The progressive case against impeachment
In another time and context, President Trump’s behavior in office would have led to his impeachment and conviction in the Senate. But impeachment today represents a wholly inappropriate approach to dealing with his presidency. Impeachment might be a so-so tactic for damaging Trump himself, but it’s a disastrous way to deal with “Trumpism.” And Trumpism is a much graver threat to Americans than Trump himself.
To think properly about impeachment, you’ve got to understand the time we are living through. Donald Trump in the White House is not an accident. Yes, there were the actions of former FBI Director James Comey and Russian election interference and Trump’s Electoral College win … and geez, why didn’t Hillary Clinton just go to Wisconsin? But while Trump feels unique, if you look around the world, his brand of politics is quite common. Look at Australia, Hungary, the United Kingdom, Brazil, Austria — the neo-liberal world order, established and maintained by the United States, is being repudiated in nearly every corner of the world.
Globalization has put workers in a brutal competition against their low-wage, developing world brothers and sisters. Automation is making an increasing amount of that workforce irrelevant. The elite consensus has defined growth as stock market gains and gross domestic product growth, without regard to the fact that the overwhelming beneficiaries of a bull market and increased GDP are big corporations, banks and the 1 percent. This is no accident, of course, since these folks wrote the rules to make sure they were the primary beneficiaries.
Here in the U.S., instead of church and community, our lives have become centered around shopping and social media platforms. We worship the twin gods of cheap Chinese products and filtered photos to create illusions of the meaningful lives we imagine others must live. We are a nation of addicts — addicted to consumerism, to social media and gaming dopamine hits, to porn, to sugar, to alcohol, to work, to the opioids that made Big Pharma billions of dollars.
Donald Trump is no aberration, despite what Joe Biden may think. He is a response to a culture in tailspin. Far from unique, he is the global norm. Impeaching Trump for telling former Attorney General Jeff Sessions to un-recuse himself addresses none of that.
Trump is not an all-knowing, brilliant strategist. He showed up at the right place and right time to campaign against a terrible candidate — Clinton — and still hobbled across the finish line. He was conned by former Speaker Paul Ryan and the Chamber of Commerce crowd into a plutocratic-dream tax plan. Thank God Trump is impulsive and incompetent; if he were as strategic and disciplined as Hungary’s Prime Minister Viktor Orban, a man who was willing to suffer short-term defeats in the service of his bigger authoritarian vision, America already would be lost.
But make no mistake, the populist wave that brought Trump to power is strong. It’s the reason he easily could be reelected. And it is toward these underlying forces and grievances that we must focus our attention.
Right-wing populism is on the rise globally because it provides an easy answer to the real, justifiable anger about the neo-liberal world order. To put it simply, the right-wing answer is racism — “nationalism,” if you want to put the in vogue spin on it. Right-wing populists say, “Your life is terrible because of immigrants — the Central American or Muslim or African who is taking your job, ruining your community.” The nice thing for right-wing populists is that it’s easy to deliver on the promise of racism. As we’ve seen recently, hate crimes are up. Once off-limits ideas are mainstream. The white, working class has gotten a psychological dopamine hit from once again freely asserting their superiority over their black and brown brothers and sisters.
The only way to combat such ideology is with left-wing populism that addresses the real grievances without nativism and racism. This won’t be easy. With left-wing populism, it’s more difficult to deliver results because it requires delivering material benefits and not just psychological ones. Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) is the best model we have for what successful left-wing populism might look like — and obviously his agenda would be really hard to enact.
The American people may want “Medicare for all” but the health care companies will throw billions of dollars at defeating it. The American people may want powerful unions, but big businesses will line up to keep unions from organizing their workers. In other words, dealing with Trumpism is a much more difficult project than just getting Trump out of office — and yet, it is the project we must focus on.
Impeachment would be a distraction from fighting right-wing populism. It actually would encourage and enable the forces that brought Trump to the White House. Yes, we have to get him out of office — but ending Trump’s presidency is not enough. And done in the wrong way, deposing Trump actually could hasten the arrival of the next, more effective “Trump.” Get over the handwringing about the rule of law and precedents and the guardrails. For most Americans, the rule of law has been meaningless since “banksters” set off an economic nuclear bomb and never suffered a single consequence; the precedents and guardrails were just a way of keeping those with wealth and power fully in control.
Forget about impeachment. Fight for a progressive answer to Trumpism that actually delivers for the multi-racial working class. It might sound far-fetched, but it’s our best and only shot.
Krystal Ball is the liberal co-host of “Rising,” Hill.TV’s bipartisan morning news show. She is president of The People’s House Project, which recruits Democratic candidates in Republican-held congressional districts of the Midwest and Appalachia, and a former candidate for Congress in Virginia. Follow her on Twitter @krystalball.