrelenting opposition to any legislation providing adequate healthcare for many of the voters he purports to represent.

Bob Goodlatte, the swamp-dwelling chair of the House Judiciary Committee, who represents the district next to the Morgue’s, took a staggering $815,099. Bad Bob (described thus by Ralph Nader in CounterPunch) is retiring at the end of his current term– in all probability, lucrative sinecures on the board(s) of the company/companies who had him in their pockets now await him.

Equally dismaying, but somehow also laughable, was the directive issued by the Orange Swindler’s administration, in a move that would have done credit to the Soviet Politburo of yore, requiring officials at the Center for Disease Control not to use the following 7 words and phrases:  “vulnerable”, “entitlement”, “diversity”, “transgender”, “fetus”, “evidence-based” and “science-based” in their reports.  In one instance, CDC officials were given alternative phraseology. Instead of “science-based” or “evidence-based,” the alternative phrase recommended by the boneheaded administration is the “CDC bases its recommendations on science in consideration with community standards and wishes”.

A few weeks before the Trump administration issued its crass directive to the CDC, the current occupant of the White House was called a “moron” by his secretary of state.  Ah ha, here we could be talking about something that is somewhat “evidence-based”?

So Lysenkoism– where a conformist and dull-witted ideology gets the better of what is supposed to be science– is alive and well, albeit far from its country of origin.

Another practice the Politburo would have smiled at is the Orange Swindler’s stuffing of the judiciary with bona fide charlatans, homophobes, and racists, all basically Trump hacks, several of whom are rated as “unqualified” by that quite unradical body, the American Bar Association.

A USA Today analysis found at the time of his nomination for the presidency Trump and his businesses had been “involved in at least 3,500 legal actions in federal and state courts during the past three decades”.  This would give him a vested interest in appointing unqualified hacks as judges–  he might receive better treatment from the bench if he filled it with incompetent but ideologically congeneial drones

The ABA is well-known, most of the time, for certifying that more or less plausible nincompoops with a law degree are “qualified” to be on the bench.

Last week some side-splitting TV was afforded by the Senate confirmation hearings of one of Trump’s district court judge nominees, Matthew Petersen, who was unable to answer a single one of a series of questions on basic law put to him by a Republican senator who happened to be a lawyer.

Petersen gave a priceless but excruciating imitation of the proverbial deer caught in a car’s headlights as each basic question stumped him.

Highlights of the car-crash that was Petersen’s testimony before the Senate are now a hit on YouTube.  The humiliated Petersen withdrew from the nomination process a couple of days later.

Petersen had however been rated as “qualified” by the American Bar Association for his nominated position, surely further testimony to the ABA’s unelevated standards when it comes to rating judicial nominees.

Petersen’s rating by the ABA made one wonder what someone had to do to merit its “unqualified” designation.

Getting a degree from the law school of the crappy Regent University, owned by the crazy coot TV evangelist Pat Robertson?  Incidentally, obtaining this law degree can include taking several courses on “biblical morality”.

Someone with precisely this Robertsonian law degree was a recent right-wing governor of Virginia who had protracted dealings with the legal system because he and his family were manifestly on the take.

The governor’s case went before the US Supreme Court, now of course filled with rabidly right-wing appointees, which determined that a politician’s receiving gifts, no matter how substantial, that were part of an attempt at (mere) “ingratiation”, in no way constituted an act of corruption in the eyes of the law.

Umm, there could be many an American politician now saying, entirely legally, as did this Virginia governor according to the Supreme Court, “kindly bestow on me the most fulsome gifts of ingratiation, but please don’t call them a bribe!” to well-heeled individuals seeking special treatment (or to use the well-known euphemism, “access”).

Hence, a few days after returning from New Zealand, all the above reinforced my long-held conviction that I’m living in a banana republic that happens to be the richest country in the world.

This week I’m off to Texas to spend Christmas with in-laws, and as always, this is an opportunity to become reacquainted with that uniquely surreal American state.

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Kenneth Surin teaches at Duke University, North Carolina.  He lives in Blacksburg, Virginia.

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