The fantasy of impeachment

On November 8, 2016 the world learned that a kleptocratic white supremacist and misogynist had just been elected President of the United States. There were three reactions: those who had supported Trump (and Trump himself) couldn’t believe he had won; those who had opposed him couldn’t believe he had won; and a few people who understood the history of this country were not surprised at all. These folks, most of whom in my experience are black, reminded us that Trump was by no means the first white supremacist or misogynist to occupy the White House, and that this was what was to be expected from the majority of white people after eight years of Barack Obama.

As the new reality sank in, it became popular for progressives to say “He’s is not MY President.” But the fact was that Trump was going to hold state power and the world’s most powerful country. For people to pretend that they would’t have to deal with his actions by denying that he was their President was, to me, irresponsible, naive and self-defeating. Like it or not, the fact that Trump was President was going to be a major fact of life for us all. And it was going to be dangerous, ugly and psychologically damaging. All the wishing in the world could not change this fact.

Now, more than half way through Trump’s term as President, we have indeed been deeply hurt by his words and deeds. In the face of this painful reality, many progressives have always dreamt of impeaching Trump. Indeed, the groundwork for impeachment was laid in December 2016 (a month before Trump was sworn in) when Senators Elizabeth Warren, Dick Durbin, Jeff Merkley and Ben Cardin introduced a bill requiring the President to divest any assets that would be a conflict of interest or face impeachment under the Constitution’s Emoluments clause. Once the Mueller investigation of Trump collusion with Russia began, many progressives clung to the hope that the Mueller report would provide the basis for Trump’s impeachment. My favorite protest sign of 2018 was a banner hung over a freeway simply saying “its Mueller time.”

Well, now it IS Mueller time. The investigation is completed. Thirty-seven people have been indicted, and eight of Trump’s cronies have been convicted of serious crimes. And the ongoing investigations in several states indicate that there will be more charges to come. But none of these convictions directly tie Trump to a plot to collude with Putin to interfere in the 2016 election. We are already learning that Mueller did not recommend any criminal charges be brought against the President for collusion with Russia. Of course, many of us are incredulous: over the last two years, enough facts have been brought to light to strongly suggest such collusion certainly did take place with Trump’s direct knowledge. But the cold fact seems to be that the Mueller Report is unlikely to be a game-changer capable to getting twenty Republican Senators to vote for Trump’s removal from office.

So, as of right now, impeachment remains a fantasy. But there might well be a silver lining in the dismal fact that Trump now appears likely to actually have another year and eight months to wreak his proto-fascist politics on the world. And that is that progressives need the time to build the political movement that will repudiate Trump and his supporters in such a way that they cannot ever again hope to have the kind of power they now do. As the current debate among Democrats shows, doing this will not be easy. The grip of the Clinton-era “centrists” with their fixation on winning back the white workers who abandoned Hillary for Trump is still to be broken. The Democrats still have not developed the confidence that a progressive candidate can speak to many different constituencies, including whites, without alienating any of them.

While waving a magic wand to rid the world of Trump is a beautiful fantasy, it will actually take a lot of hard work to achieve this end. Impeaching Trump would not by itself guarantee the creation of a center-left coalition capable of winning the 2020 election. Whether or not Trump remains in office, this is the task ahead.

While the thought of another 18 months of Trump is indeed wearying and painful, progressives don’t need to suffer as we do our work. All we need to remember, as Michelle Alexander so beautifully told us, is that progressives need to stop thinking of themselves as the resistance to Trump. The fact is that Trump and his supporters are the resistance. They are the ones on the wrong side of history who fear the unstoppable emergent reality of a multi-cultural, majority non-white America. So, as hard as it is, let’s welcome this moment as a real opportunity to usher in a new era. Of course, while we are working, let’s continue to try to impeach Trump. But really, folks, the change we seek is not about him. Let’s dedicate ourselves to the long game, so that in the 2020 election we don’t just elect a Democrat, but someone who represents the new America we are trying to become.

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