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Impeachment, Pelosi-Style

Photograph Source: AFGE – CC BY 2.0

Nancy Pelosi’s first stint as Speaker of the House came after Democratic victories in the 2006 midterm election.

Before that, she had opposed Republican efforts to impeach Bill Clinton for lying to Congress about his dalliance with Monica Lewinsky, but it was not until she became Speaker that she first plainly manifested what I, facetiously but still on point, would call “impeachment-aversion complex,” IAC, a politically toxic malady, so far still unmentioned in “The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders.”

Mentioned or not, she had a strong enough case of it to steer House Democrats away from going after George W. Bush.

In this topsy-turvy Trumpland world, Bush is nowadays all but venerated by pundits on the “liberal” cable channels and in the quality press. Back in the pre-Trump era, however, people whose views align with those of liberal media outlets, and everyone to their left, understood that, though the competition was stiff, George W. was, if not quite the most lethal, then certainly the worst president in modern times.

Nixon was his only competition. But Tricky Dicky, though more Trump-like, had many redeeming features; Bush had almost none.

Nixon promoted geopolitical stability by pursuing detente with the Soviet Union and opening contact with “Red China.” Bush, on the other hand, did more than his fair share to destabilize the entire Muslim world.

In domestic politics, Nixon was our last liberal president, many notches to the left of Clinton and Barack Obama; Bush was our most rightwing president since Herbert Hoover.

Even so, it is unlikely that, if impeached, say, in 2007, that Bush would have been ousted from office in a Senate trial. He would have been more than a little inconvenienced, however, and distracted by the sound and fury. He might even have been hobbled. No harm in that!

Inconvenient distractions hobble presidents. This is why, in dealing with the clear and present danger that is Donald Trump, impeachment is the best of the pitifully few Constitutionally kosher options available.

Now that the Republican Party, culminating its decades long descent into utter and complete vileness, has morphed into the Party of Trump, it is unlikely that impeachment would lead to a Senate trial that would oust Trump from office; that would require a lot of Republican votes. The prospect of a Senate trial might cause him to resign, however.

This would not be an unqualified blessing, inasmuch as a hobbled Trump would probably do less harm than a functioning Mike Pence. There is also the likelihood that Democrats would give Trump a get-out-of-jail-free card in exchange for his resignation.

Democrats are chronically pusillanimous, and they are slow to learn from their mistakes. Barack Obama and Eric Holder’s decision to let Bush and Cheney and other high-ranking Bush era war criminals off scot-free for the sake of “looking forward” was the Obama administration’s Original Sin. Cutting Trump and his minions any slack would be worse by many orders of magnitude.

If Trump is to avoid spending the rest of his days in an (appropriately colored) orange jumpsuit, doing the hard time he obviously deserves, let the GOP own it; otherwise the Democratic Party will have a much harder time transforming itself from being, as the expression goes, part of the problem, to part of the solution. Let the godly Pence play a Gerald Ford role in that; then even if he gets to heaven he will be eternally condemned where it matters, here on earth.

For now, though, hobbling Trump is the order of the day.

Had Bush been more hobbled than he actually was, he might have been less keen on pursuing the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq that he and Cheney launched, and that Obama and then Trump would go on to pursue.

That might have led, in turn, to diminished levels of murder and mayhem throughout the region, and therefore, among other beneficial consequences, to fewer displaced persons in Europe and elsewhere, and therefore to less wind in the sails of rightwing populists today.

In short, who knows how much better off we would now be had Congress even just launched an impeachment inquiry back in 2007! Our situation would certainly not be any worse.

It would have been a lot harder too for Obama to carry on where Bush and Cheney left off in Afghanistan and Iraq, and in their attacks on civil liberties in what we now call “the homeland.” Obama might even have had a harder time too waging war on whistle-blowers.

Thus Pelosi has a lot to answer for — even if, at this historical moment, hardly anyone realizes it.

Future historians, however, are likely to take a more critical stance. Perhaps they will agree with me about her IAC, and will marvel at the suddenness of her change of heart. We now know what we did not just a short while ago: that, when absolutely necessary, she has it in her to overcome it.

For this, we have Trump to thank. Last week, at long last, he made it impossible for Pelosi to continue to succumb.

Her IAC had a good run, though. From the day he swore to “preserve, protect and defend the Constitution of the United States,” Trump was plainly impeachable, if only for his blatant violations of the Constitution’s emoluments clause. From then on, the “high crimes and misdemeanors” multiplied like rabbits.

Trump spends a lot of time riding around in golf carts at his over-the-top resorts, watching Fox News, and composing semi-literate, occasionally incoherent, tweets. He is also out of town a lot at those Nuremburg style rallies he loves. But when actually at work, what he does, more than anything else, is spend his days generating grounds for impeachment.

For all but those Congressional Democrats who represent districts that had gone for Trump in 2016, districts full of easy marks and benighted souls, this made it harder than usual for the Democratic leadership to keep their party on its familiar track — at about that point on the notional political spectrum once occupied by Eisenhower Republicans.

Thus, by the time she became Speaker again, in the aftermath of the 2018 midterm rout of the more odious duopoly party, Pelosi had her hands full staying true to her diagnosis.

It was emblematic of her predicament that, upon winning her seat in Congress along with the rest of “the squad,” Rashid Tlaib famously proclaimed that the time had finally come “to impeach the motherfucker.”

Perhaps Pelosi was right to make something of the fact that not everyone thought that wise. But she was wrong in not taking seriously enough the even plainer fact that every clear thinking, morally decent person on the face of the earth shared Tlaib’s sentiment.

Since then, the numbers of people calling for Trump’s impeachment has grown steadily. Then, all of sudden, as news of “Ukraine gate” or whatever it will come to be called, began to emerge, it has turned into a torrent.

It is not entirely clear why this was the proverbial straw that broke the camel’s back. What is perfectly clear, however, is that Trump’s brazenly stupid way of handling the problem backfired. He effectively admitted everything, while saying he did nothing wrong and daring Democrats to do anything about it. Then, as if that wasn’t bad enough, he unleashed a series of tweet storms that demonstrate just how profoundly mentally decomposed he has become.

Could he have been counting on Pelosi’s IAC to rein in her caucus, come what may? Or is he just acting out in the manner of an immature male adolescent locked in a decrepit septuagenarian body? He has done that repeatedly since moving into the White House; the only thing unusual this time around is how extreme his acting out has become.

Whatever the explanation, Pelosi, IAC and all, has been swept up along with the tide. Even if she still wanted to hold it back, she no longer could.

I, for one, would rather see Trump impaled and eviscerated, and then see his head placed on a pike and paraded up and down Fifth Avenue past the Tower that bears his name, than see him impeached. I am sure that I am by no means the only one. But, of course, as Nixon would say, “that would be wrong.”

Also, what we are likely to get now may be good enough.

Even so, I would venture that, but for the inveterate niceness that afflicts the liberal mind, nearly everybody who is paying attention and who is not for Trump would be against him with a degree of ferocity equal to or greater than mine. If the polls are right, that would be some sixty percent of the American people.

Liberals are generally second to none in expressing opposition to Trump because, in addition to all the many compelling reasons for opposing him, they add a bad reason, and accord it particular weight. They fault him for what, back in the day, their predecessors called being “soft on Communism.”

Of course, Communism is and long has been a dead letter in Russia, but Russia is still there, led by a figure, Vladimir Putin, whom the American political class and its media flacks have found easy to demonize.

He is just what the movers and shakers of our military-industrial-national security state complex, fed up with their endless wars on the historically Muslim world and eager to find new ways to perpetuate their wealth and power at taxpayers’ expense, desperately needed.

If Putin did not exist, he would have had to be invented. This is more or less what actually came to pass.

How ironic that Trump is generally better on this than Pelosi and her cohort.

His instincts and attitudes may be of a piece with, say, Charles Lindbergh’s, but, notwithstanding the views of talking heads on the cable channels, he is not exactly an isolationist. His “very stable” mind is too much of a muddle to be that ideologically focused.

To his credit, though, he does understand that it is wiser to let sleeping Cold Wars lie than to roust them unnecessarily.

Fortunately, not quite all Democrats disagree; especially not since the 2018 election. Now there is “the squad” and others who think like them, some of whom have been around for a while, but who, being under the party leadership’s thumb, were reluctant to go too far out on a limb.

For any good to come of the Democratic Party, those are the Democrats that must take over the leadership. This is still a long way from happening. Within the caucus Pelosi leads, sensible views remain minority views.

Thus, ironically, because Republicans do whatever they think their Supreme Leader, the Donald, would have them do, Congressional Republicans are generally less Russophobic, and perhaps even less bellicose, than most of their Democratic colleagues.

Bravo to them for that. But this is not by any means a reason to impeach. Trump’s presidency is so execrable – and dangerous — that it hardly matters that, even on a matter of such grave importance, the Greater Evil Party is slightly less odious than its rival.

It is a reason, however, to do everything possible to keep the Lesser Evil Party from exacerbating its evil ways as the impeachment process unfolds.

***

It is practically axiomatic on the liberal end of our media culture that Pelosi is an outstanding House Speaker, masterful, competent and wise.

This is the conventional wisdom but, even so, it may actually be correct. She does, after all, seem good at getting done what she aims to do. Also, we now know that she is at least somewhat flexible, that she is able to change course when she must.

When she became Speaker the first time, Pelosi’s aim was to get Hillary Clinton elected president in 2008. Once it became clear, however, that Obama was running a stronger campaign, and that Clinton, true to form, was muffing a sure thing – a lesson forgotten in 2016 – Pelosi transitioned gracefully from her to him.

She also did her part to get Democrats elected to Congress. They were mostly “conservative” Democrats, Blue Dogs, vetted and recruited by diehard Clintonites like Rahm Emanuel. After the 2010 midterm election, most of them became ancient history. At least they were not Republicans, however.

Now that we know that she is capable of overcoming her IAC when the situation demands it – when she would lose the support of large chunks of her caucus if she succumbed — it may now be time to reconceptualize her longstanding opposition to impeachment; to think of it as more political, than psychological.

From that perspective, the idea, all along, was not so much to avoid impeachment per se as to keep the Democratic Party, like its rival, on the side of the ruling class. Following ample precedent, I use that term to designate, roughly, what Bernie Sanders calls the “billionaire class” and then some.

What has changed now is just that in order, as it were, to keep everything the same, Pelosi has to do just the opposite of what she had done in the past.

But she is still the same old Pelosi and the party she leads is still, for the most part, the same old party, less odious than the Republicans, and accountable, to the extent that this is possible in our far from democratic democracy, to ostensibly more progressive constituencies, but still, in the final analysis, cut from the same cloth as the GOP.

This is already very evident in the ways that liberal media have framed the impeachment issue. It is likely to become even more evident as Democrats, under Pelosi’s leadership, proceed, now that the impeachment process is underway.

Of all the many reasons why Trump is impeachable, Pelosi and her cohort have always focused most on Russian meddling, the one issue on which Trump is more right than they are.

To be sure, with respect to election meddling, the Russians have not been exactly virtuous. But, as they say, people who live in glass houses should not throw stones. Inasmuch as the United States is the world’s Number One serial meddler in the affairs of other nations, and inasmuch as Russia and the other former Soviet republics, including Ukraine, have long been favorite targets, it is, to say the least, unseemly, that going after Russia on this account is just what Pelosi Democrats want to do.

Trump has given their Cold War revivalist politics a new wrinkle by all but daring them to do anything to hold him accountable for his efforts to extort cooperation from the Ukrainian government in his attempt to smear Joe Biden.

This seems to have been the proverbial straw that broke the camel’s back.

This is far from the worst thing Trump has done. It hardly compares, for example, to tearing babies and young children away from their mothers and warehousing them under deplorable conditions.

There are countless other ways too, many of them also egregious, in which Trump is guilty of corruption, crimes against the environment, and violations of international and domestic law.

But “Ukraine-gate” does play into a narrative promoted by Pelosi et. al., in which feisty, freedom loving, courageous, Ukrainians, in the crosshairs of a demonic Russian tyrant hell bent on restoring a capitalist version of the USSR, are fighting back, impeded, however, by Trump’s corrupt self-seeking treachery.

True enough, it seems, but hard to fathom nevertheless.

Everybody knows that Trump is not the brightest bulb on the tree, and that his ignorance of world affairs is limitless, but surely he is shrewd enough to figure out how best to feather his own nest. Why, then, the fixation on Biden and his son?

Biden is a worse candidate, by any conceivable measure, than Clinton was. But that was then and this is now. After nearly three years of Trump, a potted plant should be able to wallop the bastard.

Evidently, the “very stable genius” thinks differently. But, on this as on so much else, his thinking, such as it is, is preposterous.

The fact of the matter is that if any of the leading contenders for the nomination on the Democratic side could actually lose to Trump, the way Clinton did, it would be Biden, a doofus who, as much as Clinton four years ago, embodies the abjectly pro-capitalist, neoliberal and liberal imperialist political orientation that made Trump or someone like him possible and arguably even inevitable.

Pelosi wants her Democrats to center their impeachment inquiries on Trump’s plainly illegal efforts to extort compromising information from Ukraine on Biden and his son. If that is what it takes, then so be it.

What a waste, though, of an opportunity to inform and educate the American public on the harms perpetrated by American politicians of both parties, and their corporate and Wall Street masters, as they shamelessly squandered the “peace dividend” handed them when the Soviet Union imploded!

How much more edifying it would be if instead of focusing on hapless Hunter Biden, we could talk about how it came to pass that Russia, all of a sudden, resumed its role as a geopolitical antagonist of the United States. Don’t expect to hear much of anything about the role of our almighty military-industrial complex in that very dangerous turn of events.

Don’t expect either to hear much in the coming impeachment inquiries about how Ronald Reagan lied to Mikhail Gorbachev about keeping NATO away from Russia’s borders, much less about how what has actually taken place in Ukraine since long before 2014 could possibly be ignored by the Kremlin.

Could the sudden build up of a massive, hostile military presence close to the United States, much less along our northern or southern borders, be ignored in Washington? Recall how the Cuban missile crisis very nearly led to the eruption of a nuclear Armageddon, and the question answers itself.

While we are at it too, as Pelosi and her co-thinkers, along with their media flacks, go on about how the consummately evil Putin invaded Ukraine, there might be some mention of how the areas in question are populated mainly by persons who are, by language and culture, more like bona fide Russians than like the bona fide Ukrainians living in the western parts of that country.

There might be some mention too of how the parts of Ukraine that Russia now dominates, to the great relief of most of the people living in them, were were parts of Russia itself back in the days of the Russian empire and later the Soviet Union. It was Nikita Khrushchev who put them under the jurisdiction of the Ukrainian Soviet Republic.

No one should hold his or her breath waiting to hear about that, or about Ukrainian fascism, or about the American role in fomenting rebellion in the period leading up to Putin’s “invasion.” Instead, what we will hear is talk about how Ukraine is at war with Russia – just not so as you can see it.

Expect the very people who say both that in 2016, the Russians interfered mightily in our election on Trump’s behalf, and also that Russian hackers had no effect on the outcome of the 2016 election to make that case. If mainstream Democrats are good at anything, it is at talking out of both sides of their mouths.

Impeachment Pelosi style is still better than no impeachment at all; that is how awful Trump and his minions are. It nevertheless merits all the criticism it is due, for what it amounts to, in the end, is Cold War revivalism by other means.

***

This rankles, but it is not the only rankling thing about Pelosiite Democrats that the impending impeachment inquiry will put in the foreground.

In much the way that George W. Bush now passes for a good guy in Democratic Party circles, and of course on the liberal cable networks where ex-Bushite pundits practically predominate, so do the denizens of the euphemistically named “intelligence community,” along with the rest of the national security state.

It was already distressingly evident, back when liberals were placing their faith in G-man Mueller’s Russiagate investigation, that, at some point, supposedly sensible people had learned to stop worrying and love the FBI.

At least the FBI, when it is not stifling dissent, plays a constructive role in domestic law enforcement. But the CIA and the all-surveillance-all-the-time NSA and the several other components of “the intelligence community” do hardly anything socially useful at all. How could even “love me, I’m a liberal” types stoop so low as to place their faith in them?

How could they honor them and miss no opportunity to thank them “for their service”?

But that is just what Pelosi does, even as she emotes about her prayerfulness and how sorrowful she is that impeachment has to be considered at all. What is she thinking? Is she trying to neutralize the evangelicals who, along with Trump, threaten civil war? Or has she just lost her mind?

The long and the short of it is that Tlaib is outraged and right, and that however much Pelosi exudes piety and praises civility, she is missing the point.

“Sorrowful” indeed! What with all the Trump besotted deplorables out and about, bringing Trump to justice may be dangerous, but it is hardly a reason to be sad. Quite to the contrary, it just might be the best reason Americans have had for a very long time to rejoice.

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ANDREW LEVINE is the author most recently of THE AMERICAN IDEOLOGY (Routledge) and POLITICAL KEY WORDS (Blackwell) as well as of many other books and articles in political philosophy. His most recent book is In Bad Faith: What’s Wrong With the Opium of the People. He was a Professor (philosophy) at the University of Wisconsin-Madison and a Research Professor (philosophy) at the University of Maryland-College Park.  He is a contributor to Hopeless: Barack Obama and the Politics of Illusion (AK Press).

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