Robin Wright in The New Yorker:
In the early nineteen-hundreds, the American writer O. Henry coined the term “banana republic” in a series of short stories, most famously in one about the fictional country of Anchuria. It was based on his experience in Honduras, where he had fled for a few months, to avoid prosecution in Texas, for embezzling money from the bank where he worked. The term—which originally referred to a politically unstable country run by a dictator and his cronies, with an economy dependent on a single product—took on a life of its own. Over the past century, “banana republic” has evolved to mean any country (with or without bananas) that has a ruthless, corrupt, or just plain loopy leader who relies on the military and destroys state institutions in an egomaniacal quest for prolonged power. I’ve covered plenty of them, including Idi Amin’s Uganda, in the nineteen-seventies, Muammar Qaddafi’s Libya, in the nineteen-eighties, and Carlos Menem’s Argentina, in the nineteen-nineties.
Over the past week, however, the President’s response to the escalating protests over the killing of George Floyd has deepened the debate about what is happening to America. The House Speaker, Nancy Pelosi—the third most powerful politician in the the land—described the experience of her daughter, a filmmaker and journalist, when men in fatigues used chemical agents and body armor to force her fellow peaceful protesters aside so Trump could walk to St. John’s Church, on Monday night, for a fleeting photo op where he waved the Bible. On Wednesday, Pelosi bluntly asked, on MSNBC’s “Morning Joe,” “What is this, a banana republic?”