Against Trumpeachment: The Case for a Strategic Alternative

Bryant William Sculos | Politics & Government | Commentary | January 19th, 2018

Given the recent plea deal accepted by retired General and former National Security Adviser Michael Flynn for lying to FBI investigators regarding his contact with agents of the Russian government during the 2016-2017 transition prior to Trump's inauguration, the question of how the left should situate itself with respect to the potential impeachment of President Trump has gained increased significance.

Should the American left actively work towards the pervasively justified impeachment of Donald J. Trump? Not only is this question one that plagues the Democratic Party as well as those on the left, it is likely being debated seriously at the highest levels of the GOP. Sadly, and exclusively for strategic reasons, the left and those in the progressive wing of the Democratic Party, in whatever state it exists, should not waste time struggling for the impeachment of Donald Trump.

The Case for Trumpeachment

Before answering the big question being posed here, we must ask the obvious question (with an equally obviously answer), are there legal justifications for impeaching Donald Trump? While impeachment is always a political mechanism for the removal of a President, it is also always rooted in at least a discourse of legality. That said, there are literally countless legal reasons for the successful impeachment and guilty verdict in the impending trial of the forty-fifth President of the United States. Trump is an admitted sex criminal , with any number of open complaints against him that he hasn't yet admitted to (or bragged about) on tape. He has repeatedly worked to violate the civil rights of transgender soldiers , foreign-born permanent residents, and legal immigrants (to say nothing for the human rights of undocumented persons ). Donald Trump continues to profit from dealings with foreign governments, an apparently too overt of a violation of the emoluments clause of the US Constitution to matter to, I don't know, anyone. Then, on what we might find out to be in two or three dozen cases, Donald Trump and his immediate staff have committed various forms of obstruction of justice and/or perjury, including, though certainly not exclusively, the firing of controversial former FBI Director James Comey for his pursuit of the then fledgling Russia election interference/Trump campaign investigation.

All, or nearly all, Presidents break US law. All, at least contemporary, US Presidents are categorizable as unconvicted war criminals, including the darling drone king, Barack Obama . This reality is not new to Trump. What is new or novel about Trump is the openness with which he has and continues to violate US law, nearly with impunity-except for the US federal courts preventing Trump's Muslim ban and transgender purge of the US military. Given the degree of publicly available documentation regarding Trump's crimes, why would I suggest not impeaching him?

Who Benefits from Trumpeachment

First, I'm not actually suggesting that Trump should not be impeached - and I don't really think anyone on the left is either. At most, those on the left who have criticized the possibility of impeaching Trump seem to fear Mike Pence becoming President and then all of a sudden all Handmaid's Tale becomes a documentary. That fear aside-a fear that is a only a bit exaggerated because Trump's campaign and White House have already emboldened white and Christian supremacists and given presidential approval for sexual harassment and statutory rape (if not outright pedophilia) , and Pence has already gotten his Supreme Court pick and the reinstatement of the global gap rule -it is hard to see the value of the left spending significant time working towards that as some kind of major political victory. While there is certainly evidence that the Democratic Party would enjoy running against Trump as evinced by their recent collaboration with the GOP in voting against articles of impeachment , their steadfast support for the Russia election meddling probes evince a narrow-minded belief that eventually damning evidence against Trump himself will be revealed. Their plan seems to be one of certain patience. All the while they continue to meet with Trump to work out compromises within the wider revanchist agenda of Trump and the Republican Party.

Special Prosecutor Mueller is still conducting what seems, by undemocratic American political standards, a pretty decent investigation with few leaks nor any of the hallmarks of a witch hunt. While there is no evidence yet that Trump had any direct contact with top officials in the Russian government regarding Moscow's election tampering, given the tenacity and professionalism of the investigation so far, it seems unlikely Mueller's team wouldn't be able to find evidence for any collusion that did occur, if it did occur. While there is certainly the possibility that Trump, as mentioned above, is guilty of more obstruction of justice than is already known, if there exists the kind of smoking gun regarding collusion that would be of the degree needed to dethrone Trump, especially in the polarized climate of "fake news" and "alternative facts," it certainly won't be hindered because the Democratic Party wasn't prepared enough to take advantage of it. In fact, given the low opinion that most of the country has of the Democratic Party, it is possible that the less prepared they seem when any such smoking gun emerges, the more legitimate the smoking gun might be by treated by the general public.

Again, without suggesting for even a moment that the country and the world would not be better off without Trump in office nor that he isn't guilty of any number of crimes that would justify impeachment and conviction on criminal charges, we should think about who the impeachment of Donald Trump would benefit, given the likely political context that such a process would occur within. Mike Pence? The Democratic Party? The Republican Party? The answer very well may be yes to all of those answers.

The impeachment (or even a pre-impeachment resignation) of Trump would vindicate the hard center of the Democratic Party that has set their entire political existence on the tenuously provable accusation of genuine "collusion" between Donald Trump (and his 2016 presidential campaign staff) and the Russian interference in the election, including hacking and the legal purchasing of polarizing advertisements online. Mike Pence, however delegitimized and short-lived his presidency would be, would become President. And although he has gotten much of what he would have attempted to accomplish as President as Vice President, including the arch-conservative jurist Neil Gorsuch on the Supreme Court and the reinstatement of the global gag rule, he would still probably prefer to end his career as President rather than Vice President.

The Democratic Party would win a superficial victory of course because they have been saying since they co-founded "the Resistance" that Donald Trump purloined the Presidency from its rightful inhabitant Hillary Clinton. They would be vindicated, but without a serious alternative progressive agenda to offer the American people, their victory would undoubtedly be short-lived. Given the current GOP control over both houses of Congress, and the likelihood that they will continue to hold at least one of the houses after the 2018 midterm elections, any successful impeachment would likely need to involve cooperation between the Democrats and Republicans - undermining the Democrats ability to run an effective campaign in 2020 tying the GOP to Trump.

If the benefits of a Trump impeachment are either too complex to really figure out in advance, with little to no guarantee of anything other than the veneer of civility covering up the typical presidential crimes and cruelties, why bother struggling for it? Aren't there better things that the left could focus on in the lead up to 2018 and 2020?

Presenting a Positive Progressive Agenda

There is an alternative, and it is one that would certainly allow for the possibility of the impeachment of the forty-fifth President should a smoking gun emerge or the political climate otherwise shifts even further against Trump. Thinking about what an alternative strategic approach might entail, it is worth thinking back to the 2016 Democratic Presidential primary. A self-described democratic socialist Bernie Sanders fell just shy of being able to overcome the nearly universally predicted and expected victory of establishment darling Hillary Clinton. As a critical Sanders supporter myself, and through my many conversations with other Sanders supporters, though there was a lot of mixed dislike of Clinton and her agenda, it was much more the latter that drove support for Sanders, in addition to the alternative program for the United States that he represented. The Sanders phenomena was a response to Clinton's agenda first and foremost, not her as a person. This is the lesson that both the left and the Democratic Party needs to heed.

It was the belief in the importance of a social democrat, in the Scandinavian welfare-state tradition, running for President of the United States on practicable platform of social, political, and economic justice for all and with a campaign that refused to take corporate money. This is what the left, both within and well-beyond the Democratic Party should be focusing on. What do the people who need American politics to change the most want from our politicians? What do the young people who will inherit this increasingly warm, wet, and economically unstable world want and need from American politics?

First and foremost, they want an actually functioning democracy, including within their limited choices of the legally-instantiated two-party system. This means the Democratic Party needs to be transparent about their internal corruption, purge themselves of those involved, openly reform the policies that led the scale-tipping to happen in the first place, and then they need to trust that if they present a platform and candidates to the American people who are worth supporting and voting for, that the American people will be there with both their votes and their wallets (of course, supporting public financing of elections would be a better option for everyone-but let's not get too too crazy with our demands or expectations of a corrupt political party).

And if we're all genuinely concerned about election tampering, which is the ostensible purpose of all the investigations into the Trump campaign and administration, wouldn't it be more worthy of our time to focus on the election tampering that the GOP is already promoting here at home, without any foreign assistance? Republicans have foisted voter ID laws on the poor and people of color in a number of states, and they have gerrymandered the districts , to such a degree they would literally have had to help elect a President as seemingly unhinged and unqualified as Trump before they'd be in danger of losing their stranglehold on the House of Representatives. The GOP has supported the continued disenfranchisement of convicted felons , which disproportionately affects people of color. They have cut funding to voter outreach programs and reduced (including failing to increase) the number of voting stations in populated areas . Yes, of course we should have an election system that prevents foreign hacking and manipulation, but to think that the greatest threats to any semblance of democracy in America are foreign is the height of naiveté.

Donald Trump isn't a Teflon president; he is a garbage magnet president. There is so much trash in and surrounding the forty-fifth President of the United States that impeaching him would be like finding the smelliest, most rotted piece of trash in a landfill and thinking that if you just remove that, the landfill will stop smelling so badly. Much of the #dumpsterfire that is Trump's presidency is self-caused, but let us not immunize his collaborators, which include much of the Republican Party (and since the election, many Democrats, including the leadership).

The left should let Trump stink up everyone that allows themselves to be touched by him and his hateful, regressive agenda (though we really can't assume that everyone who is touched by Trump does so consensually). It is worth remembering, as political theorist Corey Robin ( The Reactionary Mind, Oxford, 2017) and award-winning journalist and author Naomi Klein (No is Not Enough, Haymarket Books, 2017) have each shown, Trump's agenda (tax cuts for the wealthy, the privatization of education, gutting the EPA, massive increases in military spending, anti-abortion, anti-LGBTQA+, etc.), with few exceptions, is the GOP policy wish list from the past 30 years.

Let that agenda get completely covered by Trump's defecated reputation. Let the Republicans and any Democrats that want to pick-and-choose their favorite injustices to support from that agenda get ensconced in an unredeemable stench. At that point the whole country will have a better chance of knowing which politicians are trash in need of taking out and which are genuinely interested in a more just future.

If the GOP wants Trump gone, let them do it (and right now, they are the only ones who can). They won't though, not unless Trump becomes such a problem that their agenda is completely sidelined-sidelined more than it already has been. For the most part, Trump's agenda, insofar as he has any coherent agenda, is the GOP agenda. And furthermore, it is nearly completely impossible for an impeachment of Trump to take down all of the people who have supported him and/or the agenda he currently represents.

With that said, letting Trump and his toilet bowl of allies and occasional collaborators stink up DC is not the same as letting them have unchecked, unprotested reign over the country. There are too many lives at stake for that. The left must resist more in both quantity and quality, never forgetting that Trump is a mere wart on the ass of a too slowly decaying political charade. Strategizing in such a way that makes the broader systemic problems related to Trump increasingly apparent will be central to any effective resistance. Impeachment targeted specifically at Trump the man is unlikely to aid that cause. This alternative strategy to impeachment has the clear benefit of not letting anyone off the hook, neither the GOP nor the corporate, collaborationist Democratic Party for their respective roles in the emergence of Trump and whatever political success his agenda attains.

The left must continue to resist, protest, and organize for the near and long-term future of the US and the world, but dedicating serious time to impeaching Trump is not an effective way to show the world just how many more American politicians are Trump-like than they appear. The left must oppose Trump, the GOP, and the collaborating Democrats.

If Trump resigns or gets impeached in the process, great, but the crucial point is to impeach the agenda and indeed the system that created him and his program of policy cruelty-one that is too similar to what has been the modus operandi of mainstream American politics for far too long.

Dr. Bryant William Sculos holds a PhD in political theory and international relations. He is currently a postdoctoral fellow at The Amherst Program in Critical Theory, adjunct professor at Florida International University, contributing writer for the Hampton Institute, and Politics of Culture section editor for Class, Race and Corporate Power. His published work has also appeared in Constellations, New Politics, Marx & Philosophy Review of Books, Political Studies Review, Public Seminar, and New Political Science.