Impeaching the Symptom, Not the Disease

I feel like I’m watching a sitcom called “America.” Next episode: Will they impeach the president? Stay tuned!

“Impeachment is therefore imperative, not only to protect the integrity of next year’s elections but to secure America’s continued democratic existence. If the House does its job, it will fall to Senate Republicans to reveal, in their decision to convict (or not), their preferred flavor of republic: constitutional or banana.”

So writes Will Wilkinson in a recent New York Times op-ed, making the case that Donald Trump definitely stepped over the line on July 25, when he pushed Ukranian President Volodymyr Zelensky to come up with some dirt on Joe Biden so that his country could receive $391 million in promised U.S. military aid. And yes, yes, this is as blatant, raw and slimy as corruption gets — like, my God, here’s a big-city political boss running the world! Impeach now or else . . .

And yes, I get it and don’t disagree. Trump is a shameless buffoon, a racist, a threat to the country and the planet and definitely should not be in the position of Most Powerful Man in the World.

But as I read about Ukraine-gate (or whatever this is) — all the shock, all the outrage — something keeps me from jumping wholeheartedly into the impeachment furor: the unspoken assumption that the United States is a solid, integrity-fortified democracy and force for good on Planet Earth, and Trump alone endangers this. In other words, this ain’t no banana republic (and let us quietly avoid thinking about all the banana republics we’ve supported and helped create over the years).

Trump may be a pioneer in bringing reckless, unrestrained narcissism into the role of national leadership, but he’s also a symptom of something wrong with this country that far transcends his stumbling ineptitude.

For instance . . . in case you’ve forgotten . . . we’re still engaged in pointless wars that no leader knows how to — or is allowed to — end, which have faded conveniently into background noise, except for occasional spurts of reportage, e.g.:

“A US drone strike intended to hit an Islamic State hideout in Afghanistan has killed at least 30 civilians who were resting after harvesting pine nuts.”

So Reuters informed us several weeks ago, adding: “Forty people were also injured in the attack on Wednesday night which struck farmers and laborers who had just finished their day’s work at the mountainous Wazir Tangi in eastern Nangarhar province. . . .

“‘The workers had lit a bonfire and were sitting together when a drone targeted them,’” a tribal elder told Reuters.

In a slightly different context — say the killings had been committed at a Walmart’s in El Paso, not a forest outside Jalalabad, and the weapon had been an automatic rifle rather than a drone — this would be called mass murder. Instead we call it war, and forget about it.

Or, as a U.S. military spokesman said: “We are aware of allegations of the death of non-combatants and are working with local officials to determine the facts.”

That’s reassuring!

Finally, the story points out: “The United Nations says nearly 4,000 civilians were killed or wounded in the first half of the year. That included a big increase in casualties inflicted by government and U.S.-led foreign forces.”

So 18 years on, we’re still fighting some kind of war in Afghanistan, or combating terrorists, though in the process we’re killing more civilians than they are. We’re also fighting and funding wars throughout the Middle East, including in Iraq. That was the war — remember? — birthed in lies so damning they bury Trump’s stream of “alternative facts” under a million corpses.

This starts to get at something. There was never an impeachment bandwagon aimed at George W. Bush, Dick Cheney or the other liars who fabricated the excuse for a little shock and awe. Indeed, while there were worldwide protests against the U.S. invasion of Iraq, the mainstream American media were all for it, turning prewar coverage into Operation Groupthink and marginalizing everyone who had his or her doubts about it.

Indeed, militarism and the pursuit of empire have been the norm for a long time. In April 1953, three months into his presidency, Dwight Eisenhower cried out to the American public about the insanity of military spending: “This is not a way of life at all, in any true sense. Under the cloud of threatening war, it is humanity hanging from a cross of iron.” Yet the Cold War, and military spending, grew during the Eisenhower presidency and continued thereafter, as though driven by a hidden, uncontainable force.

This is a force that has seldom made an appearance in presidential debates or campaigns. Certainly it’s one of the forces behind gerrymandering and voter suppression. As far as I can tell, it’s not a force within the reach of democracy.

Impeaching Trump would . . get rid of Trump, or at least begin the process to do so. That’s about it. The rest of our problems would remain in place.

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Robert Koehler is a Chicago award-winning journalist and editor.

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