The Left Case for Impeachment

The new symbol of evil. London, July 2018.

It’s happening. The House of Representatives is pushing forward with an impeachment investigation against President Donald Trump, on allegations he sought assistance from Ukraine, through the threat of withholding US aid for the country, to interfere in next year’s election.

There is fear among leftists that this is the wrong approach to ending the far-right Trump Administration. But, to invoke the words of DSA-backed Congresswoman Rashida Tlaib, the socialist left should roundly support the attempt to “impeach this motherfucker.”

Migrant children are dying in border camps, labour rights are being shredded and the judicial system is being remoulded to be a right-wing rubber stamp. These are the stakes.

The socialist left should support the impeachment tactic to either remove Trump before the election or strengthen an electoral campaign against him.

If the Senate Can’t Convict, Why Impeach?

Removing Trump from office is a long shot. It will require nearly two dozen Republican Senators to betray their party. That’s no small ask.

The conventional wisdom is that a failure to convict in the upper house will work for Trump, as he will turn himself into a martyr, riling up his base and gaining more popularity. But this is far from certain.

In the case of Bill Clinton, who was impeached but not convicted, we don’t know if he would have been able to secure another term, and the taint of the Clinton impeachment was certainly enough to inspire Al Gore to choose Joe Lieberman, who was highly critical of Clinton’s action during the investigations into his conduct, as a running mate.

Gore, perhaps unable to the shed the taint of the impeachment, still lost the 2000 election.

We can hypothesize that a mere successful impeachment campaign in the House could work in a Democratic challenger’s favour. Any Democrat, even Bernie Sanders, will have a hard time defeating Trump in a general election if there is no severe economic downturn in the next year.

Americans have voted out a sitting president only four times in the last 100 years — two of them (Jimmy Carter, George H. W. Bush) had recessions, one (Herbert Hoover) had a depression.

The standout is Gerald Ford, a placeholder president who came into power after the threat of impeachment forced Richard Nixon to resign. The cloud of scandal helped inspire Americans to vote in Jimmy Carter.

The chaos of impeachment proceedings in an election year could have the effect of throwing Trump off-kilter. He would have to continue to put out legal fires while he should be campaigning.

Firings, resignations and a more erratic-than-usual president could be easy pickings for a Democratic challenger. Trump’s loyalists will stay with him no matter what, but there is no guarantee that this will make him more popular.

It’s a Centrist Case

There is certainly frustration that if Trump were to be removed, it would be for the banal crime of digging up dirt on an equally shady Joe Biden, that he crossed the sacred security state by messing with Ukraine’s aid package, rather than being ousted for his crimes against immigrants and workers.

But the break-in at the Watergate Hotel and the subsequent cover-up were relatively victimless crimes compared to Nixon’s other crimes, like the illegal invasion of Cambodia. And like Al Capone falling on tax evasion, so went Nixon. It’s not as if the Plumbers allowed history to forget Nixon’s other more vicious misdeeds.

In politics, we have to seize the opportunities we’re presented with, not the ones we wish we had. The right has understood that for quite some time and considering its political success not just in filling political positions but in tuning the national ideological dial in its favour, there’s probably something to this.

But President Pence!

Everyone knows that if Trump is successfully removed, the republic inherits President Mike Pence, the closest thing America will have to being ruled by a theocrat.

Of course, he would become president in the case of a removal, but one under a shroud of illegitimacy. As we mentioned before, this didn’t work out so well for Ford’s chance at a full term.

Yes, Pence would be at the helm for a year, but with his charisma-free demeanour, he’d be easier to beat than the ever-entertaining Trump.

The Need to Impeach

Trump is a danger to society. He needs to be removed either through impeachment or through an election. A second term will be a horror show of increased action against immigrants, women’s rights, labour unions and civil liberties.

It is true that a neoliberal House Speaker, Nancy Pelosi, is now taking the lead on this, but impeachment in the past has been pressed from the left, much to the annoyance of centrist leaders like New York Governor Andrew Cuomo.

There are plenty of leftists who fear that this would backfire. Obviously, an audacious political move comes with political risks — that’s just a constant reality. So that doesn’t make an impeachment attempt against Trump any riskier than, say, running Sanders against Trump in a general election.

What’s harder to admit is that the left case against impeachment isn’t a fear that it won’t work but that it will – that either removing Trump or bolstering a challenger not named Bernie Sanders would redeem the neoliberal Democratic Party.

In a way, this the biggest concern for the left: impeachment would make Pelosi look like a genius and if a non-socialist Democratic president could be read as “the system works, the liberals are right, the socialists should stop complaining”.

But there’s no reason Congress’ small but visible socialist caucus can’t continue to be vocal about Trump’s many crimes against humanity as the true reason why we are pursuing this action. Congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez has already said as much.

The world of politics moves forward whether the left wants it or not. But it could decide to be on the sidelines or in the game.

Photograph courtesy of Chris Beckett. Published under a Creative Commons license.