When the seemingly endless Russiagate investigation finally fizzled over the summer, the long-awaited impeachment of Donald Trump seemed to be a dead letter. “Liberal” cable news shifted from its two-year immersion in “the Russia conspiracy trap” (Masha Gessen)—with occasional interruptions for mass shootings, hurricanes, war scares, presidential tweets and other matters—to its next populace-paralyzing fixation: the big money, major party candidate-centered quadrennial presidential electoral extravaganza.
Then came UkraineGate, like a bolt from the sky, courtesy of a Central Intelligence Agency officer, other “national security” operatives and the non-Fox corporate media. In the last week of September, the world learned that on July 25, 2019, just one day after special Russiagate prosecutor Robert Mueller gave his woefully unimpressive testimony to Congress, Trump called the president of Ukraine, Volodymyr Zelenskiy. During his conversation, Trump used the threat of withholding American military assistance to pressure Zelenskiy into helping Trump’s ridiculous personal lawyer, the fake diplomat Rudy Giuliani, dig up political dirt on Trump’s perceived 2020 presidential rival, former vice president Joe Biden.
As of now, it appears likely that Trump will be impeached by the U.S. House of Representatives for this technically criminal abuse of power (compounded by Trump’s subsequent illegal intimidation of a “whistleblower”) before the end of the year. It is unlikely but not unimaginable that Trump will be removed from office by the U.S. Senate early next year.
What shall we make of it on the portside? It’s been hard not to enjoy watching Trump and his defenders squirm. Surely there is no public humiliation too great for this racist, sexist, ecocidal and fascist menace who befouls and endangers the world with his presence in its most powerful office.
No left worthy of the label would stand in the way of the constitutional defenestration of the neofascist malignancy. This isn’t the oligarchic political class trying to investigate, impeach and remove a President Bernie Sanders for trying to tax the rich and/or slash the Pentagon budget to pay for universal single-payer national health insurance and/or a Green Jobs program. This is about a leading faction in that class-wielding constitutional powers to consider indicting and perhaps even expelling a neofascist menace.
Still, an impeachment that is all or mainly over Trump’s Zelesnskiy call threatens to give Trump implicit exoneration for numerous other and bigger, impeachable crimes and abuses. The progressive activist “Roots Action” website gives the following daunting list of offenses for which Trump deserves impeachment: violation of Constitution on domestic emoluments; violation of Constitution on foreign emoluments; incitement of violence; interference with voting rights; discrimination based on religion; illegal war; illegal threat of nuclear war; abuse of pardon power; obstruction of justice; politicizing prosecutions; collusion against the United States with a foreign government; failure to reasonably prepare for or respond to Hurricanes Harvey and Maria; separating children and infants from families; illegally attempting to influence an election; tax fraud and public misrepresentation; assaulting freedom of the press; supporting a coup in Venezuela; unconstitutional declaration of emergency; instructing Border Patrol to violate the law; refusal to comply with subpoenas; declaration of emergency without basis in order to violate the will of Congress; illegal proliferation of nuclear technology, and illegally removing the United States from the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty.
Roots Action should have included Trump’s worst offense: the criminal acceleration of ecocide, the biggest issue of our or any time. Trump has brazenly violated his oath to serve the general welfare by doing everything he can to turn the world into a giant greenhouse gas chamber as soon as possible.
Here we would do well to recall Noam Chomsky’s criticism of the de facto impeachment and removal of President Richard Nixon. Watergate was about Nixon’s breaking of ruling-class norms by needlessly burglarizing the other major imperial party’s candidate headquarters.
The Watergate hearings evaded Nixon’s and Kissinger’s mass murderous bombings of Cambodia, Laos and Vietnam, their criminal support for a fascist coup in Chile, and Nixon’s vicious, fascist-style police-state repression of the antiwar, black freedom and radical left movements. Nixon’s biggest crimes went un-aired and unpunished. It was officially fine for Nixon to inflict monumental murder and mayhem on anti-imperial freedom fighters, peasants and the left at home and abroad. Nixon’s only authorized sin was to have stupidly messed with the other American ruling class and imperial party, the Democrats, at home.
To make matters worse, Trumpeachment under the supervision of corporate and imperial Democrats like House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif., net worth of $64 million) and House Intelligence Committee Chairman Adam Schiff and their “deep state” informants is about Trump putting his personal self-interest above a principle that rests on a great imperialist myth: “the national interest.”
Trump isn’t in trouble for bullying Ukraine. Superpower Uncle Sam bullies other countries all the time. Trump is in hot water because he got caught with his hands in the cookie jar clumsily injecting his selfish domestic political interests into the all-too-standard U.S. practice of imperial coercion. U.S. foreign policy is supposed to be about “the national interest,” not the political self-interest of one man who would like to be a king or dictator with the help of other heads of state.
But what is this grand “national interest” the reigning bipartisan U.S. political, intellectual and media cite like some holy incantation, with Democrats and their media allies in the lead in the Age of Trump? The great, prolific American historian Charles Beard was run out of U.S. public-intellectual life for having the audacity to in numerous books, including “The Idea of the National Interest” (1934) and “The Open Door at Home” (1934) that “the national interest” was a veil for ruling class imperialism. Empire, Beard argued, worked against the interests of most U.S. citizens by hitching economic growth to the profit-lust of those atop what would come to be known as the military-industrial-complex—and by enmeshing the United States in what Beard called (anticipating Orwell) “perpetual wars for perpetual peace.”
In the wake of Beard’s warnings and observations, the Pax Americana bloomed, spreading U.S. power across vast stretches of the planet. The United States has been enmeshed ever since in an endless series of wars, interventions and conflicts, few if any of which have ever had the slightest thing to do with the United States’ “national security.” Quite the opposite: the American Empire—replete now with more than 800 bases spread across more than 100 “sovereign” nations—has put ordinary Americans at risk at home and abroad while distributing wealth and power upward. The costs of this empire have been born by society at large. The benefits—including the massive transfer of taxpayer money away from domestic social needs to giant public subsidies for high-tech corporations like Raytheon and Lockheed Martin and global military protection to multinational U.S. corporations and investors—have reverted to the wealthy few and their political and military agents and allies.
The bloated military-Keynesian Pentagon system has bankrupted social programs, feeding savage domestic socioeconomic disparity while fueling the deadly militarization of society. It has hitched American “prosperity” to a permanent war economy that is helping drive the world over an ecological cliff while constantly developing new super-weapons capable of decimating the world many times over.
It is pathetic, contemptible and criminal for Trump to have strong-armed Ukraine in an effort to enlist foreign assistance for Trump’s domestic political ambitions. But it is stupid to think that the more standard practices of American imperialism have anything to do with the “national interest” of all Americans. The “national interest” is a great imperial, ruling-class and Orwellian lie in the hands of the nation’s dominant ideological authorities.
Even if its scope is broadened beyond UkraineGate, impeachment is not a popular rebellion against the main capitalist oppression structures of our time, which now pose an existential threat to human survival and must be overcome if we are to preserve chances for a decent and organized existence. It’s an elite process designed by the nation’s wealthy Founders, who considered policy and politics the special preserve of the propertied Few. The early republic’s slave-owning and merchant-capitalist masters believed, and their ruling class counterparts believe today, that the property-less and property-poor Many—the “rabble”—are not to be trusted with political power. We on the left want to put the “rabble”—the working-class majority citizenry—in the streets to confront not just the fascistic Trump-Pence regime and the fascistic Trump base but also the broader system of empire and inequality of which the Trump regime and Trumpism are part and symptom.
Trump is awful, of course. But so is the richly bipartisan system of class and imperial rule that gives rise to monstrous neofascist and white-nationalist actors and forces like Trump, Pence and Trumpism in the first place. Establishment Democrats like Pelosi and Schiff and their donors sit atop the other major party wing of the same American corporate-imperial bird of prey. They are so vile that several top Democratic Party campaign bankrollers, according to CNBC, are ready to back the malignant neo-fascist Trump not just over the progressive populist and self-declared socialist Bernie Sanders but even over the self-declared “capitalist” and center-left Democrat Elizabeth Warren.
The meaningfully democratic way to remove Trump is not through elite procedures designed by 18th century slaveholders for whom democracy was the ultimate nightmare. It is through sustained mass civil disobedience within and beyond the streets—through rebellion by and for those whom the American ruling class fears and hates the most: the working-class majority. The left should mobilize to bring the ghastly neofascist Trump-Pence regime down in the same ways the people of Puerto Rico forced out their corrupt and racist-sexist governor Ricardo Rosselló last summer; the people of Hong Kong won the repeal of an authoritarian extradition law last spring; the French Gilets Jaunes (Yellow Vests) won the repeal of a regressive tax last December; the people of Ecuador won the repeal of a regressive fuel tax and broader neoliberal austerity program last Sunday; the people of Algeria overthrew an authoritarian regime last spring, and Extinction Rebellion has put the environmental question front and center in England.
The left must not let the impeachment extravaganza keep millions seated in front of glowing telescreens to be told how the unmentionably disastrous two-party system, the ruling class corporate media and the U.S. Constitution “work” for democracy and the common good. They do no such thing.
Does the American ruling class and power elite really and at long last want to rid itself of the racist, sexist, neofascist and ecocidal atrocity that is Donald Trump? Good. Let them proceed. We certainly won’t stand in their way. There can be no defense of the wannabe fascist strongman Trump—the first president in American history who poses a serious threat not to honor the results of a re-election attempt that doesn’t fall his way—on the portside. But, as I have been saying from the start, the elites hate Trump for reasons very different than ours. Trumpeachment a la Pelosi and Schiff is not really our battle. The left’s fight is to build as quickly, deeply and widely as possible a popular grassroots movement against the fascistic White House and the racist, sexist, imperialist and ecocidal system of class rule that gave rise to it.
Previously published on Truthdig, Oct. 17, 2019
Paul Street is an independent radical-democratic policy researcher, journalist, historian, author and speaker based in Iowa City, Iowa, and Chicago, Illinois. He is the author of seven books to date: Empire and Inequality: America and the World Since 9/11 (Boulder, CO: Paradigm, 2004); Segregated Schools: Educational Apartheid in the Post-Civil Rights Era (New York: Routledge, 2005); Racial Oppression in the Global Metropolis: a Living Black Chicago History (New York: Rowman & Littlefield, 2007); Barack Obama and the Future of American Politics (Boulder, CO: Paradigm, 2008); The Empire’s New Clothes: Barack Obama in the Real World of Power (Paradigm, 2010); (with Anthony DiMaggio) Crashing the Tea Party: Mass Media and the Campaign to Remake American Politics (Paradigm, 2011); and They Rule: The 1% v. Democracy (Paradigm, 2014). Paul writes regularly for Truthdig, Telesur English, Counterpunch, Black Agenda Report, Z Magazine and Dandelion Salad.
from the archives: