Jefferson Morley | October 11, 2019
Impeachment and the National Security Status Quo
Writing in the Tom Dispatch blog, Andrew Bacevich, former military officer, captures something missing from today’s political reporting: historical perspective.
“Removing from office a vulgar, dishonest, and utterly incompetent president comes nowhere close to capturing what’s going on here.” He asks asks a key questions about popular response to the politics of impeachment. “How do Trump’s crimes stack up against” the crimes of his predecessors?
The unspoken purpose of impeachment is not removal, but restoration. The overarching aim is not to replace Trump with Mike Pence — the equivalent of exchanging Groucho for Harpo. No, the object of the exercise is to return power to those who created the conditions that enabled Trump to win the White House in the first place.
Just recently, for instance, Hillary Clinton declared Trump to be an “illegitimate president.” Implicit in her charge is the conviction — no doubt sincere — that people like Donald Trump are not supposed to be president. People like Hillary Clinton — people possessing credentials like hers and sharing her values — should be the chosen ones. Here we glimpse the true meaning of legitimacy in this context. Whatever the vote in the Electoral College, Trump doesn’t deserve to be president and never did.
For many of the main participants in this melodrama, the actual but unstated purpose of impeachment is to correct this great wrong and thereby restore history to its anointed path.
In a recent column in the Guardian, Professor Samuel Moyn makes the essential point: Removing from office a vulgar, dishonest, and utterly incompetent president comes nowhere close to capturing what’s going on here. To the elites most intent on ousting Trump, far more important than anything he may say or do is what he signifies. He is a walking, talking repudiation of everything they believe and, by extension, of a future they had come to see as foreordained.
Moyn styles these anti-Trump elites as “centrists,” members of the post-Cold War political mainstream that allowed ample room for nominally conservative Bushes and nominally liberal Clintons, while leaving just enough space for Barack Obama’s promise of hope-and-(not-too-much) change.
These centrists share a common worldview. They believe in the universality of freedom as defined and practiced within the United States. They believe in corporate capitalism operating on a planetary scale. They believe in American primacy, with the United States presiding over a global order as the sole superpower. They believe in “American global leadership,” which they define as primarily a military enterprise. And perhaps most of all, while collecting degrees from Georgetown, Harvard, Oxford, Wellesley, the University of Chicago, and Yale, they came to believe in a so-called meritocracy as the preferred mechanism for allocating wealth, power, and privilege. All of these together comprise the sacred scripture of contemporary American political elites. And if Donald Trump’s antagonists have their way, his removal will restore that sacred scripture to its proper place as the basis of policy.
“For all their appeals to enduring moral values,” Moyn writes, “the centrists are deploying a transparent strategy to return to power.” Destruction of the Trump presidency is a necessary precondition for achieving that goal. “Centrists simply want to return to the status quo interrupted by Trump, their reputations laundered by their courageous opposition to his mercurial reign, and their policies restored to credibility.” Precisely.
Bacevich goes on:
For such a scheme to succeed, however, laundering reputations alone will not suffice. Equally important will be to bury any recollection of the catastrophes that paved the way for an über-qualified centrist to lose to an indisputably unqualified and unprincipled political novice in 2016.
Holding promised security assistance hostage unless a foreign leader agrees to do you political favors is obviously and indisputably wrong. Trump’s antics regarding Ukraine may even meet some definition of criminal. Still, how does such misconduct compare to the calamities engineered by the “centrists” who preceded him? Consider, in particular, the George W. Bush administration’s decision to invade Iraq in 2003 (along with the spin-off wars that followed). Consider, too, the reckless economic policies that produced the Great Recession of 2007-2008. As measured by the harm inflicted on the American people (and others), the offenses for which Trump is being impeached qualify as mere misdemeanors.
Honest people may differ on whether to attribute the Iraq War to outright lies or monumental hubris. When it comes to tallying up the consequences, however, the intentions of those who sold the war don’t particularly matter. The results include thousands of Americans killed; tens of thousands wounded, many grievously, or left to struggle with the effects of PTSD; hundreds of thousands of non-Americans killed or injured; millions displaced; trillions of dollars expended; radical groups like ISIS empowered (and in its case even formed inside a U.S. prison in Iraq); and the Persian Gulf region plunged into turmoil from which it has yet to recover. How do Trump’s crimes stack up against these?
The Great Recession stemmed directly from economic policies implemented during the administration of President Bill Clinton and continued by his successor. Deregulating the banking sector was projected to produce a bonanza in which all would share. Yet, as a direct result of the ensuing chicanery, nearly nine million Americans lost their jobs, while overall unemployment shot up to 10%. Roughly four million Americans lost their homes to foreclosure. The stock market cratered and millions saw their life savings evaporate. Again, the question must be asked: How do these results compare to Trump’s dubious dealings with Ukraine?
Bacevish is not arguing against the impeachment of Trump. America’s problem is not one man but a dysfunctional political system that made him possible.