Thanksgiving is a fine time to take stock.
As it happens, this year, with Congress in recess and the president spending more time than usual mentally decomposing and sending out tweets too absurd to warrant a passing comment, it is an especially fine time to take stock of how matters stand with Democrats and Republicans, two of the most onerous crosses Americans bear, after nearly three years of kakistocratic rule.
“Kakistocracy” is an old word that Trump and his minions have made timely. It ought to be used more than it is in accounts of our president and his administration. It means rule by the worst, most inept, most unscrupulous, most contemptible, and most vile.
On this Thanksgiving, with a general election less than a year away, there is much to take stock of — because, as Donald Rumsfeld might say, there are so many “known knowns.” Formerly on top of George W. Bush’s gang of miscreants, the hapless Rumsfeld is now only the second most ludicrous Donald in the American political firmament of the past twenty years.
Among those known knowns, we know that Congressional Democrats will vote, probably unanimously, to impeach Donald Trump. Trump is not just the most ludicrous Donald in recent decades, but also, far and away, the most god-awful president in more than a century and half. Arguably, he is the worst president ever, though some pieces of work just before and after the Civil War set the bar for that title rather high.
The reason is not that the inveterate cowardice of the Democratic Party’s leadership or of most of its rank-and-file is subsiding. It is that Trump’s “high crimes and misdemeanors” have become too numerous and too egregious for Democrats – indeed, for anyone still blessed with the wits they were born with — not to want him gone right away.
Another closely related reason is that so many of the people upon whose votes Democrats depend realize this and are therefore demanding immediate action.
If the “founding fathers” had made it Constitutional to impale and eviscerate instead of merely impeach presidents as awful as Trump, I suspect that quite a few thoughtful, normally placid American citizens would be clamoring for that too. I, for one, would like to see his head on a pike, paraded up and down Fifth Avenue in front of the gilded architectural mediocrity that bears his name.
This cannot be, of course, but neither can Democratic Party leaders hold back any longer. Sorry, Nancy Pelosi; that is how it is.
The more odious duopoly party is on a thoroughly different track. Having no self-respect, intellectual honesty, or basic human decency, Congressional Republicans will vote not to impeach. Their vote will likely be unanimous too. This is a known known too.
Therefore, because the GOP lost control of the House of Representatives in 2018, the sleaziest and most venal capitalists in the Land of the Free will not get their way when the vote on Articles of Impeachment is taken; their boy will be disgraced. Let us hope too that he, his three (or four or five?) miscreant children, his advisors, and his business interests will be damaged in ways that cannot be repaired.
To that end, the time to start putting pressure on Democrats not to give him a get-out-of-jail free card in order to get him to go peacefully or, as pusillanimous politicians and MSNBC “journalists” might say, “to heal the nation’s wounds.”
That is what Barack Obama and Eric Holder did with Bush era war criminals. Look how that worked out: it enabled Wall Street’s best friend to become President Drone, the Deporter-in-Chief. That Original Sin of the Obama administration, the prelude of many sins to follow, was at least as reprehensible and perhaps even more consequential than Gerald Ford’s pardon of Richard Nixon.
Most likely, the day Congress votes to impeach will not make the day of deliverance from Trump and Trumpism come any sooner than Inauguration Day 2021. But it will be one of the most glorious day in living memory, if only for the fact that, despite the many undemocratic obstacles our “founding fathers” put in the way, Trump will be indicted – not, for anything like all of his many “high crimes and misdemeanors,” there wouldn’t be world enough and time for that in any case — but at least for something.
More than anything else Congress could now do, this will bend “the long arc of the moral universe” closer to justice. Take that, “founding fathers!”
What could they have been thinking when they concocted a political system in which elections could be won by candidates and parties who do not get the most votes? How could they, or anyone else with a democratic bone in their body, defend minority rule?
The founding fathers (not a mother among them, except in the colloquial sense) were hardly saints. They were mostly Southern plantation owners or Northern merchants who benefited directly or indirectly from the Atlantic slave trade; and they, like all settlers, benefited from the subordination or outright extermination of the land’s original inhabitants.
But they were also, for the most part, Enlightened thinkers, as good as any in their time, and more gifted than nearly every one of our leaders who have come after them. Why, then, did they make it so difficult to undo colossally bad electoral choices, even when an overwhelming majority of the public would like to do precisely that?
Thanks to their rules, this time too, the will of “we, the people” will not be done; the Republican led Senate will not remove Trump from office. But, unless “moderate” Democrats somehow weasel out, this time the peoples’ will will at least gain a measure of formal recognition; a small victory for (small-d) democracy, but a victory, not to be despised, even so.
How odd that the process those vaunted founders concocted for impeaching a president is, in this respect, more consonant with the principle of majority rule than the process they inflicted upon posterity for electing one! A minority – not just of eligible voters, but of those who actually bothered to vote — got Trump elected, but a majority of House members, representatives of each and every American citizen, are about to get him impeached. Go figure!
Trump’s impeachment will deal a blow to incurables in the “basket of deplorables”; to get past it, they will have no choice but to “man up,” as politically incorrect people used to say. Or, as Mick Mulvaney, kakistocrat extraordinaire, might put it, they will have to learn to “deal with it.”
Not that they will have that much to learn. Because they can count on the Senate to do the wrong thing, their Leader, the Commander-in-Chief, will not be going anywhere anytime soon.
Therefore, even with this small victory in the bag, the kakistocrats will still come out ahead.
The Senate will toe the Trumpian line, but the case against him, heading into the Constitutionally mandated Senate trial in which Republican Senators will vote to acquit, is overwhelming.
Aficionados of “alternative facts” can count on Trump Party publicists to claim the opposite. They will get an undeserved boost from liberal corporate media. It is, after all, another known known that, notwithstanding how much those media outlets are in the Democratic Party’s pocket, they will continue to treat GOP nonsense “with all due respect.”
Nevertheless, the plain truth is that, by any standard for what ought to count as an impeachable offence, no matter how vague those founding fathers were and no matter how unhelpful the precedents may be, Trump is, at the very least, guilty as sin. A truly impartial jury would probably find him a whole lot guiltier than that.
But, so what! Trump may not have built his wall on the southern border, but he has built an impenetrable wall of Republican Senators and House members on Capitol Hill. To his dismay and to the dismay of his supporters, this cannot do much to keep Central Americans and other brown and black people out of the Home of the Brave, but for keeping justice out, it works quite well.
In the Tea Party days, there was something almost sublime about GOP obstinacy. No matter how intellectually bankrupt and morally depraved Republicans were, their sheer, unprincipled stubbornness could inspire awe.
No longer. In the Age of Trump, Republican Senators and House members have no redeeming features whatsoever, aesthetic or otherwise. Like the Trumpian kakistocrats in the executive branch, they are in no way admirable, and in all ways contemptible.
Meanwhile, Democrats, even the “moderate” ones that liberal and enlightened capitalists would impose upon the American people, have become at least nominally less retrograde than they were just three years, but seemingly one eternity, ago.
Thus, Joe Biden, the most moderate of all, now presents himself in ways that make him look almost leftwing, compared, say, to the Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama of old. He is not, of course; he is just a goofier version of those two. It is telling, though, that he and his handlers would like the public to think otherwise.
But even as the Democratic mainstream has moved to the left in domestic politics, it has become more committed to Cold War revivalism than ever before. Arguably, in this one respect, Democrats nowadays are even worse than their Republican rivals.
Indeed, they sometimes seem to be channeling Trump himself. The Donald is a past master at going after his rivals for what he does twenty times worse; he is the proverbial pot that calls the kettle black. How ironic that this is precisely what Democrats do when they villainize Russia or, as they call it, “Putin.”
To be sure, their criticisms are often justified. But because whatever, if anything they do unto us, we do many times worse unto them, they are always hypocritical and disproportionate.
It has been this way for a hundred years or more. Communism used to be the bugbear; now, nothing is. The enmity, though ingrained, is merely reflexive; for some, it is almost instinctual. If Lamarck had been right about the inheritance of acquired characteristics, this would be an example. Thus, when it comes to meddling in the internal affairs of Russia and the former Soviet republics, and to sowing seeds of discontent, nobody does it better than Uncle Sam.
That this will continue and become even worse as the impeachment process unfolds is another known known. Or, rather, it would be if corporate America – and indeed the entire military-industrial-national security state complex – succeeds in selling Democratic voters enough snake oil to cause some Bidenesque, Buttigiegian, Klobucharian, Harrisian, or Bookeresque “moderate” to become their party’s nominee.
It will be no less likely if some billionaire buys the nomination for himself. At least Tom Steyer has been a good guy for the past decade or so, but Michael Bloomberg – seriously? Surely, now would be a fine time to revive the show and slogan “Eat the Rich.”
And then there are Tulsi Gabbard and Andrew Yang, the two candidates who, besides Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren, have the most to contribute to “the national conversation.” For better or worse, their candidacies have been total and complete non-starters since Day One.
But not to despair. If Sanders or Warren becomes the nominee, as will happen if, despite all the encumbrances in the way, good sense prevails, there is reason to hope that the Democrats’ Cold War obsessions will subside, and that, in due course, American foreign policy will become less of a threat to the future of humankind than it long has been and currently still is.
This is not a sure thing, but there are reasons to be cautiously optimistic. Think of it! In a year’s time, we may find ourselves able, at long last, to participate in a political universe in which there is something actually worth giving thanks for.
Until recently, the foreign policy views Sanders has expressed in public forums, and his House and Senate votes on military and foreign policy matters, have been about as good as it gets in the House and Senate, which is to say not good at all. Warren has basically remained silent on the subject, though, whenever she has spoken up, her thinking seems to track Sanders’, albeit in a minor key and with less authenticity and passion.
Now, however, Sanders’ views seem to be evolving in positive ways. In the last debate and on other occasions, he has even expressed solidarity with Palestinians, and voiced opposition to handing Israel the blank check and providing it with the unconditional support it typically receives from the United States. For a Democrat as recently as 2016, this would have been unthinkable.
For many reasons, mostly having to do with the determination of those who hold power to continue holding onto it, the forces arrayed against Sanders and Warren are formidable. That those pressures will intensify this winter and spring is another known known.
The enemy’s strategy, so far, has been to ignore the true progressives in their midst as best they can. Sanders especially has borne the brunt. Corporate media treat him as if he doesn’t exist.
But he does exist and, despite everything, the movement supporting him is robust. Before long, expect the media’s and the Democratic Party establishment’s feigned indifference to give way to nastier and more overt hostility.
But “we, the people” are mad and getting madder. If we get mad enough, and if we act with a degree of courage and audacity that puts mainstream Democrats to shame, we could well prevail.
How this would all play out is a Rumsfeldian “known unknown.”
I am cautiously optimistic, however. Thus, I would venture that the chances, at this point, are about fifty-fifty that, despite their nature, Democrats will do the right thing next year; and then, with Sanders or Warren setting the tone, that they will begin the reconstruction of the Democratic Party in ways that will, in time, cause it to become not just a bulwark against the greater evil, but a positive force for good.
To this end, though, it must be said that the way the impeachment spectacle is unfolding, by focusing narrowly on “Ukraine-gate,” is not helpful. It is not even helpful for getting Trump out of the White House as soon as possible.
Must Democrats be reminded that it is a known known that nothing will get Republican Senators to vote to convict? Nothing Trump could do that he has not already done, except perhaps converting to Islam or announcing that he wants to become a woman could get through the Trump Party’s wall – not even were he to have a nationally televised nervous breakdown or to torture puppies in plain sight on Fifth Avenue, put white babies in cages, or piss on Bibles.
By now, everybody either knows this and is appalled, or knows this and doesn’t care or, in some especially deplorable cases, knows this and approves. Those who thought that laying the facts bear would change public opinion to a point where at least some Trump Party Senators, enough to convict, would defect, were fooling themselves.
The GOP is beyond redemption. In the years to come, it may survive in benighted quarters, but, as a force for anything other than the promotion of vileness and the reckless endangerment of life on earth “as we know it,” it is worse than hopeless.
What far too many people who should know better refuse to acknowledge is that the other duopoly party will end up not a whole lot better if its leaders succeed in quashing the spirit of 2018, the rising tide of discontent that brought “the squad” and others who think like them into Congress.
They are working hard to do precisely that: by silencing or disparaging Sanders and, lately also Warren, and by doing all they can to drive home the idea that only a “centrist” stands a chance of defeating Trump.
In truth, anybody or anything, except perhaps Hillary Clinton, could defeat Trump, especially now that he is working so diligently to defeat himself.
Therefore, whatever some Democrats and independents might in all sincerity believe, calls from the top, from Obama et. al., to keep on a centrist course have more to do with control over the Democratic Party than with opposition to the clear and present danger currently inhabiting the White House.
I have a vague memory of some centrist Democrat on MSNBC or CNN saying, during a break in the televised witness testimonies last week or the week before, that the American people would sooner vote for a sociopath than for a socialist. Nonsense like that is almost as noxious and wrong-headed as the nonsense that oozes forth from the bowels of the GOP.
Nevertheless, it is the case that a tactical alliance with Democrats who might actually, deep down, prefer Trump to Sanders is necessary as the 2020 election year takes shape. What is and ought to be absolutely unacceptable is strategic acquiescence.
Thus, there is reason to be concerned that if Pelosi et. al. get their way – in other words, if the political energy that made 2018 happen is channeled exclusively into a Ukraine-gate impeachment saga – it will be difficult, if not impossible, to keep alliances between the party’s emerging leftwing and its dead center at a purely tactical level.
The fault line runs right through the testimonies and performances of the “fact witnesses” whose appearances before the House Intelligence Committee were televised last week and the week before.
There were the “good soldiers” — honorable, competent, and diligent. Among them were Marie Yovanovitch and Alexander Vindman, people whose professional ethos is, for good or ill, epitomized by Kipling in “The Charge of the Light Brigade”: “ours not to reason why; ours but to do or die.”
The world needs people like them – honest, competent, and hard-working — who, if they cannot in good conscience follow the orders they are given, blow the whistle on the malefactors above them or resign or both.
This will be the case until the time comes, if it ever does, that institutional arrangements proper to and characteristic of the bourgeois societies that emerged in western Europe in the early modern period and that have since spread all over the world are transformed into institutions capable, along with the state system itself, of “withering away,” leaving a world in which, through uncoerced cooperation, “the condition for the free development of each” becomes “the condition for the free development of all.” This was the dream of most anarchists and some socialists, including Marx, some of the time, and of the Lenin of The State and Revolution.
It is a dream that remains valid, even if, for now and for the foreseeable future and beyond, it can only serve as a distant lodestar. So three cheers, or better two and three-quarters, for diligent, functionally apolitical public servants like the ones who testified publicly last week and the week before.
Most of them, anyway. It would come as news to those who imbibe liberal media the way that the Fox News audience imbibes alternative facts, that Cold War ideologues like Fiona Hill are, to at least some extent, another story.
As much as the other witnesses, Hill, to her everlasting credit, defied Trump’s efforts to keep her from testifying. Thus, she did uphold the Constitutional view of the separation of powers, and the different responsibilities of the executive and legislative branches.
She did so, however, while speaking out in favor of the Cold War revivalist worldview that, much like Trump’s incoherent and generally imbecilic antics, though for different reasons, poses a clear and present danger to much that is and ought to be held dear.
Thus, her celebrated reproach to the Republicans questioning her was essentially a scolding for “being soft,” as Cold Warriors used to say, on Russia.
In the bad old days, that expression was practically synonymous with “being soft on Communism.” Because, for quite some time now, there has been no Communism in Russia, that understanding had to go. So too doid the rationale for the Cold War worldview it underwrote.
But, much like the many irrefutable revelations of Trump’s lies and “high crimes and misdemeanors,” this seems to have changed hardly anything at all. If the world survives Trump, these very strange and basically incomprehensible situations will undoubtedly be much discussed by historians and others in the years to come.
Had the arch-neocon John Bolton deigned to testify before Congress, instead of playing teasing games waiting for a tell-all book that he is writing, or having written for him, to be published, he might have been the star of the televised hearings instead of the peerless Fiona. He outranks her, after all; his is the more authoritative, though perhaps not the more articulate or persuasive voice. But Bolton made himself unavailable, and so a star was born.
The fact is, though, that they are both cut from the same toxic cloth; both are up-dated exponents of old school, Scoop Jackson – Richard Pipes style, anti-Communism, the kind that was so committed to Cold War thinking, that its proponents could never quite accept détente, much less the end of Communism and the disintegration of the Soviet Union.
It was no doubt hard for Hill and others like her when America “won” the Cold War, or rather when the Soviet Union imploded, just as it was for the pillars of the “defense” industry and for the majority of Pentagon intellectuals.
Their discomfort was not relieved when it became clear that, thanks to its regression to capitalism, there was no way that post-Communist Russia could do service as a credible threat to “truth, justice, and the American way”; not, anyway, until almost a quarter century would pass.
At the time, China was unable and unwilling to serve that purpose as well.
Even years later, with the United States bogged down in never-ending wars in the historically Muslim world, wars of far less use to death merchants and military men than the Cold War had been, and with Obama and Clinton and, then John Kerry thinking that a “pivot” towards Asia would be just the thing to give their Wall Street backers a boost, they still could not quite pull it off — in part because, by then, the Chinese and American economies had become too intertwined.
But now, heedless as always of reality, Trump has taken up the anti-China cause. Signs of disaster ahead are many, but the proverbial shit has yet to hit the proverbial fan.
However, Cold War revivalists are happier now that the basket case that Russia had become is on the mend. They still don’t quite have the credible threat that they crave, but at least they can now proceed as if they do. This is good for their psyches and for keeping America’s overripe capitalist system afloat.
For the rest of us, there is even a silver-lining of sorts. Had Hillary Clinton won, neocons like Bolton and Hill would probably have had to play second fiddle to liberal imperialists like the ones she empowered when she was Secretary of State, people like Victoria Nuland, Samantha Power, and Anne-Marie Slaughter.
“Humanitarian intervention” types like them do present a kinder-gentler face than, say, John Bolton unleashed, but they are, if anything even more likely to draw the United States into endless wars and to bring chaos upon the beneficiaries of their concerns.
Now, having demonized “Putin” so effectively, and having played the Cold War revival card so hard, Democrats will have a hard time setting humanitarian interveners loose upon the world again. The neocon ideologues who would replace them are no prize, but if it comes to that, better them than what we would otherwise have had in store.
On the other hand, if Sanders calls the shots, and maybe too if Warren does, there is a decent chance of a soft landing as the American empire disintegrates, as it sooner or later surely will, and as the United States learns or relearns how to prosper without putting the whole world in mortal jeopardy.
As of this moment, though, the short run fate of the Democratic Party is indeterminable; it is yet another known unknown.
There are also, of course, Rumsfeldian unknown unknowns. There always are, but with Trump thrashing about, there are even more than usual; their consequences could be more far-reaching than most as well.
Pessimism, dark as can be, is therefore in order, but optimism is too.
Along those lines, there is even time to nurse appealing fantasies. Mine is that Trump, hobbled and distraught, becomes undone by his sedentary ways and his fondness for fast food. In weak moments, I have even imagined buckets, symbolic of the late Mr. Creosote in Monty Python’s “The Meaning of Life,” cropping up in demonstrations alongside Baby Trump hot air balloons; and I have hoped for what those buckets portend.
That would be something in our political universe truly to be thankful for.