Are Governments Useless?

Useless! Useless!
Heavy rain driving
Into the sea.
–Jack Kerouac

Talking with people who are fed up, and especially with people who are trying to do something about it, one increasingly runs into the statement that the (U.S.) government is useless, the government won’t help us, we must help ourselves. And not only that, but the government is rotten to the core, irredeemable, systematically and hopelessly and essentially evil.

And of course this is basically true. The question is what to do about it. Part of the answer is clearly to create alternatives, to move positive change through local and state governments and global alliances, to take areas of life out from under the control of government entirely. But part of the answer isn’t that.

What, after all, are we to make of the fact that the U.S. government clearly wants people conditioned to believe that they have to pay for their own hurricane relief even after having paid exorbitantly in taxes for, primarily, wars that happen to be, among many other things, the leading cause of climate chaos? If the government is evil, and the government wants you dismissing from your mind the very possibility of the government paying for protection from real dangers, shouldn’t logic dictate that going along with that is evil?

Beyond logic, there’s hard reality. The earth’s climate cannot survive the conduct of the U.S. government. We can take care of each other lovingly and creatively with ever greater solidarity in ever deeper destitution. But we cannot fend off ecological or nuclear apocalypse without halting the leviathan that is driving them forward. In fact, if it’s not simply too late already, we certainly cannot save ourselves merely by halting the government’s destruction; we have no choice but to generate constructive action on the scale that can only be reached by moving a fraction of military spending into environmental protection. That it would only take a fraction and that it would not need to come from anything useful are little known facts, but facts they are nonetheless.

But how do you take control of and reverse course with a government that is demonstrably worse than useless?

Talking with people who are trying to figure this out, one hears that

  • a new messiah must be elected to the throne;
  • a new party must vault over all the barriers to new parties;
  • only total and complete replacement of the entire system can help at all;
  • revolution would be catastrophic and must be avoided;
  • a socialist Scandinavian-but-more-so state is needed ASAP.

And one hears these things, sometimes, all of them, from the very same person.

But where does this take us in terms of practical action. Well, we end up with pretty broad consensus on the need for education, organization, and mass resistance. But where does transformative change come in?

Beyond the thousands of creative campaigns that we need advancing thousands of issues, including various systemic reforms (of elections, of media, etc.), it seems to me that there is a useful tool people sometimes overlook for misguided reasons. If the U.S. government had no Constitution, or that Constitution did not contain any mechanism for removing people from high office, and a popular movement were to create such a mechanism, I think we would be very proud of ourselves and eager to use it. We wouldn’t run around telling each other that removing individuals from a completely corrupt system was pointless. We’d remove one, make it a model for others, and remove the next as needed.

Of course, the wealthy white male enslaving and warmongering Founders put impeachment into the U.S. Constitution, having no idea who would later get access to voting or what activist movements would come to look like, but having a pretty darn accurate notion of what people like Donald Trump do and what sort of danger they are (even without knowledge of nuclear weapons or climate change).

I’ve been told that impeachment is a trick that “the system” uses to fool us into thinking something has been fixed. Really? When was that? The Democrats fended off a majority demand for Bush Jr.’s impeachment and are more set against Trump’s impeachment than the Republicans are. The Democratic Party wants to keep Trump around in order to campaign without any real platform as being the people who are not Donald Trump. That is how corrupt the system is. It could hardly be more corrupt — unless, perhaps, the power of impeachment were removed by amendment rather than merely by inaction.

Popular impeachment movements have effected serious reforms short of getting to impeachment, including with Truman, and have forced individuals out while putting through a pile of progressive policies, including with Nixon.

Of course there is more than one way to abuse impeachment. You can neglect it. You can reserve it for sexual conduct. Or you could use it to generate xenophobia, Russophobia, and militarism by going after Trump for unproven but dangerous charges. Pardoning Joe Arpaio was not a reason to abolish the pardon power, though it was yet another reason to impeach. And misuses of impeachment are not reasons to abandon the tool of impeachment when put to proper use.

A proper Trump impeachment and removal would leave a President Pence subject to impeachment (if he wasn’t impeached in the process), a divided Republican Party, a divided Democratic Party, an empowered populace, openings for serious policy changes, and a reduced risk of nuclear war or environmental disaster. It might not feel as pure as punching a Nazi, but living on a planet on which our children might get to live as well should feel pretty darn good.



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