Sure, Impeach Trump, But Let’s be Honest

Sure, impeach Trump for legitimate reasons explicitly stated in the Constitution. But let’s be honest that an 18th century document did not include slaveholding among high crimes against humanity, and certainly has no specific clauses covering modern war crimes and state terrorism.

The New York Times has a recent article (“Republican Tactic: Using Impeachment Hearings to Smear Biden on Ukraine,” by Katie Glueck and Maggie Haberman, Dec. 7, 2019) delicately threading the needle on the issue of Hunter Biden’s dealings with Burisma Holdings in Ukraine. Anyone who pretends to believe that Hunter’s dad had no actual wrongdoing influence in gaining his son a gig with the Ukrainian gas market should try to pitch that point of view on MSNBC. Or indeed in the pages of The New York Times, where Glueck and Haberman wrote the following:

“Hunter Biden did hold a lucrative position on the board of the Ukrainian energy company Burisma while his father was vice president, and while there is no evidence of wrongdoing, the arrangement struck some Obama administration officials as unseemly given the elder Mr. Biden’s role in Ukraine policy.”

Unseemly. Well, that’s both high-toned and begrudging, but only an afterthought since “there is no evidence of wrongdoing.” To be sure, the Republicans are claiming a false equivalence between business as usual nepotism and presidential corruption explicitly forbidden by the Constitution. Even so, the Democratic Party is also striving to change the subject whenever its own partisan policy in Ukraine gains too high a profile in the daily news.

Though I must not wander too far afield of my subject here, I do advise readers willing to follow this trail of evidence through the career of Victoria Nuland, a former Assistant Secretary of State for European and Eurasian Affairs at the United States Department of State, a former CEO of the Center for a New American Security, a former U.S. ambassador to NATO, and the Brady-Johnson Distinguished Practitioner in Grand Strategy at Yale University. She served under Vice President Dick Cheney, and in the administrations of Bill Clinton and Barack Obama. On February 4, 2014, a recording of a phone call between Nuland and Geoffrey Pyatt, then the U.S. ambassador to Ukraine, was published on YouTube. Nuland and Pyatt discussed how to get the US State Department’s favored candidate, Arseniy Yatsenyuk, the post of Prime Minister of Ukraine. Yatsenyuk duly took that job on February 27, 2014. In this phone call, Nuland stated her strong preference for the United Nations as mediator rather than the European Union, adding: “Fuck the EU.” To which Pyatt responded, “Oh, exactly . . .”

There are some serious issues involved in the impeachment charges made by career politicians in the Democratic Party. Yes, serious issues by any fair reckoning, independent of the current factional tug of war between “the left and right wings of the Property Party,” to borrow the words of Gore Vidal. But if war crimes and imperial barbarism truly counted among the reasons for the impeachment of presidents, most of the presidents since the year 1900 would also have spent terms in prison.

If we are making a moral and political calculus of the public harm done by people claiming to be public servants, a fair account would have to go beyond the very text of the Constitution. Whatever views we may take on the present course of public hearings related to more explicit impeachment proceedings to come, there is no good reason to take a strictly partisan side between the present career politicians in Congress.

Congress is the front office of the ruling class. A few earnest reformers, including democratic socialists, have indeed been elected to Congress, and that is good news. The brute fact remains that career politicians will not, in a firm majority, put themselves out of bipartisan business as usual. And that business includes loyal corporate service to the project of war and empire.

Sanders has promised a political revolution, and the new wave of young members in the Democratic Socialists of America (DSA) is proof that there are indeed earnest reformers determined to seize the Democratic Party from the old guard in the bunker of the DNC. Unfortunately, the death grip of the old guard may strengthen even as the ideological death rattles resound in marble halls and on op ed pages. The DNC sabotaged Bernie’s first presidential campaign, and the only lesson the old guard may have learned is to act with somewhat more backstage finesse this time around.

Even Warren, who takes care to insist she is “a capitalist to my bones,” is making the “centrists” of her chosen party nervous. Biden Senior is problematic for other reasons, since his bemused state of mind is all too familiar to the public, and he inherits none of Obama’s stage presence and oratorical skills. That’s one reason Bloomberg joined the field of candidates so late in the game, to campaign not only against Trump but against Sanders and Warren. Bloomberg hopes to buy so much publicity that he can position himself front and center as a billionaire incarnation of corporate “centrism.”

In France, where labor unions still have more power and fighting spirit, we now witness a general strike against the austerity policies of a thoroughly technocratic politician, Emmanuel Macron. In the United States, the situation of labor has been eroded and compromised. An upper crust of managerial labor union leaders collaborates nearly by reflex with the bipartisan project of a corporate command economy.

Richard Trumka of the AFL-CIO, for example, is very fluent in the hallowed slogans of the labor movement, and very adept at corporate backroom deals. Trumka is now arguing that Democratic Party candidates must be very cautious in arguing for a single payer Medicare for All program, if job-based insurance plans are thereby sidelined. This amounts to no more than Buttigieg’s position in favor of “Medicare for all who want it,” a position toward which even Warren is now tilting. To make medical care both a human and democratic right in this country, however, means Medicare must be improved until it becomes part of the foundation of real social security.

The more class conscious unions, including many women among teachers and service workers, have been leading a war of position against the capitalist state in this 21st century. Indeed, the eruption of strikes among teachers earlier this year nearly became wildcat strikes in some towns and regions, since the rank and file overruled the institutional inertia of some union leaders.

In a sharp critique of the building trades, Ruth Needleman raised this question in an article published by Portside on February 8, 2017: “Is It Time for the AFL and the CIO to Part Ways Again?” Needleman wrote, “The problem with these trades misleaders is their narrow self-interested philosophy … the practice of only looking out for themselves, and their willingness to throw other workers under the bus.” Needleman also criticized Trumka’s nearly fatalistic policy of negotiation with the managerial policies of Trump, rather than choosing a class conscious policy of friction against the corporate state. To raise the ground floor of social democracy by practical solidarity with the lowest waged workers had been one of the distinct policies of the CIO, as Needleman noted:

“When John L. Lewis, as president of the CIO, explained the reasons for splitting and building a new federation to a New York Times reporter back in 1937, he said: ‘Raise the valleys and the peaks will also rise. The wages of skilled labor,’ he continued, ‘will be increased proportionately when the unskilled workers-those in the lowest grades of occupation-receive adequate minimum rates of pay.’ Lewis would be holding signs for the ‘Fight for $15.’ “

Impeach Trump, of course. But the course of actual class struggles never proceeds from the top of the pyramid of state down to the common ground below. As history proves, even career politicians and members of the Supreme Court have had to bow to reality when class conscious popular movements make the earth quake and the mighty tremble. Even if we, the people were able to abolish both the Electoral College and the Senate– and that last institution was described as the more “aristocratic” wing of Congress by no less than Alexander Hamilton, a Founding Father– this political revolution would have to proceed with a revolution in class relations and in the whole economy.

We make history, as Marx noted, but not just as we please. The urgency of certain overarching and objective events, including the global climate crisis, has tempted some people in both personal and public life to a kind of apolitical fatalism. There are no short cuts and yet time is short. That is our common problem. If we face this problem without illusions, we can continue a public conversation about the present horizon of possibilities. To gain a democratic republic also means gaining the common ground of workplace and neighborhood councils, of agricultural and industrial cooperatives, of actual class struggles against the corporate state. We are still finding out what we really mean when we use the very words we, the people.