(Disclaimer: I’m a member of DSA [Democratic Socialists of America] but not an active one. I have not been designated as a spokesperson by DSA or any of its components.)
One way the liberal/radical divide manifests itself is in what might be called the distinction of outcomes from process. Radicals, for instance, tended to oppose the U.S. invasion of Iraq because we simply rejected the rationale for the policy. Liberals tended to criticize the process under which the invasion was launched – the failure of Congress to declare war, the inability to secure support from the United Nations, the aborted search for “weapons of mass destruction.”
So too in the current political situation, liberals tend to focus on the high crimes and misdemeanors of the president, while radicals prefer to center their appeals on behalf of concrete ‘meat-and-potatoes’ demands for Medicare For All, the Fight for 15, or they emphasize foundational social-justice demands in the fights against racism, sexism, and gender-identity bigotry.
There is really no reason for this divide. Liberals can be won to democratic socialist goals in health care and the like. The question is whether democratic socialists can wrap our heads around impeachment.
The likelihood of continued disenfranchisement of Democratic-leaning voting constituencies, and the increasing extent to which a minority of mostly white, older voters in rural states can outvote a majority of the nation in the Electoral College, not to mention the U.S. Senate, is a grave threat to any elected Democratic president, not to mention to his or her prospects for a fair election.
Imagine that a genuinely progressive Democrat wins the White House in 2020. The chances of a Democratic Senate right now look slim. Of the Democrats’ xxx seats in the House, over a hundred have identified with the so-called “New Democrat” label that was mainstreamed by William J. Clinton. Not a few Democratic senators are of a similar ilk. Relatedly, the prospects for a liberal majority on the Supreme Court are also dim.
The viability of any democratic socialist proposal in the vein of health care or social justice requires the elimination of these obstacles, and that means going through Trump, who revels in the destruction of democratic norms and institutions. It is essential that he be removed. Democracy is not merely an identifier or assertion of bona fides for socialists. It is an operational requirement, both to attain power and to employ it.
That any sort of socialist or radical could shrug at the priority of Trump’s removal should be mind-boggling. One needn’t dwell on the Russia material; a charge of treason or collusion is not necessary to justify Trump’s removal. It is plain to all that at the very least, the president is a garden-variety crook and grifter. He is as reactionary as any Republican leader in the 20th or 21st centuries. He is cementing a majority on the Supreme Court that will block any sort of progressive change for decades to come. He is an ongoing threat to peace.
Why in the world not impeach him? Who on the left could deny that the Republicans’ political power, including their sway on the Supreme Court, rests on decades of racist disenfranchisement of voters, gerrymandering of Congressional districts, and corruptions of campaign finance? Their entire reign is fundamentally illegitimate. They have power but no authority. The career criminal Donald Trump is merely the poster boy for this wider array of interests, interests which by the way stand foursquare behind him.
Everyone is aware that there are probably not enough Republican votes in the Senate to actually vote in favor or removing Trump from office. There are reasonable fears that the president could exploit such an outcome to declare another victory. The president’s problem in this regard is that the public grows more and more weary of his declarations of victory. We are tired of all the winning, because it always proves to be ersatz.
The contrary view here is that the process of impeachment is a political end in itself. The meticulous elaboration of charges and evidence in a due-process setting is the education that the country needs. Knowing something in general is never as compelling as learning all the gory details. If you think such a process would fall on deaf ears, you have to think there is no good case to make against Trump – a strange conclusion for any radical.
There is the fear that a President Pence would present a worse political problem than Trump. This is highly debatable. There is no indication that his appointments would be any worse. In fact, the president seems to enjoy finding the worst possible nominees available for any job he might fill. Pence would not be a formidable political animal in his own right, certainly not more so than his predecessor.
A successful impeachment would deeply split the Republicans, setting off a war between pro-Trump fanatics and any Republicans who voted for impeachment. Of course, if you doubt impeachment would ever happen, there is nothing to fear from a President Pence, since that would never come to pass.
Impeachment is a political process, not a legal one. The bill of particulars against Richard Nixon included the Christmas bombing of Vietnam. It wasn’t because it was illegal; it was because it was a moral atrocity. Impeachment need not be founded on narrowly legalistic, pedestrian matters, such as the blatant payola associated with Trump’s hotels.
Now you may think the Democratic Congress does not have the stuffing to mount an effective impeachment campaign. Then why suppose they would have the intestinal fortitude to do any difficult thing that progressives are demanding, like taking on the health insurance industry, or big Pharma, or the fast food industry, or the likes of Walmart or Amazon?
Anything big and worth doing is going to be hard. Socialism, in any variety you favor, is going to be hard too. The fear that Trump could exploit impeachment to excite his base is defeatist. The case against Trump is not like the case against Bill Clinton. The latter case was nonsense.
At this juncture, the best defense as a good offense cliché applies. Impeachment is an offensive political weapon. If a Republican senator fails to vote for impeachment, he or she should become more vulnerable at re-election. Insofar as Democrats fail to pursue it vigorously, impeachment is a weapon for the democratic left. After, if a Democrat is not willing to fight as awful a political personality as Donald Trump, what good is he or she? If Rep. Nancy Pelosi is not willing to ramrod this process, she renders herself replaceable.
The root of the case against Trump is the case for democracy. For the foreseeable future, if not indefinitely, democratic socialists will have to work within the framework of the U.S. state. For this to be feasible, the state’s democratic processes need to be preserved, if not strengthened. Now more than ever, democratic socialists need to be serious about democracy, as the beating heart of progressive change, not merely as a means of distinguishing ourselves from some other dudes.*
Accordingly, I would urge the Democratic Socialists of America and like-minded radicals to take up resolutions demanding that the House of Representatives serve up articles of impeachment against our illegitimate, reprehensible president, Donald Trump.
*I am indebted to Leigh Phillips and Michael Rozworski for this point, which appears in their new book, “The People’s Republic of Walmart.”