The impeachment inquiry against Donald Trump did not come a moment too soon. Everyone with a shred of concern for our society and world should be happy to see the bigot billionaire and his minions exposed for their absolute corruption.
Who couldn’t delight in learning that former National Security Advisor John Bolton, the mustachioed prince of militarism, called Trump’s attorney and consigliere Rudy Giuliani a “hand grenade who’s going to blow everyone up”? Or that Giuliani’s fixers in Ukraine were arrested trying to flee the country?
But buyer beware. The Democrats are not impeaching Trump for his serial acts of sexual violence, for throwing kids in concentration camps, or even for his blatant use of the presidential office to build his real estate empire. Instead, Democrats are pursuing impeachment for two main reasons, both of which relate to maintaining the status quo, not challenging Trump’s many acts of stark injustice.
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An Imperial Impeachment
First, Democrats charge Trump with jeopardizing the supremacy of U.S. imperialism by colluding with foreign powers: first Russia and now Ukraine. Second, they accuse his administration of using his office to bully countries to dig up dirt on their party’s favored contender for the presidency, former Vice President Joe Biden, and rig the election for Trump.
The Democrats’ aim is to restore the status quo ante, the imperial consensus. The New York Times columnist Thomas Friedman, the prose poet laureate of U.S. imperialism, made this abundantly clear when he noted that impeachment “was set in motion by civil servants — whistle-blowers from the intelligence community, now supported by National Security Council staffers and diplomats.”
In other words, the state managers of U.S. imperialism — the FBI, CIA, Pentagon and State Department bureaucracies — have had it with Trump, not because he favors peace (he does not), but because his erratic rule has compromised Washington’s domination of the world system. They want to reassert the post-Cold War strategy of superintending a neoliberal world order enforced by military force, structural adjustment programs and free-trade deals.
Trump’s “America First” Imperialism
That strategy, however, was fatally compromised by the Iraq War and the Great Recession, both of which led to the relative decline of U.S. imperialism against its rising rivals, most importantly China, but also a host of lesser powers, especially Russia, whose nuclear arsenal has given it influence far out of proportion to its minuscule economic power. In his campaign for the presidency and in office, Trump put forward an alternative strategy designed to “Make America Great Again” by putting “America First.”
Trump’s professed strategy is best understood as “illiberal hegemony.” He promises to end Washington’s endless wars, exit multilateral institutions, rip up trade deals and use protectionism to restore the competitiveness of U.S. capitalism, especially against China.
None of this should be confused with isolationism, let alone opposition to imperial wars. Trump, no less than his establishment opponents, is committed to U.S. dominion over the planet, as his repeated threats to annihilate whole countries like North Korea and his support for Saudi Arabia’s genocidal war in Yemen demonstrate.
But his administration, from day one, was caught in a fight between two factions. On one side, there were the corporate executives, generals and the state bureaucracy, all of which were committed to the old strategy. On the other side, there were the white supremacists and economic nationalists dedicated to Trump’s new strategy. The bigot-in-chief balanced between these factions, driven from one side to the other, depending on which Fox News show he watched.
The Empire Strikes Back
His erratic rule drove the state’s managers into opposition, producing an almost unprecedented situation in which the FBI, CIA, Pentagon and State Department all lined up against a standing president. The Democratic Party establishment, which shared strategic agreement with this imperial bureaucracy, forged a partnership with it through Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation into Trump’s supposed collusion with Russia in rigging the 2016 election.
While they failed to nail Trump on the Russia issue, they have him caught red-handed when it comes to his dealings with Ukraine. The initial whistleblower and now the parade of state managers from the diplomatic, intelligence and military services, and Trump’s own acting Chief of Staff Mick Mulvaney all corroborate that Trump withheld close to $400 million in military aid to Ukraine to pressure its president to investigate Biden and his son.
Their case against Trump was dramatically confirmed by career soldier and State Department apparatchik William B. Taylor’s recent bombshell testimony. He excoriated Trump for running an “alarming” and “highly irregular operation” parallel to official policy focused on incriminating Biden. The cost of all this, Taylor warned, was enabling Russia to dominate “Ukraine … and become an empire again, oppressing its people, and threatening its neighbors and the rest of the world.”
As this testimony makes clear, the establishment is charging Trump with inviting foreign interference in the U.S. election and compromising the hegemony of imperialism. Of course, forgotten amid this patriotic fervor is the fact that the U.S. is more guilty than any other state in intervening in the affairs of other states, including fixing elections and orchestrating coups to install their allies.
Obama was only the most recent Democratic president to continue this ignoble tradition: Remember that he and former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton backed the coup against the democratically elected leader of Honduras, Manuel Zelaya, in 2009.
The Legal and Illegal Corruption of U.S. Politics
The Democrats’ impeachment of Trump also risks exposing their own completely legal practice of trading their offices for profit and personal career advancement. The Bidens may end up being their first unintended casualty: The revelations of how “money” Hunter Biden cashed in on his father’s career for jobs and appointments to corporate boards in the U.S., Ukraine and China could compromise his father’s already faltering campaign for the presidency.
It also threatens to shine a bright light on the everyday collusion between Washington’s two parties and corporations. While vile, the bourgeois parties like the Democrats and Republicans normally fight for the common interests of the ruling class.
Trump, by contrast, has used the GOP and government to serve his personal lumpen capitalist interests and advance his political career, regardless of its impact on the rest of his class. In the process, Trump has alienated the bulk of the capitalist class, which heretofore tolerated him to secure tax cuts and deregulation.
Many members of the ruling class have lost patience with him over his trade war with China, which has disrupted their supply chains and risks triggering a recession. Despite opposition from the imperial establishment and capital, no one should underestimate Trump’s will to fight, nor the loyalty of his Republican base.
He has forged a bloc of small capitalists, the self-employed, lower-level managers and professionals, and a minority of distraught workers around a far-right program of white supremacy and nationalist anti-immigrant policies. Even amid the incriminating reports from the impeachment inquiry, that bloc has remained absolutely loyal.
With that bloc in his back pocket, Trump has been able to compel Republican politicians, who depend on those votes for their own re-election, to remain in line and promise to stop his impeachment.
Trump’s Own Goal in Syria
But Trump may have put his support from establishment Republicans in jeopardy with his decision to withdraw U.S. troops from Syria. Since 2015, Washington had been supporting the Kurdish Democratic Union Party (PYD), which is a sister party of the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), and their Syrian Democratic Forces in a war against ISIS (also known as Daesh). The PYD took advantage of this to advance their aim to carve out a Kurdish-controlled region in northern Syria called Rojava.
Turkey, Washington’s North Atlantic Treaty Organization ally, considers the PKK and the PYD terrorist organizations, as does the U.S. in the case of the PKK. Ankara feared that the PYD and PKK would use Rojava as a base to expand their Kurdish-controlled region into southern Turkey and had long planned an offensive to smash it.
The U.S. troops had served to lock in place a tense standoff between Turkey, the PYD and Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s regime and his Russian and Iranian backers. But Trump has been skeptical for a while of the deployment of U.S. troops in Syria and had been looking for an excuse to withdraw forces after ISIS was defeated.
Indeed, the president’s previous threat to remove the troops drove Jim Mattis, the last of his caretaker generals, to quit the administration. Undeterred this time, Trump redeployed the troops from Syria to Iraq and gave the green light for Turkey and its Islamic fundamentalist foot soldiers to invade Rojava, expel the Kurdish forces from their strongholds and begin relocating millions of Syrian refugees into the area.
The invasion has triggered a humanitarian catastrophe, with hundreds of thousands of people fleeing the troops, and threatens to throw the whole region into yet another round of conflict.
Crocodile Tears for Kurdistan
Members of the imperial establishment, including Republican senators like Trump’s usual Senate hatchet man Lindsey Graham, have united in condemnation of the president’s decision. Their expressed concern was the betrayal of Washington’s Kurdish allies, but this is mere window dressing for their crude imperialist motives.
Senator Graham himself cares not a whit for the Kurds, as he made abundantly clear in a recent phone call. When a Russian prankster called Graham pretending to be the Turkish defense minister, the senator was happy to sell out the Kurds, confessing,
Your YPG Kurdish problem is a big problem. I told President Trump that Obama made a huge mistake in relying on the YPG Kurds in the fight against ISIS. Everything I worried about has come true, and now we have to make sure Turkey is protected from this threat in Syria. I’m sympathetic to the YPG problem, and so is the president, quite frankly.
The betrayal of the Kurds is not unique to self-serving reactionaries like Graham. Democrats as well as Republicans have been selling Kurds out for over 100 years, using and abusing them to advance their imperial interests in the Middle East.
Defending Washington’s Rule Over the Middle East
Graham, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, the Pentagon, the CIA and State Department are not worried about the slaughter of Kurds and others in Syria, but about the credibility of U.S. imperialism and its hegemony over the region. On that account, Trump’s withdrawal from Syria is a disaster; it drives Turkey into the arms of Russia, which has emerged as the Middle East’s new mediator. Trump’s move similarly strengthens Iran and enables Assad, with Russian and Iranian backing, to complete his counterrevolutionary reconquest of Syria.
On top of that, it strikes a blow against the U.S. war on ISIS, which was the sole reason for Washington’s intervention in Syria to begin with. Amid the carnage and chaos unleashed by the Turkish incursion, hundreds (if not thousands) of ISIS fighters have escaped from the Syrian Democratic Forces’ prisons and will no doubt turn to increasing attacks in the region against their various designated state and religious foes.
Outraged over Trump’s decision, the imperial establishment has doubled down on the impeachment. The Democrats have succeeded in getting Trump’s minions in the intelligence and diplomatic agencies to violate his instructions not to cooperate, and instead testify and spill the beans on their boss.
Restoring Imperial Order
The establishment appears to be aiming to take down Trump as an incompetent imperialist and thoroughly discredit his strategy of illiberal hegemony. Jackson Diehl, the deputy editor of The Washington Post’s editorial page who turned the paper into a propaganda outlet for former President George W. Bush’s invasion of Iraq, laid out a blistering case against Trump’s “America First” foreign policy.
He argues that, “The uproar in Washington over President Trump’s corruption in Ukraine and malfeasance in Syria has obscured a broader story. In little more than a month, virtually every other foreign policy initiative the Trump administration has pursued has imploded — thanks mostly to the president’s increasingly unhinged behavior.”
The Democratic Party establishment, led by Pelosi and House Intelligence Committee Chairman Rep. Adam Schiff, have stepped into the crisis to reassert the old strategy of superintending the neoliberal world order. They have set themselves up as an alternative command center to Trump, going so far as to organize a bipartisan delegation to Jordan and Afghanistan to reassure rattled U.S. vassals that, contrary to Trump’s actions, U.S. imperialism remained committed to overseeing the Middle East.
Pelosi has managed to get most of the Democrats to follow her lead, except for the Democratic presidential candidate Rep. Tulsi Gabbard, who has a history of supporting anti-Muslim and Hindu nationalist agendas. Gabbard seems to support Trump’s withdrawal on the baseless argument that the U.S. had pursued regime change in Syria.
The rest of the Democrats have opposed Trump’s withdrawal, including Senators Elizabeth Warren and Bernie Sanders, repeating to varying degrees the establishment’s talking points that it strengthens Washington’s imperial and regional rivals, damages its credibility, and sets back its so-called war on terror.
The Democratic Party establishment is clearly positioning itself as the competent imperialist prepared to restore order to the mess Trump has caused. Faced with a solid Democratic Party lockstep with the empire’s generals, diplomatic gendarmes and a disgruntled capitalist class, will the GOP crack and vote to impeach Trump?
While the majority of House Republicans joined with the Democrats to pass a resolution against Trump’s policy on Syria, few, save Sen. Mitt Romney, have yet to break ranks and support impeachment. Thus, the Democrats may go ahead with impeachment only for it to be voted down in the Senate by Republicans hostage to Trump and the far right.
In that event, Trump could survive and go into the election running against the “Washington Swamp” and its attempt to rob him of his presidency based on what he will continue to call “fake news.” If Republicans crack and take him down, he might leave office — if he submits to the rule of law and does not try to start a civil war — and rally his base on even more far-right grounds, further destabilizing U.S. society.
Don’t Let Imperialists Narrow the Terms of Impeachment
The politics of this impeachment puts the emerging new socialist movement in a bind because none of this is happening on our terms. We are posed a choice between greater and lesser evils, neither of which are committed to our values and interests, and we should opt for neither.
We must avoid the trap of characterizing the imperial establishment as the greater evil compared to Trump, as journalist Matt Taibbi seems to imply in an otherwise insightful article about how the intelligence services have driven impeachment forward. That risks seeming to give Trump a pass for his crimes, which explains why Breitbart and other right-wing websites reposted Taibbi’s article.
Nor should we unite with the Democrats in an uncritical popular front for impeachment, as strategists and organizers like Claire Tran and Jacob Swenson-Lengyel advocate. As previous popular fronts in the 20th century prove, every time the left aligned itself with liberal capitalist parties as the “lesser evil” to stop the “greater evil,” the left surrendered its independence, adapted to the right, got taken for granted and soon found itself betrayed.
Rather than repeat the mistakes of the past, we should learn from them. Today, we cannot afford to become indentured servants to Pelosi and Sen. Chuck Schumer, their capitalist party and its imperialist agenda.
We must also not adopt an agnostic stance, as the Democratic Socialists of America’s statement on impeachment does, and argue that since impeachment is being carried out on reactionary (not progressive) grounds, it is a distraction, and we should instead focus on our electoral and activist campaigns. That is an untenable position, since impeachment will be an unavoidable question in those struggles.
We should instead welcome impeachment, but demand that Trump be charged with his other much higher misdemeanors, crimes and felonies. We must also call for investigations of Biden and the rest of the ruling class’s legal corruption. Given that Democrats will certainly not do this, we must argue for social movements and unions to work independently of both parties — to fight for their own demands and set our sights on dethroning the entire imperial establishment.