Jeet Heer of The Nation explores the deepening political divide, the growing support for impeachment, and the political battles that it will define.
MARC STEINER: Welcome to The Real News Network. I’m Marc Steiner. Great to have you with us once again.
The impeachment, yes, is going on. And that process is rolling along. There are still so many questions to be answered. There are many who think the impeachment process itself will backfire, rev up Trump’s millions to victory in 2020, and that there really isn’t anything there in terms of what the impeachment has to prove. Reminding ourselves what the Constitution said–let’s listen to this again–the Constitution says what? “The President, the Vice-President, the Justices of the Supreme Court, and the Auditor General, shall be removed from office on impeachment for any conviction of, culpable violation of the Constitution, treason, bribery, or other high crimes or misdemeanors.”
So people are asking: Is this the impeachment the right political strategy? Some would argue that Trump doesn’t need to tell the truth. He just needs to muddy the waters and that’s enough; all he has to do. And who’s in charge of this? Is it a security apparatus or are the progressives calling the shots? Who’s calling the shots with this impeachment? How deeply important is that? And there’s a war within congress itself going on, Secretary of State Pompeo now refusing to allow people from the state department to testify. Where will this take us?
Well, our guest often here is Jeet Heer, who’s a National Correspondent for The Nation. And he joins us once again. And Jeet, welcome. Good to have you with us.
JEET HEER: Good to be here.
MARC STEINER: So this is… Really, there’s so much here, but let me talk about first of all what this means politically in a larger sense from your perspective. There are some tweets that Trump has put out recently about the dangers of bringing us to a civil war and more. And let’s just read a couple of these tweets that he’s had. “….If the Democrats are successful in removing the President from office (which they will never be),” he says, “it will cause a Civil War like fracture in this Nation from which our Country will never heal.” He’s quoting a Pastor Robert Jeffress in that. And he likes that, I’m sure.
And then there’s this other tweet he mentioned as well. Let’s look at these two and talk about what they might mean. I love this one. He has this map and he’s got all the places in red that they have the electoral power: “Try to impeach this.” I won’t say what he’s probably thinking in his head. But it is what he’s going to try and do. He is going to try to muddy the waters, right?
JEET HEER: Yes. I mean, I think this is… Well, first of all, the civil war tweet is almost like a threat. It’s like, “Well, this is a nice little Republic you got here, and it’d be a shame if anything happened to it.” But the thing is that this civil war talk did not originate from Trump. It’s a long standing feature of the far right. I think Steve King, the very reactionary white nationalist congressman in Iowa, said–tweeted once, “If there’s a civil war coming, we have more bullets. We have like a trillion bullets.” I think that really, the underlying issue here is that Trump’s base knows that they’re minority. Trump did not win even a plurality of the popular vote. He got less than his opponent. But they feel that this is still their country; they’re the real Americans. The people who don’t agree with them are not real Americans. They’re willing to do the Samson option. If they’re deprived of power, they’re just going to bring the whole house down.
The other aspect is it’s not so much a civil war is coming. There’s a civil war that’s already here. Because we’re not looking at the 19th century. You’re not going to see mass armies gathering together. The modern civil war that one would see in the former Yugoslavia or Syria is through terrorism and through militia groups as to this kind of social media terrorism where leaders insight their followers, put out hateful messages, and then people go out. If you really think about it, that’s already happening. There’s been people who have been moved by this sort of fear of immigrants and the idea that Jews are somehow responsible for the yields and they’ve shot up synagogues and killed people and they’ve shot up in El Paso a Walmart filled with immigrants. The civil war is here.
MARC STEINER: The civil war is here. Well, let me take it a step further. Let’s talk about some of the polls that have come up because I think this talks to the point in some ways. Both in Reuters and The Hill, there were stories put out about this election. It may have arisen to 45%, it’s nine points surging against Trump and for impeachment. But the country is really divided on this. I mean the numbers against it, there are 41 depending on which poll you look at; 41, 43, 45, and some polls like Rasmussen is up to 51% of the people who are opposed to the impeachment process and impeaching Trump. And then you have Trump in his oval office saying things like this.
DONALD TRUMP: As you know, and you probably now have figured it out, the statement I made to the president of Ukraine, a good man, a nice man, knew it was perfect, it was perfect. But the whistleblower reported a totally different statement. Like the statement, it was not even made–I guess statement you could say with call. I made a call. The call was perfect.
MARC STEINER: So you have Trump saying things like that. So talk a bit about your understanding; your sense, your theory about how really divisive this is. When you talk about we’re in the civil war, how dangerous do you think it is?
JEET HEER: I think it’s a very dangerous period. Because basically what you have is a president who based on the evidence seems to have committed some serious crimes, and he’s willing to incite his followers to attack people. He’s not only said, “We’ll find out who the whistleblower is,” he actually said, “Well, there’s treason going on and I wish we had the old solution to treason,” which is execution. This is very scary.
I mean that in itself, and basically what Trump is saying. And what is more, the Republicans around him are saying–and his cabinet, what they’re saying–is that they will not abide by the constitution. They will not be held accountable by Congress. We see that with Pompeo telling state department employees not to take deposition. It’s really going to come… I mean, there is the sort of like larger theatrics which are very scary and which I think could incite real violence.
Then there’s also the constitutional issue. What happens if Congress tries to subpoena people and they don’t come? What happens if the president refuses to abide by Congress? The Democrats… And I hope they do this. I hope they have the internal fortitude, the steel to do this. They have to steel themselves up and they have to use the powers that they have and order the courts and threaten people with jail time, and if necessary, jail people. This is where we’ve come to.
MARC STEINER: You’re actually saying if the Democrats really want it, if they’re serious about the impeachment, they have to stand up–this is a war–like really push this hard and be fierce about it?
JEET HEER: Yeah. I mean, I wouldn’t use a war metaphor because it’s not like they’re doing anything illegal. They have to have to use all the power that they have. Congress actually has a lot of constitutional power. And they have to actually… But it’s a very tough message to actually send people to jail for failing to abide by Congressional Subpoena. But that has happened in the past, and it happened during Watergate. I think it’s something that needs to be done.
MARC STEINER: If you look at… let’s take a look at this little piece here. Because part of it is as I said in the opening about muddying the waters and in some senses that Trump and his minions only have to muddy the waters. And here you have the house minority whip Steve Scalise. I think it was on Fox, if I have that correct. This is what he had to say. And let’s kind of wrestle with it a bit for this.
STEVE SCALISE: Speaker Pelosi jumped the gun two years ago. She has been, and many of her members have been, calling for impeachment and she has been enabling that. And in fact, it was a tweet from AOC over the weekend that was really kind of threatening and saying that the Democrats are the ones who are committing a scandal by not impeaching the President. And low and behold, two days later, she calls for impeaching the President… and when pressed to say name a single high crime or misdemeanor, the Majority Leader at the time couldn’t even list one.
MARC STEINER: So when you play this game in the press and get people revved up about what they’re saying even if it’s not true, like whether it’s about what he said or what Trump, what they said about–
JEET HEER: First of all, I think that that same is part of the sort of Trump strategy, which is that he’s constantly highlighted people of color as his opposition. It was just the tweet that from his Communications Director that mentioned Cory Booker and Maxine Waters and Chuck Schumer, a black man a black woman and a Jewish guy. I think we kind of know what’s going on there. And that also speaks to this issue of civil war.
I mean the larger issue is yes, the Congressional left has been on the forefront of this for the very good reason that they represent the constituencies that have been most hurt by Trump and have felt from the beginning that there was a lot of serious offenses. One could mention like the Ukraine business is the latest thing. But there’s been a lot of things that Congress could and should have gone after Trump for from day one. There’s the emoluments, the whole process that he’s been enriching himself as president. There’s the threats that he’s put on Twitter against his political opponents, calls to deal his political opponent. All of that has been an abuse of power which Congress has let slide. So let’s not say Pelosi was pushed to impeachment. The real question is why did it take Pelosi so long?
MARC STEINER: Well, I mean, let’s wrestle with that for a moment. When you look at what’s happening now with Pelosi and this impeachment… You’ve written about this as a matter of fact. I mean, people look at this as, and the right wing looks at this as the deep state going after Trump. And in some senses, it is about people who are concerned about traditional establishment security that are in the process of saying Trump is dangerous to us and to our order. Then you have progressives–
JEET HEER: I think that that is what… I mean, you’ve had a majority within the Democratic Party for a long time that’s wanted impeachment. But what finally turned the corner was that in this case, Trump was going after the intelligence community. The whistleblower is a CIA officer, and so that has convinced moderate Democrats like Pelosi and like some Democrats that are in traditionally Republican districts to go after this. What they’re actually doing now is they’re trying to… she’s controlled the narrative. It’s a traditional political ploy. Like you see a parade and you go to the front of it and say, “I’m leading the parade.” So CNN did this thing over Labor Day weekend where they had four Congresswoman and said, “These are the leaders of impeachment,” and they were all four white women. The fact is that it has not been four white moderate Democratic women that have been pushing for impeachment all along. It’s been “The Squad.” I sort of call this stolen valor.
MARC STEINER: It made me think of one of the tweets about this. I think it’s called “Play the Trump Card” tweet. It had a picture of the Revolutionary soldiers as a response to what’s happening to Trump. I mean, that’s a serious call to arms in this, right?
JEET HEER: I think you’re going to see a polarized country. And what you’re seeing in the polls is Trump is losing some Republicans, some of them who have had doubts about him. But there’s other Republicans who are kind of like soft Trump supporters, partisan Republicans, and they’re moving towards him. You’re going to see a very… I mean, impeachment is a divisive issue. It involves arguments. And you’re going to have a lot of very bitter arguments coming out of this.
MARC STEINER: So if you look at this… As we close here. I was thinking about it. Even in the magazine that you work with and write for, The Nation, there’s arguments going on about whether the impeachment would make any sense or not. How do you respond to those who say there is no there there, enough to make this work in the house? It’s only going to die in this state in anyway, they’re not going to find 20 Republicans to complete the trial and say, “Yes, Trump, you’re guilty,” and that this is a failed tactic. And also, it plays… it’s like Russiagate, Ukrainegate, it’s all a waste of time.
JEET HEER: There’s a couple of things. One is that already the Republican White House is kind of falling apart over this. You have a lot of recrimination and a lot of leaks. I feel like for that reason alone, impeachment is kind of worth it. Trump is a dangerous guy who’s doing bad things, so the more pressure you put on him the better. But I mean even beyond that, I think there’s already enough votes in the house for impeachment. They can impeach him tomorrow if they wanted to. And then the question is whether you… It’s a two pipe process, impeachment and removal. You can impeach him; then will it go to the senate and will the senate vote to remove? I don’t think right now. It doesn’t look like it.
There’s some reporting that some Republicans are having doubts. But still, even if you do remove, what you’re going to have is these Republicans will have to be on the record saying that they think that everything Trump has done is acceptable. They think that using the office of the presidency to go after political opponents, which is what the Ukraine business is all about–and not just in Ukraine, but in Australia, in many other countries–the Republican Party is going to have to sign off for some of the worst things that Trump has done. So I think that’s good. I think that’s good for the Democrats. I think it’s good for politics. Let let them own this.
MARC STEINER: And we’ll see how these hearings roll out and what is divulged in these hearings and look how they’re going to muddy the waters. And we’ll come back and wrestle with this some more of the next several months. Jeet, you and I are not going anywhere. We’re going to be doing this for a bit, I think.
JEET HEER: That’s right. We will, yes.
MARC STEINER: Jeet Heer, it’s always a pleasure to have you with us. You can go back and take care of your kids now for a while. Thank you so much for joining us. It’s always great to talk to you.
JEET HEER: Great being here, yeah.
MARC STEINER: Take care. I’m Marc Steiner here for The Real News Network. You know, impeachment is at the top of our list and your list. We have to watch this, see where it takes us. We may have joked at the end, but it is not a laughing matter. I’m Marc Steiner here for The Real News Network. Thank you for joining us. Take care.