The Trump impeachment frenzy in the U.S. among Democrats, especially by party heavies like Nancy Pelosi, makes zero sense on its face.
First, there’s no chance they’ll succeed: they’ll impeach (i.e. charge) him in the House and fail to convict in the Republican Senate. Why waste resources on losing instead of building a credible, vote-garnering alternative?
It’s not about healing divisions, since this will make those far deeper.
It’s a dreadful issue to base an impeachment on: Trump’s klutzy efforts to bully Ukraine’s president into providing dirt on potential rival Joe Biden. It’s obscure and distant (Ukraine!). What’s a good impeachment issue? Organizing a seedy criminal burglary (Watergate) from the White House — which was the case for Nixon’s impeachment. Or having sex with a young woman in the Oval Office (Clinton). People can relate. Those are gripping, titillating and comprehensible.
Plus, an election’s a year off. Why not beat him there and avoid issues of legitimacy? Nixon and Clinton were both impeached right after elections. That timing made sense, it was the only expedient way to dump them.
Some say it is about that, they’re trying to cripple Trump for the election. But this will just entrench voters on both sides, it won’t move a single ballot.
Pelosi’s a special mystery. She held out against impeachment for three years. Then along comes a Ukrainian sideshow and she’s all in? Spare me.
What shifted her now? I’d say the answer is: this impeachment isn’t directed at Trump at all, it’s about undermining the rising left-wing opposition in the Democratic Party. They are plausibly on the verge of seizing the party agenda away from the neoliberal consensus of the Clinton-Obama decades — with issues like universal public health care and equitable taxes. They’ve even found ways to fund campaigns without bowing to the corporate gods.
Bernie Sanders scared the crap out of them in 2015. He was nobody, and worse, a socialist! But Hillary Clinton beat him back, even if Trump beat her. Some things are worse than losing elections. Then, instead of going away, Bernie stayed at it — and proliferated! He has a sibling in Elizabeth Warren and acolytes in “the squad.” He raises more money than anyone — in dribs and drabs.
This is their nightmare. They threw Joe Biden at “the left” but he’s flawed and fading. They tried others: Beto, Kamala Harris, Mayor Pete. So far, nothing but single digits. And If you combine Warren and Sanders, as you should, you get about double Biden’s support. They think, OK, if necessary, we can live with Warren. So they shift focus: control the agenda, not the choice of candidate. Turn the discussion into all impeachment, all the time. Pelosi’s on it.
Does this mean party bosses would rather lose control of the country and presidency than cede power in their party? Absolutely. Look at the U.K. Labour party right now. With an election on and leftist Corbyn as leader, MPs who were incubated in the neoliberal Blair years are in full turncoat mode. The deputy leader just quit. Ex-Blairite MPs urge people to vote for Boris! It’s the way of power. You’d like to win elections but you couldn’t bear losing your sanctuary.
So Pelosi said: “What are you thinking? … Remember November,” as she “unloaded on progressive policies.” A poll showing Trump still “competitive” in swing states, led to “freaking out” among centrist Dems like the columnist who wrote, “If Democrats aren’t panicking, they aren’t paying attention.”
Let me object to myself: look, the first impeachment calls came from the party’s left, like congresswoman Rashida Tlaib and Warren. But those calls were emotional and ideological.
Pelosi, who controls the power, resisted them. The pertinent question is why she switched. By doing so she was hoping to overwhelm their left-wing social and economic agenda with impeachment mania — a shrewd move. At that point they could hardly reverse their former positions. It’s complicated.
Finally, I want to acknowledge my wonder at the ability of U.S. media to cover nothing except presidential politics interminably. No ordinary mortal could survive it without collapsing in boredom. Their monomania over Trump exactly parallels his egomania about himself. Neither can get enough.
Rick Salutin writes about current affairs and politics. This column was first published in the Toronto Star.
Image: Gage Skidmore/Flickr