Ted Grimsrud—May 20, 2017
I know that I am not alone in believing Donald Trump as president is a disaster. He’s a disaster beyond what anyone I know could have imagined as a realistic possibility up until about a year ago. I also know that I am not alone in deriving quite a bit of pleasure from seeing Trump go from one self-imposed crisis to another. It makes perfect sense that a growing number of people would be talking about impeachment.
But then I wonder, what would happen if Trump were actually impeached? Would that act makes things better in the US and wider world? I’m not so sure.
Only Republicans can impeach Trump
For one thing, Trump can only get impeached if a critical mass of Republicans in Congress vote for it. And we can be sure that that many Republican office-holders would only vote for impeachment if they had become convinced that Trump’s presidency worked against their program.
So, the way Trump gets impeached is not due to our public servants in power realize that Trump is too anti-democratic, too corrupt, too militaristic, too destructive of the environment, or too hostile toward non-white Americans. The way Trump gets impeached is not due to our public servants in power realize that we actually do need a kinder, gentle, more equitable, more peaceable America.
No, the way Trump gets impeached will be due to the Republican leaders deciding that their program—of an accelerated class war where governmental programs that actually enhance the lives of the most vulnerable are defunded with the money going to the 1%—is being hurt too much by the disaster of Trump’s incompetence.
That is, Trump’s impeachment would enhance the Republican’s program that will visit increased death and destruction throughout the world—and destroy what’s left of American democracy in the process. As Noam Chomsky recently stated, “The [Republican] party is the most dangerous institution in world history. It is dedicated to racing as rapidly as possible to destruction of organized human life. There is no historical precedent for such a stand.”
I actually think the Republicans would be wise to impeach Trump for the sake of their own power and effectiveness. Because I agree with Chomsky (more or less—he doesn’t mean the Republican Party is the most evil organization ever, only that with the dynamics of global warming and the presence of nuclear weapons, the Republicans can do the most damage), I think that maybe people of good will should not hope for Trump’s impeachment.
Being realistic, right now probably the best scenario we might hope for in our nation over the next couple of years (actually a least-bad scenario) is that Trump stay in power, continue to set new lows for presidential incompetence and divisiveness, and in that way prevent the Republicans from implementing the worst elements of their agenda. Think, for instance, how good it was that Trump so botched the repeal of Obamacare.
The implications of Russiagate
Right now, it would appear that the presenting issue for an impeachment of Trump would be Russiagate. I do not mean to imply that Russia is anything but an authoritarian regime that does little to enhance global peace and wellbeing. Nonetheless, I do not think at this point that Trump’s alleged coziness with Putin ranks very high on the list of ways that Trump’s presidency harms the world. And, in fact, with Trump in power we have much less likelihood of expanded conflicts with Russia that could end in complete disaster for the world.
The pressure on Trump in relation to Russia is mainly coming from people in both parties would advocate for more hostility with that nation. I find it chilling how positive so many liberals seem to be right now about elements of the Deep State who are fueling the outcry about Russia’s interference in American elections, et al. A defeat of Trump on these issues would only further enhance the power and prestige of that horrific element of our political system. [Here’s a perceptive commentary by economist Doug Henwood that raises questions about how now, in the movement to push Trump out, suddenly the CIA and FBI are seen by many liberals as virtuous institutions.]
Responding to a profoundly corrupt political system
One of the best aspects of a Trump presidency is how it may help clear the minds of observant people about just how corrupt the American political system has become. Trump is not a mutant, utterly foreign, one of a kind aberration to an otherwise healthy system. It’s not as if only we could kick Trump to the curb then everything would return to normal.
I think it makes much more sense to see Trump as an inevitable consequence of allowing our system to become so rotten and corrupt. The system devolved to be vulnerable to someone like Trump quite some time ago. Now that the hammer has fallen, we are lucky that we got someone so inept. Trump’s ineptness may limit the damage he can do in the immediate future, which in turn heightens the possibility that enough creative energy in resistance might be unleashed soon enough to limit the damage. It could be that our only hope actually to create an environment where we can say, in Leonard Cohen’s words, “Democracy is coming to the U.S.A.,” is to bottom out with a blatantly corrupt presidency that energizes enough creative resistance to turn things around.
Now it’s quite possible that the system won’t be resilient enough to respond creatively to the impending deep crisis that threatens its legitimacy altogether. One student of the Watergate story worries that the factors that made taking Nixon down possible are no longer operational. But life will continue, and as long as it does the calling of people of good will remains the same.
I see two main kinds of tasks. One is to try to bring about change now, exercising the relative freedom that we still have. The second is to go deeper into analysis and cultivating a mindset of fostering humane living in the face of relative powerless actually to change the big picture. These two tasks may be in tension a bit, but they actually complement each other. Keeping the second in mind might lessen the emotional investment we make in the first. Keeping the first in mind might prevent the second from becoming too abstract or too removed from actual reality.
(1) So we work at resistance and reform. We work at the revitalization of democracy on all levels. For example, in a few months, Virginians will vote in an important election that will profoundly affect the near future of our state—and no doubt have significant reverberations around the country. We have good reform-oriented candidates who would make a big difference in the wellbeing of vulnerable people. So, it’s good to do what we can to support such candidates. After Bernie Sanders’s success in 2016, it is more possible now to imagine national-level candidates who could accomplish important things. It is clear that the majority of American people want affordable health care for all people, less militarism, a reduction in the power of the 1%, et al. It is possible to imagine that Trump’s rise to power might actually contribute to an stronger and more effective effort to help the will of the people to be done.
(2) And we also work at trying better to understand our deeper problems and to address those in our local communities and in our places of worship. We may cultivate a stronger awareness of how deep our crises are, and we may cultivate a heightened imagination that envisions living creatively in a broken system, in a failed state. We have a lot to learn from those who in other contexts have managed to embrace life amidst the ruins. There is a lot of practical philosophy and theology to do.
Six years ago, I wrote a blog post suggesting that is might be helpful to imagine what it would be like if the U.S. truly took a turn toward totalitarianism. Perhaps that imaginative effort would be even more relevant today. This is what I concluded:
“People who affirm the supremacy of love, compassion, and universal personhood should (I believe) grow in understanding about the anti-democratic elements in our current system. We should recognize the spiritual dimension of those anti-democratic elements and how extremely powerful they are. And, in light of this understanding and recognition, we should realize just how crucial, even priceless—and also how powerful—it is simply to learn better to disbelieve and to join with at least a few others, and to create humane spaces wherever we can.”