Impeachment Theater While the Planet Burns

Photograph Source: United States House of Representatives – Public Domain

With the gravitas of a wardrobe malfunction at a Super Bowl halftime show, Donald Trump was impeached. This, by the same Democratic Party functionaries who went on to pass his $734 billion military budget and his reworked not-NAFTA trade agreement. To the perpetual ‘if,’ if Mr. Trump isn’t to be trusted with the affairs of state, the alleged reason he was impeached, why enhance his power over the affairs of state through increasing the military budget? The same is true with re-upping the Patriot Act. And backing his coup in Bolivia. And his attempted coup in Venezuela.

Clearer evidence of the political theater character of impeachment would be hard to find. Left apparently unconsidered in the halls of power is how socially divisive this theater is becoming. If there was a lesson in Labour’s electoral loss in Britain, it is that Clintonite ‘triangulation’ works until it doesn’t. As the facts have it, both Democrats and Republicans have spent four decades working for capital and against labor. But it is Democrats alone who now stand in front of the catastrophe they helped create to claim credit for it. Labour did this when they equivocated on the consequence of their own neoliberal disaster, Brexit.

It is difficult to tell what impeachment was expected to accomplish. A sense of ‘getting Trump’ seems to have been the primary motivation. If so, Mr. Trump has quite spectacularly not been gotten. He won’t be convicted by the Senate, meaning that he won’t be removed from office. Coming much earlier in his (now) likely tenure than Bill Clinton’s impeachment, no constraints have been placed on Mr. Trump’s future actions. Impeachment along party lines looks like the Democrats sanctioned Mr. Trump— not official sanction as has been claimed. And hopes of politically shaming Donald Trump imagine it possible to shame him.

With the current impasse over moving the charges against Mr. Trump forward in the Senate, what has been demonstrated is that Democrats are incapable of governing in the most basic of senses. The question of the end game, which one would assume had been considered before starting the process, appears never to have occurred to them. With new charges against Donald Trump now being rumored, the Democrat’s apparent strategy is to double down. As politically attractive as incompetence mixed with desperation is, there are real problems in need of being solved.

The final story of impeachment isn’t yet written— the machinations between the House and Senate might yield some as-of-yet unconsidered outcome. But the story to date— its beginning, middle and end, were reasonably well understood on the day that Mr. Trump took office. Conversely, if establishment Democrats really believe any of what they have been saying about Mr. Trump to be true— that he is an authoritarian, demagogic, etc., why do they continue to enhance his power legislatively? Wouldn’t prudence dictate that his power be clipped wherever and whenever possible?

The aggregated evidence suggests that the logic and reasons given by top Democrats for opposing Mr. Trump are fictions. If the predictable death of impeachment in the Senate weren’t enough, who among the establishment Democratic candidates being brought forth to dislodge Mr. Trump in 2020 opposes his political program in material terms? They may oppose Donald Trump the person, but as long as he over-funds the military and cuts taxes for the rich, how does this differ from their own programs? Phrased differently, who amongst the establishment candidates publicly proclaimed Mr. Trump’s military budget to be the moral and political abomination that it is?

Handing Mr. Trump a political victory on his signature issue— trade, seems suicidal. The problem for Democrats is that their fealty to neoliberalism means that they only understand trade from Mr. Trump’s right. In Britain, Labour tried to use triangulation to hold antithetical class interests together. This included professional class liberals and the working class they had spent several decades displacing as functionaries for capital. The Democrat’s ‘centrism’ is an effort to de-politicize similar antithetical class interests. Note: it didn’t work for Labour.

Three centuries of political musical chairs around slight variations on oligarchic control now leaves Team D battling Team R to perpetuate the game. From the evidence, it’s certain that the well-crafted hatred of the opposing team’s key players is sincerely felt. Donald Trump is racist, sexist and Nancy Pelosi is a big government liberal. But this loathing isn’t the politics in play. The politics that affect outcomes like war and peace, shared prosperity and the material health of the environment aren’t within the purview of team sports.

While much of the criticism of Donald Trump has basis in fact, placing it in a partisan frame grants absolution to Democrats who put forward much the same program. For vitriolic anti-immigrant rants, Bill Clinton was the master. For engineering viciously racist social, political and economic outcomes, Bill Clinton was the master. Barack Obama was the Deporter-in-Chief. It is more than a bit ironic that so many of the videos of children in cages attributed to Donald Trump were from Mr. Obama’s tenure in the White House. The political problem for Democrats: everyone who isn’t a Democrat knows this.

The Democrat’s talking points have it that these comparisons support Donald Trump when through the moral, social, political and economic prisms they claim are relevant, they point to the systemic failures of neoliberalism. Pointing out that the establishment Democrats are neoliberal chair warmers incapable of governing only bolsters Republicans through a two-Party lens. What is the political solution when the two-party system is broken? If the fact that Donald Trump is president doesn’t suggest that it is, then the election of BoJo (Boris Johnson, the newly elected Prime Minister of Britain) should.

So Democrats, quickly, what are the government programs being proposed by the establishment Democrats to resolve climate change, species loss and dead and dying oceans? What are their programs to end militarism and redirect social resources to bettering the lives and livelihoods of the great unwashed? And where were the Democrats when they had the political power to enact these programs? More broadly, if Medicare for All isn’t possible because oligarchs and corporate interests control American politics, then what does it matter who the face, in the form of the nominal political leadership, is?

Team R and Team D exist to provide the illusion of political competition so as to perpetuate the American program of pillage and plunder. The ‘responsible’ leadership of Team D supported NAFTA, ‘fiscal conservatism,’ the racist repression of the 1994 Crime Bill and George W. Bush’s war against Iraq. In return, Team R supported the bailout of Wall Street. Team D’s explanation for this one-sidedness is that they lack the power to govern. More pointedly, the explanation through their surrogates is that they are feckless, unprincipled and easily rolled. Understand, it is the friends of the Democrats who explain their politics thusly.

Predictably, Donald Trump has gained popular approval since being impeached. There are few sights more repellant than the morally, politically and economically compromised millionaires in congress pretending to be morally and / or politically outraged. Two decades into the mass exodus from both of the oligopoly Parties, Team D acolytes appear to be trying to compensate for their political marginalization through the same ‘echo chamber’ strategy used by WMD dead-enders in an earlier age. Even the FISA court, rubber stamp to the intelligence agencies, felt so abused by the FBI in Russiagate that it demanded that problems with its FISA warrant application ‘process’ be rectified.

Just in time for the 2020 election, Team R is poised to lead the ‘heroes of the Resistance’ through prime time perp-walks for real and imagined crimes in the persecution of Mr. Trump. Given the current setup, it appears that Team D will not only have failed to remove, constrain, or in any way effectively chastise Donald Trump through impeachment, but the national security and surveillance state officials who led the effort will be charged with actual crimes. Before concluding that doing so is politically motivated, consider how impeachment looks to the half of the country that wasn’t swayed by Team D’s case.

So, this leaves the entirety of officialdom fiddling while they pass newer and better ways to make the rich richer and the rest of us more answerable to corporate and oligarchic power. The perpetual surprise that Democrats ‘caved’ on Mr. Trump’s military budget, his coups in Bolivia and Venezuela and re-passage of the so-called ‘Patriot Act’ speaks volumes about the power of self-delusion. Team D has been throwing the game in the direction of oligarchy for decades— that is what they exist to do. And when Team D eventually retakes the White House, look for kinder and gentler presentations of Team R’s policies.

It has been over a year since various environmental committees of the UN began issuing reports with ‘drop dead’ dates for implementation of far-reaching and logistically involved environmental programs. To date, no movement has been made in the direction of meeting their timelines or goals. Resource imperialism by the U.S. is proceeding apace, with the U.S. sponsored coup in Bolivia securing lithium and the attempted coup in Venezuela securing oil for the environmental apocalypse in the making. The American political establishment appears determined to end human life on the planet.

Without spending energy debating various definitions of socialism, Bernie Sanders is the only national political candidate to acknowledge the scale and scope of these problems, let alone organizing the social, political and economic energy needed to address them. Moreover, by shifting resources away from oligarchs and back toward the citizenry through a Job Guaranty aligned with environmental goals and Medicare for all, there is the slightest sliver of hope that humanity might still exist a century from now. But the ease with which Team D was able to gin up a New Cold War is an object lesson in their power to derail political agendas.


Rob Urie is an artist and political economist. His book Zen Economics is published by CounterPunch Books.