Debate: Is Impeachment the Best Way to Get Rid of Trump

December 20, 2019

Jacobin Magazine hosted articles on either side, Real News now hosts their debate. Does Impeachment make any sense? Yes or No?

Jacobin Magazine hosted articles on either side, Real News now hosts their debate. Does Impeachment make any sense? Yes or No?


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Story Transcript

MARC STEINER: Welcome to The Real News. I’m Marc Steiner. Good to have you with us.

Well, the vote’s in. It looks like impeachment’s on, at least from the House. The house voted yes on two articles of impeachment. And we’re not clear where this will all go; they’re not clear where this will go. But here’s part of that debate.

NANCY PELOSI: Article 1 is adopted.

DONALD TRUMP: What they’ve done with this perversion… It’s perversion. I’m the first person that ever got impeached and there’s no crime.

MITCH MCCONNELL: This slapdash process has concluded in the first purely partisan presidential impeachment since the wake of the Civil War.

NANCY PELOSI: No one is above the law, and the president has been held accountable.

MARC STEINER: But not everyone agrees, even those of us who see Trump as a danger to the future. The center to the left, no one really likes Trump; most importantly the danger in Trump fueling the power of the most right-wing, racist, nationalist elements in our country among the people and among what we would call the ruling class. Where the debate is centered is whether the impeachment of Trump makes any sense politically or strategically. The left is torn.

Now, Jacobin Magazine presented a serious discussion about this in two articles: The Left Case for Impeachment by Max B. Sawicky and What is the Point of Impeachment by Doug Henwood. They both join us today. Doug Henwood edits Left Business Observer, is host of Behind the News, and his latest book is My Turn. Max B. Sawicky is an economist and writer who lives losing the wilds of Virginia, worked for the government Accountability Office and the Economic Policy Institute. Gentlemen, welcome. Good to have you both with us.

DOUG HENWOOD: Thanks for having us.

MARC STEINER: So let me just begin with how both of you gentlemen opened your articles in the Jacobin pieces. Max Sawicky wrote: “Impeachment is about more than Donald Trump—it has the potential to undermine the right-wing forces that stand behind him. Socialists should see impeachment as an opportunity to attack a movement that poses a long-run threat to the Left’s very existence.” Doug Henwood, on the other hand, opened his article with: “Getting rid of Trump would be great, but Congress isn’t going to do it—we actually have to vote him out. And impeachment, a therapeutic ritual for MSNBC hosts and an act of score-settling by the national security state, isn’t helping.”

That was a good beginning. But let’s talk about what we just saw here, this narrow legalistic indictment that was just passed by the House. The question is, does this go to striking at the heart of this rise in right-wing power? I mean, where do you think this takes us? And I’ll let you start with all this, Doug. And then we’ll go to Max.

DOUG HENWOOD: Well, I don’t see how it does at all. First of all, the indictment itself, as you said, is narrowly legalistic. The New York Times on Thursday morning had a timeline of events that led to where we got here. I was reading through it and I consider myself a rather well-informed person, and I didn’t recognize half the names that they were talking about. This is, for the general public, it must be completely obscure what this is all about. They do know that there’s somehow, they’re protecting Joe Biden. But, and while this is all going on, the Congress gave Trump a rise in military budget, possibly border wall funding. They extended the Patriot Act, which is a funny thing to do for a guy you think is an authoritarian threat. They created the, they ratified the creation of a space force, which is the last thing we need.

They’re likely to give a Trump NAFTA 2.0, so he’s getting all these victories of policy, many of which people on the left should be opposed to. Yet, they’re spending all their time talking about this impeachment of some weird thing that happened in Ukraine, that very few people really understand. And, it’s a distraction from really the political war against Trump and everything he represents, his roots and power. On the far right private equity types, the Koch network, neo-Nazis, the whole offensive right-wing structure that Trump uses and that supports him mostly, will remain intact. I don’t see what impeachment does to harm that. Since it’s a foregone conclusion, the Senate will not take this seriously because Republicans are crazy and vicious, but they take power very, very seriously. I just don’t see how Democrats can fight that kind of determination with legalistic maneuvers like these.

MARC STEINER: Max?

MAX B. SAWICKY: Well the impeachment is, it’s not only legalistic as Doug said, but it’s founded on a national security frame, which is somewhere between dubious and bankrupt. So, neither of those things are worth, or the hill you want to die on. What it does do, is open the door to a much broader indictment. That’s what I think the left ought to be doing, is providing context for this. There’s a wide array of material that could be brought to bear. I talked about what I think are the key points in my article. It’s the destruction of democratic institutions. It’s the vicious, racist assault on immigrants. It’s the encouragement of a neo-fascist underground. We could just go on all day with this. If it was up to me, the House could pass more articles. I mean, you could have an encyclopedia of articles of impeachment because there’s so much material there.

And, rather than forsake what is really the essential political argument going on right now, it’s a shame that the left has kind of absented, and really left the field to centrists in confronting what is arguably, the roots of a neo-fascist movement in the US. We’re talking about things which are fine in and of themselves. It seems like we spend more time attacking Democrats than Republicans, if you look at the array of left publications out there. I think unfortunately, now a lot of the left is taking themselves out of the picture. That’s unfortunate because I think we have a great deal to contribute to the indictment of Trump, of which the House articles are really just a bare and a rudimentary of the criticism that ought to be brought to bear.

MARC STEINER: Let me tackle some of these things that you two just brought up. when you look at this, what about this involvement of our national security system? I mean, clearly NATO, CIA, FBI, congressional security Hawks. How do progressives in the left response to that? Is this, I mean, it’s strange bedfellows. Is this a temporary alliance–popular front, as I think you said, Max, in your piece–or is this a complete sellout and a reverse of what needs to be done when you’re battling the system? Because this is clearly being pushed by them. They’re very nervous about what Trump is doing to the established order, in their sense. And so you watch the FBI and everybody else testifying, and I think about our history and the history of this country and what those organizations have done, so we have these strange bedfellows. How does the left respond? Max, let me let you begin, because you raise that issue.

MAX B. SAWICKY: I wouldn’t sleep in that bed. You could impeach the president on 50 different counts without ever using the words Russia or Ukraine. Having said that, where they do have Trump dead to rights is on Ukraine, in the sense that it seems pretty evident that he was trying to use the power of the State to influence the behavior of a foreign government to help his very narrow personal interest in being reelected. Now, that’s anti-democratic. We may not like the target, Trump’s target in this, Joe Biden. We may not have any use for him, but the broader principle here is that a president should not be allowed to do that. That’s a fundamental breach of democratic practice, and we shouldn’t stand for that. Now, there’s a lot more we could and should bring up. But that, in and of itself is, it may be legalistic, but it’s completely well-founded.

Russia is a capitalist country. There’s no reason to tilt in favor of Russia against Ukraine or vice versa. I mean, there seems to be some sentimental affection for what used to be the Soviet Union, and of course ongoing disaffection from the national security state. But I think that complicates things way too much. The basic point is, there’s no reason to tilt in favor of either one in this and that’s a pretty obviously what Trump has been doing. Now, I don’t think we need to get stuck in there. We could talk about, like I said, fifty other things that are worth impeaching him for. The house has opened the door to that, the Democrats, and I think we should walk through that door and talk about our issues.

MARC STEINER: Doug, how about walking through that door?

DOUG HENWOOD: First of all, I think it’s very strange to see liberals and even people in DSA shirts cheering on the work of the CIA, the informant worked for CIA and prosecutors, FBI heads and things like that. I mean, these are very bad people running very bad institutions, and I just, it’s very strange to see them become heroes. But all that aside, most of the things that Trump has done wrong have been completely legal. When we’re talking about food stamp cuts or gutting the EPA or his hostility towards immigrants. His rejection of refugees, of just about all of that, the most appalling things he’s done are legal and impeachment is really not the proper venue for addressing those legal outrages. We have, we’re less than two months away from the beginning of the Iowa caucuses. We’re maybe three months away from New Hampshire primaries.

The election season, in other words, is well underway. That is what elections are for, having a real political fights about real issues and to spend the months in the run up to that process, focusing on these obscure battles around Ukraine and Russia. And, this Russia obsession of the liberal establishment is just utterly demented and this comes out of that. This impeachment mania comes out of that in part. It’s just really, strangely distracting to me not to have a political battle, but just focus it on the crimes of Donald Trump, knowing that nothing is going to happen, that he will stay in office and emerge, possibly strengthened. In my piece, I quoted a Ralph Waldo Emerson’s comment that, “If you strike at the King, you must kill him. This is not going to kill him. It has the possibility of making him stronger.” And it’s the last thing I want to do it with guy.

MARC STEINER: Talk about making him stronger. Let’s take a look at Donald Trump at his rally for a moment. I’m going to come back with something with this.

Donald Trump: I said in my letter to Pelosi, by proceeding with your invalid impeachment, you’re violating your Oath of Office. You’re breaking your allegiance to the constitution. You’re declaring open war on American democracy. You dare to invoke the founding fathers in pursuit of this election nullification scheme. Yet, your spiteful actions display unfettered contempt for America’s founding and your egregious conduct. You are the ones interfering in America’s elections. You are the one subverting America’s democracy. We did nothing wrong. Nothing whatsoever.

MARC STEINER: What about the reality of that? I’m sorry we wouldn’t have the time to see him. He looks like a failed Borshbelt comedian. But anyway, what? But he’s not funny.

DOUG HENWOOD: No, he’s, but he’s very good at this [crosstalk 00:12:24] repellent, but he really is very good at it.

MARC STEINER: He’s really good at this.

DOUG HENWOOD: This unleashes him and Democrats, I was reading the New York Times this morning, and it’s clear to me that liberals of that ilk do not understand the source of his appeal or his power, and this impeachment, it perpetuates and deepens that lack of understanding. He is going to able to rally his … People talk about his base, which is a very imprecise thing, but he’s going to rally a lot of popular support off this. The polls haven’t really moved during the course of this impeachment. He’s no less or more popular than there was before. I was impressed by all the big words he managed to string together without a pause in that little excerpt you showed up. But you know, he’s just an appalling figure. That, I can’t deny. But we really need to understand the source of his appeal and to, that’s the only effective way of fighting him. This is really not the way to fight him. Not through constitutional means or even to see Nancy Pelosi and her colleagues dressing in black. I think it’s just an act of pure theater. This is performance, not politics

MARC STEINER: Max. I mean pick that up. I mean because it’s clear that the Neo-liberal establishment, our country wants to restore their order.

MAX B. SAWICKY: Of course.

MARC STEINER: What do we want? What does the people who are progressive left, what is the debate we should be having?

MAX B. SAWICKY: If we stay out of this, nobody’s going to know what we want. That’s why we should be in it. Now, as far as breaking the law goes, you don’t have to break the law to be impeached. You could think of all kinds of outrageous, I mean there’s some threshold I guess, above which, if Trump did some legal things that were terrible enough, everybody would want to impeach him. The point is that you don’t have to break the law to be impeached, and the House is not bound to that standard, and even if they were, there’d be plenty of other things they could use it. The main thing is that the end result here is actual removal, is really not the point of the exercise. There was no question the Senate is not going to vote to remove him. This Senate, under the leadership of McConnell. The point of the whole exercise is the process leading up to the vote.

Who says what, and who votes, and how they vote. It’s using the politics of the process to restrain his actions to the extent possible while he’s still in office, and to minimize his chances of being reelected. That’s the whole point of this. It’s not the fact that the Senate is not going to vote to remove him. Everybody knows that. The point is to use this, to walk through this door, as I said, and bring to bear our entire critique, not just of Trump, but the Republican Party that he’s bound to. Even centrist Democrats that, in one way or another propitiate their ideological priors. As it stands, if we’re out of this game, then whatever we’re interested in is going to be invisible. Basically we’re absenting ourselves from resistance to, what I see is the main enemy right now.

To me, the most urgent task for the left is to minimize this man’s chances of being reelected. Let me just say as it just claimer, I’m wearing a tee shirt. I don’t speak for DSA or any faction of DSA or any organization at all. So just, I’m purely speaking for myself. I don’t pretend to represent anyone else in particular.

MARC STEINER: It’s a nice t-shirt.

MAX B. SAWICKY: Thank you.

MARC STEINER: You’re welcome.

MAX B. SAWICKY: My wife bought it for me.

MARC STEINER: A nice wife. But, let’s go to that point. So we know, as you just said, that he will not be convicted in the Senate. That’s clear. How will affect this election? What does this impeachment mean in terms of getting rid of Trump and getting rid of Trump in the sense that if you know that… I mean, well, let me just stop there. I’ll show you this one piece. This is typical of the debate that takes place, I think sometimes, between those who support Trump and are unshakeable, and those who are trying to battle against him.

DEBORAH DAY: There is no white supremacy. Wake the fuck up. It’s

LOUIE FANELLI: Did you read about the kids that died from the flu [crosstalk]? Did you read the Southern Poverty Law Center [crosstalk] white supremacist? Where do you stand?

DEBORAH DAY: Where do I stand?

LOUIE FANELLI: Where do you stand?

DEBORAH DAY: You need to wake up and take care of your children, as an American.

MARC STEINER: There we are.

DOUG HENWOOD: Wow.

MAX B. SAWICKY: Discourse today.

MARC STEINER: Go ahead Doug, since you “wowed” first. Leap in.

DOUG HENWOOD: Well, that’s really an appalling little clip you had there. But anyway, Max talks about being there, and somehow influencing the process. Nancy Pelosi is driving this bus. I don’t see that there’s much that people like us can do to change that. The whole process got going, you could say, with the squad. Rashida Tlaib, I believe, said we’re going to impeach the guy with… I’m not sure what the restrictions on language are on The Real News Network. I’m used to doing radio with the FCC over my shoulder. But then the process is quickly hijacked by what, seven national security folks and Nancy Pelosi and the wounded ego of Joe Biden. I don’t see how we much, have much of a stake in this game. Where we do have a possibility is, we have a good candidate, any of us like Bernie Sanders. Another candidate, many of us like almost as much, Elizabeth Warren, although opinions differ on that.

There’s actually a strong leftist presence in this democratic primary. That’s the place where we can raise these kinds of issues, the substantive things that make Trump so horrible, how to fight him. In this process that’s run by Nancy Pelosi, who I must say, is extremely skilled at what she does. I mean she’s really a formidable figure. But she’s in control and there’s not much we can do to alter the course of this vehicle at this point. Now, she’s holding off on sending the articles to the Senate. It makes me wonder, just is there anything to be said beyond performance to this? If it is a performance, is it one that’s going to change the nature of our political discourse? I don’t see that it has or will or is even going to be entertaining? It’s really failed as entertainment.

If those of us who are old enough to remember the old Watergate hearings from 47 years ago, those were really high-drama, and created a lot of personalities, and adventure. Not now. I mean all these faceless bureaucrats and careerists who come before the Congress to testify, are not the kinds of people that are very memorable, are very influential or very moving.

MARC STEINER: Max, you raise the issue of drama in your piece, and so you tie that into what Doug was saying, along with looking the reality that that impeachment will not get through the Senate if a trial even ever takes place. Talk about how this fits into, from your perspective, the political process and battle against Trump. What difference will it make? Maybe in a positive way?

MAX B. SAWICKY: Performance is part of politics. I mean, when you’re standing on the street like I was yesterday with a sign, that’s performance. I wasn’t voting in any legislature. I was standing out in the street. I’m not trying to give advice to Nancy Pelosi. She’s not going to be interested in that.

MARC STEINER: She’s not going to take your advice anyway.

MAX B. SAWICKY: The seven National Security Democrats, was that nailing them down, basically sealed the deal for a successful House vote. That doesn’t mean that their concerns or what they use to cover themselves against, on the right flank has to be ours. We have our own platforms, and we have a couple of primary campaigns with a lot of potential, as Doug said. Those are our vehicles and we should use them. And again, put context around impeachment. Impeachment raises the profile of everything that’s wrong with the administration.

Rather than being absent from that, I think we should be part of it with our own menu of priorities, as I think we can see the two most progressive candidates in the primary or are doing as well. They’re not, they’re enthusiastic for impeachment. They don’t let it dominate everything they talk about and neither should we. But we certainly shouldn’t be separate from it either, which it seems to me that’s what is significant, at least the portion of the left that I’m interested in and feel like I should be part of. That’s its basic posture right now.

MARC STEINER: I mean, to wrap this up a bit, figure out where we’re going here. I mean, maybe this perspective is not everybody’s perspective, but I mean Trump, appeals to this most extreme right-wing, racist, nationalist. Whether they’re established in this country, they and these establishment conservatives are using him in many ways to effectively change the nature of our country. I mean, just today we saw that the Bar Association will no longer be vetting federal judges, another wish of the Federalist Society which is appointing most of the new federal judges in our country at the moment.

When you look at that and look at the impeachment and look at what we’re facing, I’d like you both to look for a moment into a play oppression game. Look at these crystal balls. Where’s this going to take us? Is this ever going to get to the Senate? How will it affect the 2020 election? Where does this fit into the struggle for a different America?

MAX B. SAWICKY: Well, it may not get to the Senate, but that wouldn’t necessarily be a terrible thing. If there’s not a meaningful proceeding in the Senate where you have some witnesses, and some testimony, and some real discussion rather than just a a very quick vote in dismissal, then there’s no point in sending the impeachment resolutions to the Senate. They should pass more in resolutions, and I’m sure Doug and I could come up with a nice list of five or six more things they could dwell on, and add that to the indictment. The Senate part of this becomes meaningless unless it’s extended enough so that all of these issues can be brought to light. If they’re not going to be brought to the light in any way, then there’s no reason why Pelosi should, should basically concede the whole thing and walk away and let them rubber-stamp a vote against removal.

MARC STEINER: Doug?

DOUG HENWOOD: Well, I’d say I don’t see how this is bringing anything to light that hasn’t been fully illuminated before, but we’re fully aware of just about every awful thing that Donald Trump has ever done, from our point of view. Awful thing, for a point of view of his supporters, great thing. But it’s not like this guy isn’t covered in great detail. We know exactly what he’s doing. We know what he stands for. We know what kinds of forces he represents or emergence from. The fact that this guy is president is a symptom of a society that I think is in serious state of decay, and he’s only advancing that decay further. But we’re not going to make these points through this impeachment. We’re going to make them through an election campaign. We’re going to make them through organizing people through the old trio, agitate, educate and organize.

That’s the way we’re going to fight Trump, and this kind of high level of maneuvering that we’re seeing with this meaningless now, impeachment resolution, with no possibility of a speedy trial or a meaningful trial or, or anything that’s going to resolve anything. That’s the opposite of agitating, educating and organizing. It’s anesthetizing. It’s distracting. We need to mobilize for a very serious issue-oriented campaign that could try to present a positive vision to people of how to get out of this morass of hatred that’s, it’s completely taken this over this morass of hatred and decay that has completely taken us over. The only way we’re going to do that is through some sort of appealing, positive agenda that make the future seem possible and livable. I just don’t see these articles of impeachment contributing to that process at all.

MARC STEINER: Well, as we see how this unfolds over the next month, in the coming year, we look forward to doing more conversations here like this, with you and other folks at Jacobin. Doug Henwood, and Max Sawicky, thank you both so much for being with us today. I deeply appreciate the article that you wrote and the discussion we had today.

MAX B. SAWICKY: Thank you.

DOUG HENWOOD: Thank you.

MARC STEINER: Thank you both. I’m Marc Steiner here for The Real News Network. Please let us know what you think. Take care.