by Paul Street Truthdig edited by O Society April 26, 2019
No matter what Donald Trump tweets, no matter how his hand-picked attorney general, William Barr, spins its findings, Robert Mueller’s report is a referral for impeachment. Mueller felt constrained by Justice Department guidelines holding that a sitting president cannot be criminally indicted. To make criminal charges against Trump that could not be aired in court, Mueller argued, would deny him his right to a sound defense and an opportunity to clear his name.
For better or worse, Mueller accepts the Office of Legal Counsel’s determination that criminal allegations against the president must be taken up by Congress rather than the Justice Department. And in the case of Trump, Mueller decided not to make a prosecutorial judgment. Instead, he handed the matter off to the House of Representatives, along with reams of evidence that the Trump campaign had ties to the Russian government, and that the president actively attempted to obstruct justice.
What will happen in the House, where Democrats hold 235 of 435 seats and where only a simple majority is required for impeachment? A left-leaning House minority wants the body to exercise its constitutional authority. But don’t hold your breath waiting for the multimillionaire House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and other well-heeled Wall Street Democrats to act. They know that a thoroughly debased Republican Party would never try to remove Trump from office, and they are reluctant to feed a narrative, championed by the president and Fox News, that the former is the victim of a “witch hunt.”
Yet the Democratic Party’s motivations for avoiding the question of impeachment may be more cynical still. With the 2020 election on the horizon, it needs to raise money, and what better way to fill its coffers than with the widely loathed Trump occupying the Oval Office? Recall the disastrous “pied piper” strategy of the Hillary Clinton campaign and the Democratic National Committee to elevate Trump as the Republican candidate in the 2016 presidential election.
The Democrats’ latest tack is similarly pathetic and doomed, but it’s not one for progressives to get too up in arms about. While Trump deserves the historical black mark of impeachment, obstruction of justice is likely the least of his crimes. His worst transgressions include a ramped-up war on a habitable earth (Trump is gleefully enabling the fossil fuel industry’s exterminatory campaign to turn the planet into a giant greenhouse gas chamber), his nativist war on immigrants, his championing and passage of a regressive tax cut in an already absurdly unequal society, his ongoing campaign to kick millions of vulnerable people off the health insurance rolls, and his broadly authoritarian wars on truth, democracy and the rule of law.
An impeachment proceeding would prolong the “Russiagate” drama, which has provided Democrats with a convenient excuse to avoid confronting why they lost in 2016 to somebody so widely loathed. Most of the citizenry is sick of the multiyear conspiracy drama, an endless media-politics fascination that has sucked up civic oxygen while numerous issues of vastly greater importance have been ignored: economic hyperinequality, bad jobs, inadequate and over-expensive health care, rotting infrastructure, abject plutocracy and rampant gun violence, not to mention our race to environmental self-destruction.
Pelosi and the rest of the establishment Democrats are right to calculate that an impeachment spectacle would not only sputter in the Senate but perhaps even benefit Trump and his party in 2020, much as it did for Bill Clinton in the late 1990s. If nothing else, it would likely help Trump rally his horrid white-nationalist base in several key battleground states. By contrast, voting Trump out of office in 2020 could make him a target for indictment, or perhaps force him to resign in advance of the next president’s inauguration in order to let Mike Pence pardon him first.
But what are the chances of the Democrats actually winning the next election, forcing the president to choose between denying the legitimacy of the vote count (a very real threat) or vacating his office before his term is up? Barring the onset of a recession (another distinct possibility), only popular front-runner Bernie Sanders is likely to prevail against Trump. And, as in the last presidential election cycle, corporate politicos are already working to sabotage the nomination of their most viable candidate in a general election. The following eight mechanisms explain how they might succeed:
- Flooding the primary campaign with such an absurdly large number of candidates that Sanders will likely be unable to garner the majority of primary delegates required for a first-ballot nomination at the 2020 Democratic National Convention in Milwaukee.
- Coordination among the Democratic Convention superdelegates—the more than 350 county and state party bosses and elected officials who are granted delegate status without election—to vote as a bloc to stop Sanders on the convention’s second ballot. (These superdelegates exist precisely for the purpose of blocking challengers to the party’s corporate establishment.)
- Ongoing efforts to change state party elections from caucuses to primaries, as caucuses are friendlier to progressive challengers. (Sanders won 11 of the nation’s 18 caucus states three years ago.)
- The disingenuous theft of many of Sanders’ sincerely held progressive policies by corporate candidates who have no intention of fighting to implement them if they attain the presidency.
- Appealing to the name recognition of Joe Biden, along with the public’s misplaced nostalgia for Barack Obama’s Wall Street-captive presidency—both of which will be wielded as weapons against Sanders’ progressive populism.
- The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee’s transparently reactionary and frankly sickening decision to block contracts with campaign consultants and other political vendors who agree to work for progressive challengers in the 2020 primaries. Besides seeking to protect Congress itself as a corporate preserve, this move aims to deny Sanders congressional allies and undermine his ability to govern if elected.
- Smearing Sanders’ highly popular social-democratic policy agenda as “fantastic,” “unaffordable,” “unrealistic” and too dangerously “socialist”—this while Democratic elites refuse to acknowledge the fascist tendencies of the president they helped elect in 2016.
- Branding the eminently electable Sanders “unelectable” on the grounds that he is an “extremist” who is “too far left” for the U.S. electorate generally and independent voters specifically. In reality, the opposite is true. Sanders appeals to independents (who are nowhere near as conservative as is commonly reported), people of color, infrequent voters and the white working-class that has largely abandoned the Democratic Party. His anti-establishment message, coupled with his long record of representing rural voters, makes him highly competitive with Trump, not only in the Rust Belts states where Hillary Clinton faltered but even in some dark red states like West Virginia. Even the likes of Karl Rove believe Sanders could defeat Trump in 2020.
Look for the Democratic establishment to do everything it can to prevent its party from defeating Trump in 2020. Surprised? You shouldn’t be. At this point, the party exists to serve its corporate clients. Its leaders fear the specter of socialism while the world’s most powerful nation threatens to slide into fascism. (Never mind that democratic eco-socialism—a political project significantly more radical than what Sanders is proposing—is precisely what America and the world need right now.) Establishment Democrats would rather lose to a white-nationalist right than even the mildly social-democratic left within their own party. It’s why the late political scientist Sheldon Wolin labeled them “the Inauthentic Opposition.”
Liberal journalist and author David Cay Johnston, a frequent cable news commentator, was right to title his 2018 book on the Trump presidency “It’s Even Worse Than You Think: What the Trump Administration is Doing to America.” Trump is an unmitigated disaster for the United States and the world as a whole. But it’s even worse than Johnston and his admiring CNN and MSNBC interviewers and co-panelists want us to know. The Democrats were neoliberal partners in Trump’s ascent; now they appear eager to ensure the second term of a presidency that could spell the end of American democracy.