Ten days ago, White House national security advisor Robert O’Brien commented on the removal of Army Lt. Colonel Alexander Vindman and his brother Yevgeny from their National Security Council posts. Retribution? No, said O’Brien. But,“We’re not a country where a bunch of lieutenant colonels can get together and decide what the policy is of the United States. We are not a banana republic.” So why do I smell bananas?
President Trump views Alex Vindman as a traitor because he spoke about what he heard regarding Trump’s troublesome July 25 phone call to Ukrainian president Volodomyr Zelensky. But the Army refused to investigate Vindman. Former White House chief of Staff Gen. John Kelly concurred. “He did exactly what we teach them to do from cradle to grave.” I know.
Just before my 1967 graduation from Infantry Officer Candidate School at Fort Benning, Georgia, our battalion commander spoke about practical matters facing young lieutenants. They included illegal or immoral orders. (Sadly, the massacre at My Lai, Vietnam took place ten months later.) We were to refuse such an order and report it up the chain of command. We could not be “good Germans.”
Officers at all levels make life-and-death decisions. Law and morality must be guiding factors. Empowering young officers doesn’t make the United States a banana republic, a term referring to Latin American dictatorships supported by the U.S. and sometimes the result of coups by low ranking officers.
Take Cuba. In 1933, Fulgencio Batista, a sergeant stenographer, led the Revolt of the Sergeants that toppled the government. Batista promoted himself to colonel and later general then pulled strings in the background until becoming president in 1940. He cozied up to American corporations and the Mafia. Rebel forces led by Fidel Castro forced Batista to flee in the wee hours of January 1, 1959.
Is the U.S. a carbon copy? Hardly. Are we heading there?
Donald Trump, while a draft dodger, shares much with Fulgencio Batista. He sees himself above the law, worships the almighty dollar and uses his office for corrupt purposes. Seeking political help from other nations is only part of it. It seems Mar a Lago charges Secret Service agents the full room price when Trump stays there. So when Trump goes to any of his resorts, he profits.
Trump’s insistence that the president can do anything he wants reeks of bananas gone rotten. That includes undermining any sense of independence in the Department of Justice, which interfered with prosecutors’ sentencing requests regarding convicted Trump pal Roger Stone, who received three years and four months. That’s why over 2,000 former DOJ employees signed an open letter calling for Attorney General William Barr to resign.
What’s the worst that could happen? The possibilities are endless. For a glimpse of some—not as fanciful as you might think—I recommend an outstanding British TV miniseries, Years and Years (HBOGo). It peers into Britain’s near future, mirroring our own. The United Kingdom is driven into the ground by a “know nothing” prime minister aping America’s withdrawal from principled leadership under, yes, the second term of Donald Trump.
I love bananas in my morning cereal and as a snack. Also Woody Allen’s classic film from 1971, Bananas. But the fruit of the 2016 presidential election makes “Banana Republic” all too believable.
To respond, click on “comments” to the right just below the title of this post. Then go to the response space at the bottom of the post.