From Portside <[email protected]>
Subject The Left Needs to Seize Impeachment From Centrist Elites
Date September 30, 2019 6:33 AM
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[Impeachment should be about how an oligarch debauched democracy,
not about a president clashing with the national security
establishment.] [[link removed]]

THE LEFT NEEDS TO SEIZE IMPEACHMENT FROM CENTRIST ELITES  
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Jeet Heer
September 27, 2019
The Nation
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_ Impeachment should be about how an oligarch debauched democracy,
not about a president clashing with the national security
establishment. _

President Trump talks with the press on his way to Marine One in
2018. , AP / Evan Vucci

 

Donald Trump will almost certainly be impeached in the next few
months—but not everyone on the left is happy about it. The trigger
for the impeachment is Trump’s pressuring of the Ukrainian
government to uncover, or possibly fabricate, dirt on former vice
president Joe Biden. It’s this origin that gives some on the left
pause.

Ukrainegate is in many ways a reprise of Russiagate, as Trump himself
made clear in his now-notorious July 25 phone call
[[link removed]] with
Ukrainian president President Volodymyr Zelensky when the American
leader referenced both Hillary Clinton’s e-mail server (alluding to
a bizarre theory
[[link removed]] that
it is being kept in Ukraine) and the Mueller report. Earlier, Trump
had tried to squeeze information from the Ukrainian government
[[link removed]]that
he thought would make it easier to pardon his convicted campaign
manager Paul Manafort. Trump’s fixation on Ukraine seems to be
payback for what he regards as the misdeeds of his enemies in
Russiagate.

For skeptics on the left, both Russiagate and Ukrainegate serve the
interests of a national security establishment seeking to punish Trump
for his foreign policy heterodoxy. Centrist Democrats and Never Trump
Republicans are united in their belief that Trump’s overtures to
Vladimir Putin’s Russia represent a national security threat. The
Trump administration has suffered internal strife from national
security insiders trying to undermine Trump’s policy preferences in
Eastern Europe. The whistle-blower in Ukrainegate is a CIA officer
[[link removed]].

Given the genealogy of the two scandals, the question is whether to
pursue impeachment against Trump on grounds that will strengthen the
national security establishment. As Princeton historian Matt
Karp tweeted [[link removed]],
“Just in structural terms, the politics of impeachment bend—almost
inevitably—toward an alliance between official progressives and
Never Trump elites.”

Writing in _The Guardian_, Yale law professor Samuel Moyn provided a
fleshed-out version of this argument
[[link removed]].
“For liberal and conservative centrists, inured to taking turns in
power for decades, Trump’s rise in the Republican party and his
success in beating Hillary Clinton within the appalling rules of the
American game was the real affront,” Moyn argues. “Centrists
simply want to return to the status quo interrupted by Trump, their
reputations laundered by their courageous opposition to his mercurial
reign, and their policies restored to credibility.”

Karp and Moyn are shrewd in pointing out that the dominant framework
in which impeachment is being presented is a centrist national
security narrative, with Trump’s great sin being his defiance of the
intelligence community. But that is not the only narrative that can be
used to argue for impeachment.

There is no reason the rising left in the Democratic party should cede
popular anti-Trump sentiment to centrist Democrats and Never Trump
Republicans. As Moyn notes, “Leftwing members of Congress such as
Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and Bernie Sanders have long been in favour
of impeaching Trump.” He could add Rashida Tlaib to the list, since
she uttered the legendary war cry, “We’re going to impeach this
motherfucker!” There’s also Elizabeth Warren. Her rising poll
numbers in the Democratic primaries certainly owe something to the
fact that since the release of the Mueller report she’s become
perhaps the most insistent Democratic voice on behalf of impeachment.

What Ocasio-Cortez, Sanders, Tlaib, and Warren realize is that Donald
Trump is profoundly loathed by ordinary Democrats, who want to see
their party fight back against this racist buffoon. One might object
that for the left there are better impeachment fights that could be
waged: Imagine Trump being impeached for his many sexual harassment
allegations—or for his corrupt business deals. But in politics as in
law, you have to go with the case that can win, not the case you’d
like to have. Just as Al Capone had to be brought down for tax evasion
rather than murder, it’s easier to impeach Trump for Ukrainegate
than his many other, and much more serious, crimes.

Fortunately, Ukrainegate offers the left much to work with. As against
the centrist narrative of national security misconduct, the left
should be arguing that this is a perfect example of how the imperial
presidency endangers democracy. Trump is treating the presidency as
his personal fiefdom, using his office to punish his political
enemies. He has been able to get away with it because Congress has,
since the early days of the Cold War, abandoned its oversight powers
over foreign policy. (There was a brief resurgence of congressional
oversight after Watergate, but that quickly faded.)

It’s telling that Trump’s defenders, no less than his critics,
make a national security case. _The New York Times_, to its
discredit, gave space to John Yoo
[[link removed]], the
infamous apologist for torture in the George W. Bush administration,
to argue that impeaching Trump was a national security risk. Yoo
claimed that “rushing into an impeachment may do long-term harm to
the presidency and our national security.” Yoo added: “The
Constitution vests the president with the authority to conduct foreign
policy and the responsibility to protect the nation’s security. A
president, even one who is possibly engaging in wrongdoing, must have
confidence in the confidentiality of his communications or he will be
unable to perform his constitutional duties and our international
relations will fall victim to government by committee.”

This is precisely the argument the left has to combat. The
Constitution, _contra_ Yoo, vests Congress with substantial powers
over foreign policy, including the decision to declare war and to
impeach over presidential misconduct.

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Donate [[link removed]]

Trump is a great gift and opportunity for the left precisely because
he illustrates the decadence and corruption of the imperial presidency
much more clearly than earlier and more sober presidents. _The New
York Times _reported
[[link removed]] on
Thursday that in a private meeting Trump fantasized about executing
the White House source who fed information to the whistle-blower in
this case. “I want to know who’s the person who gave the
whistle-blower the information because that’s close to a spy,”
Trump told his advisers. “You know what we used to do in the old
days when we were smart with spies and treason, right? We used to
handle it a little differently than we do now.”

The question the left needs to highlight is whether Americans want to
continue vesting the presidency with all the terrible powers of
surveillance and death when the office could easily fall into the
hands of a deranged figure like Trump.

Beyond the need to roll back the imperial presidency, impeaching Trump
allows Democratic presidential hopefuls to make Trump’s corruption a
2020 campaign issue. Again, this can be done in ways that are
perfectly consistent with left-wing values. After all, Trump embodies
not just the vices of one man but an entire system where the rich
often seem to live outside the law. Elizabeth Warren, for one, seems
to be preparing an argument that presents Trump’s sundry
transgressions as symptomatic of a rigged system. Bernie Sanders could
easily do the same.

The devil shouldn’t have all the best tunes. Nor should national
security centrists be the only ones who get to enjoy impeachment.

Jeet Heer is a national affairs correspondent at _The Nation_ and
the author of _In Love with Art: Francoise Mouly’s Adventures in
Comics with Art Spiegelman_ (2013) and _Sweet Lechery: Reviews,
Essays and Profiles_ (2014).

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