What the Right-Wing Freakout Over Trump’s “Banana Republic” Indictment Is Really About

In Brazil, Lula beat Bolsonaro by just over two million
votes out of a total population of 216 million, a close race that some
interpreted as a surprising show of strength for Bolsonaro. However,
considering that no sitting Brazilian president had ever lost reelection since
the Constitution first allowed an incumbent to seek a second term in 1997, and
that Bolsonaro unabashedly used the vast powers of incumbency to further his
campaign, Lula’s victory was no small feat. Lula remains broadly popular despite
some rocky moments in his first few months: 71 percent of respondents in a
recent poll
rated his administration as average, good, or great. If Bolsonaro is considering
a comeback, this week was not an auspicious start, particularly compared with the
reception Bolsonaro used to get
at airports when he first ran for president. Anything is possible, but it is
far from clear that Bolsonaro has a path back to the presidency whether or not
he faces criminal charges before the 2026 presidential campaign.

Trump’s indictment, of course, is noteworthy for how
unprecedented it is in the U.S. context.  And that has led to an interesting debate: Some
Republicans have denounced the indictment—handed down, it’s worth remembering,
by a grand
jury made up of private citizens
—as a kind of politically motivated
revenge, evidence of the nation’s democracy being relegated to “Third-World”
. They call this a political prosecution, not justice—the kind of
stuff, they insist, that happens in distant “banana republics,” not the solid US
of A. Even in disagreement, former George W. Bush speechwriter and anti-Trump
conservative David Frum accepted the premise: “Point of clarification, it’s a
banana republic when the president of the state commits crimes and DOESN’T face

Accountability for chief executives can certainly be
weaponized in service of a political agenda, as Brazil’s history shows: Lula
spent 580 days in prison on corruption charges that were thrown out once it
became clear
that the presiding judge was colluding with a prosecution well aware of the
fragility of its case. But the American right’s panic about becoming a “banana
republic” suggests a more specific anxiety: It speaks to the disruption of the
abiding U.S. impulse to overlook or absolve ourselves from far-flung and
inconvenient facts even—or especially—when the American government is involved.