Impeachment Proceedings and the Democrats’ Enduring Russophobia

The president pressured the leader of Ukraine to investigate Hunter Biden’s business activities in the country in exchange for the release of $390 million in U.S. aid including $ 250 in military aid. OK, this is now old news. Most people are disturbed by Trump’s obvious intention to collude with foreigners to influence the next presidential election if his rival is Joe Biden.

But many Trump supporters are finding no fault here. Hunter deserves to be investigated, they figure. And what difference does it make where the information comes from? The system is telling them that getting intelligence from foreigners is treasonous. But Trump disputes the point, asking why he shouldn’t look at the information on political opponents received from, say, Norway?

(I myself as an internationalist find the idea that foreigners must be systematically excluded from our pristine bourgeois-democratic system lest they defile it rather irrational. George W. Bush hired a Canadian as a speechwriter—a very evil one named David Frum, who came up with “Axis of Evil”—during his 2000 campaign and no one made an issue of it. The U.S. interfered big time in the Russian election in 1996. Spare me your outrage. Nobody threatens U.S. democracy, such as it is, any more than the upper echelons of the home-born capitalist class.)

Meanwhile the Republican senators whose votes are needed for impeachment stand solidly behind Trump. So long as there’s no hard evidence of a quid pro quo arrangement (Javelin missiles for dirt on Biden’s five years working for Burisma Holdings) Trump did no wrong. I’d wager a third of the population feels this way. And many who had been unaware of Hunter’s board membership (which had been widely criticized in the U.S. press in 2015) now credit Trump for revealing that Joe’s son made three million between 2014 and 2019, from Burisma while the gas company—Ukraine’s largest—was under investigation for corruption. That fact alone, they figure, validates Trump’s actions. “I think he’s crossed the line, but that’s just the way he is,” says a Trump voter on CNN.

In an effort to sensationalize Trump’s apparent “arms for dirt” deal, the mainstream press is describing the Ukrainian military aid as “desperately needed” to resist the “Russian invasion.” Trump is not just hesitating to send hep; he’s denying vital life-saving tools to the besieged. It sounds awful.

But wait! there has been no Russian invasion! There is a secessionist movement in the Donbass region, and some involvement of Russian and dual-national special forces and volunteers, but there have been no real battles since 2015. The Minsk process (in which the U.S. does not participate, but provides for Donbass autonomy and eventual elections and a ceasefire) has been revived.

And the media is not pointing out what should be obvious: the U.S.-backed putsch of Feb. 18, 2014 brought Ukraine into the U.S. camp, but in a state of such corruption it could not be admitted into NATO and the EU as planned. Vice President Joe Biden was placed in charge of attacking corruption in Ukraine; meanwhile, in April 2014 Hunter was invited to join Burisma.

Trump, aware of the basic chronology and some of the facts, has claimed that father and son then contributed to the corruption. According to him, Biden demanded Ukraine fire its chief prosecutor Viktor Shokin in 2016, not because he was corrupt himself and opposed by the IMF and EU as well as Washington, but because his investigation threatened his son, who was making suspicious millions in a totally corrupt country. He has surely succeeded in drawing attention to scandalous wealth in making his (probably fanciful) case.

Hillary Clinton famously labelled Trump supporters “a basket of deplorables.” Since the election we have seen Trump maintain a remarkably consistent 40% approval rate. About a third of the country remain avid fans. Trump covers for a royal murderer, cancels a state trip to Denmark to protest Copenhagen’s failure to sell Greenland, acts like a Mafia boss with the Ukrainian president. His fans are unfazed, and so their representatives must be so too. On the basis of the current scandal level, the Senate will acquit after the House impeaches.

The Trump administration is an experiment in how outrageous a president can be and get away with it, testing just how deplorable his deplorables can be. It’s an exploration into the depths of depravity, affecting both political parties. How much will the Republicans tolerate before they turn on Trump? How much more will Democrats try to join the drive to topple Trump with their ongoing vilification of the Russian “adversary”?

What will have been gained, after impeachment? Political lines will be more firmly drawn. Democrats will be aghast at their rivals’ lack of patriotism, their failure to see treason when it stares them in the face. Republicans will laugh that the Dems are sore losers, making mountains out of mole hills in their desperate effort to topple the people’s choice. The false image of a Ukraine overrun with Russian tanks may gain more currency. Biden will suffer from the attention given Hunter’s highly remunerative involvement in Ukraine; Warren and Sanders will profit.

That’s the only good thing I find here. Yes it’s good to have more evidence of Trump’s shameless opportunism, amorality, and thuggery. It’s good to know he actually made release of promised weaponry contingent on Kiev’s cooperation in a politically-based investigation. It’s good to see him (further) exposed as the gangster he is. But 60% of us have understood his evil all along, while 40% have supported him, and the Ukraine phone call(s) probably won’t change that. It will not produce impeachment in the Senate.

Nancy Pelosi wants the nation shocked and Trump shamed by what she hopes to prove was a quid pro quo agreement. Like the (imaginary) agreement with the Russians, but this time with the Ukrainians denied anti-Russian weaponry pending their decision to “play ball.” She would probably not like this episode to lead to an investigation of the U.S.’s $ 5 billion campaign to produce regime change in Ukraine (to bring it into NATO) culminating in the 2014 putsch, that produced the puppet regime, that provoked the Donbass revolt and re-annexation of Crimea, that resulted in Joe Biden’s appointment as point man on Ukraine and his son’s invitation to join Burisma.

But since this story is all about Ukraine, and NATO expansion to encircle Russia with military bases and missiles (a topic TV news anchors seem forbidden to discuss, much less problematize), and Russian responses in self-defense (including the preemptive seizure of Crimea), the impeachment hearings could raise questions about what happened in 2014. And people might ask, why, since there’s been no heavy fighting in Donbass since 2015, Kiev has such a “desperate need” for aid against a “Russian invasion.” Beyond the specific mendacity of Trump lies the broader mendacity of NATO that on the basis of lies reconfigured the Balkans, provoked the Russian invasion of Georgia in 2008, backed the coup in Ukraine, and created the “adversary.”

The (Democrats’) moral protest against Trump is that he denied a nation’s urgent request for aid against the Russians. What ought to be condemned is U.S. imperialism, NATO expansion, U.S.-orchestrated regime change, Victoria Nuland’s collaboration with fascists, the anti-ethnic Russian measures taken by the new leadership provoking civil war. But none of this history is visited or revisited. All that MSNBC wants you to know is contained in Richard Engels’ hepful summary, which begins with a “revolution” in 2014 that caused Ukraine to shift from being a “pro-Russian puppet” to being “pro-American” (but not a puppet, apparently).

But being corrupt, Ukraine needed U.S. help in overcoming its corruption, which Biden kindly provided. Engels mentions per script the Russian invasion—even of Crimea where Russian soldiers in place merely secured buildings before conducting the referendum returning the peninsula to Russia. He talks about the Giuliani visits and Ukrainian officials’ confusion about who really represented the U.S. But you can’t expect him to critically evaluate the expansion of NATO, highlight U.S. involvement in the coup, objectively recognize that Russia felt impelled to grab Crimea lest it fall to NATO, and realize that—-leaving Trump and his delusions absolutely aside—the military alliance is unnecessary, wasteful and pointless except to serve as U.S. adjuncts the next time the U.S. wants to destroy Serbia, Afghanistan or Libya.

Bottom line: more assertion of Russophobia, insistence (in defiance of commonsense) that people in this country understand that not the U.S. but Russia is the great aggressor and war-maker in the world. That the brief, low-casualty war with Georgia in 2008 was somehow comparable to the U.S./NATO war in Afghanistan that has killed 112,000. Or the bloodless seizure of Crimea and limited aid to the Donbass separatists after the anti-Russian, U.S.-backed coup has been comparable to the war on Iraq killing over a million. This telephone call scandal is being used to obscure the real history and reconfirm the state religion of Russophobia.

Democrats realizing that Trump is targeting Biden over Ukraine issues respond reflexively by denouncing the “Russian invasion” against which Ukraine needs weapons denied them by the president. But again, this itself is a myth.

Trump lies, always, daily. So do the Democrats, although differently, somewhat (maybe) more subtly.

The problem is not holding up arms for political gain, but allocating and providing the arms to a government you’ve created through murderous violence in Maidan with the intention of drawing Ukraine into your aggressive military bloc, whose necessity and goodness cannot be questioned in the U.S. media. To impeach Trump for the sin of indifference on Crimea, and his willingness to condition aid on political obedience, would be to impeach him for being inadequately anti-Russian. You know, the way we should all be anti-Russian, because of all those provocations of the U.S. in….um, Georgia? Ukraine? Syria?

In effect, Pelosi is issuing an invitation to the next president to opt (as some U.S. NATO generals have suggested) for an all-out operation to regain control over the Donbass if not the Crimea. Not good or helpful at all. But yes, if this hurts Biden, and the rotten core of the DNC, reminds the masses of the sickening power of the 1%, and allows a real reformer to—by accident—eclipse him, good, good!

Gary Leupp is Emeritus Professor of History at Tufts University, and is the author of Servants, Shophands and Laborers in in the Cities of Tokugawa JapanMale Colors: The Construction of Homosexuality in Tokugawa Japan; and Interracial Intimacy in Japan: Western Men and Japanese Women, 1543-1900 and coeditor of The Tokugawa World (Routledge, 2021). He is a contributor to Hopeless: Barack Obama and the Politics of Illusion, (AK Press). He can be reached at: