It was convenient for the teaching moment that James Risen just recounted the New York Times’ refusal back in 2004 to report on George W. Bush’s (secret and criminal) warrantless spying prior to Bush’s “re-election” for fear of costing Bush votes, at the same time that a harmoniously bipartisan Congress was just now voting to empower Donald Trump to (openly and legally) spy on everybody without any warrants.
How did a crime become a policy? Nobody, not even the “Constitutional law professor” who committed the same crime for the 8 years before Trump, re-wrote the Fourth Amendment. So, what transformed Bush’s crimes into Trump’s respectable policies was exactly what we said would do that: the failure to impeach Bush and remove him from office. The powers of the imperial president to spy, imprison, torture, and murder increased under Bush, and under Obama, and under Trump. And if we survive Trump, that trend will continue.
Not only will presidential powers expand, but the odiousness of the individuals occupying the office will increase. Those who say that’s impossible also said it was impossible under one or the other of the previous two presidents, depending on partisanship.
Thankfully, a large and growing percentage of the public tells pollsters that Trump should be impeached and removed from office. Millions sign a petition or two. But they do little else. Most activist organizations do nothing at all. And most seasoned activists dismiss the very idea of ever impeaching anyone out of hand. Virtually none of them have ever heard anything about the frequency and potency of impeachment through U.S. history. Every last one of them imagines that a Trump impeachment is about Russia fantasies or nothing, as if the reasons that they themselves despise and fear Trump just don’t exist. And you’ll not find a single activist anywhere who believes their activism can change society in such a manner that following a successful impeachment, the next office holder will be expected to behave better or face impeachment too.
Thus, when you ask a random person if Trump should be impeached and removed from office, as often as not they will shout “Hell, yeah!” (And I strongly suspect that pattern would hold outside of the United States as well as here within it.) But if you ask an activist at a politically engaged conference or rally in the U.S., I can almost guarantee you that — at the absolute best — they will mumble that they wouldn’t mind such an impossibility.
The majority of them will then tell you the very same things they told you pre-inauguration. Nothing has changed in the anti-impeachment song list during the past year. First and foremost, if you want Trump impeached, you are working on behalf of the Evil Mike Pence who will be worse. Never mind that if you allow Trump to do anything he wants, we may all die quickly and will certainly die slowly from climate destruction. Never mind that if you apply no limits to the presidency, you will offer unprecedented power to one or the other of two candidates as bad or worse than Trump. If you think I’m kidding, go ask a Democrat what Oprah should do, and then watch Oprah in 2003 pushing for a war on Iraq. Oprah does not approach Trump in odiousness, but Democrats seem completely incapable of swooning over anyone who hasn’t pushed for major mass-murders, and they seem to be limiting their search to people hoarding billions of dollars while striving for vacuous corporate-friendly celebrity. This doesn’t end well.
Next, activists will tell you that by pursuing impeachment you’re helping the evil Democrats. Never mind that you can’t be helping both Pence and Democrats in the worldview of people who recognize and wildly exaggerate the differences between the two parties. Never mind that Nancy Pelosi has made herself the leading opponent of impeachment, just as she did under George W. Bush. Never mind that Rahm Emanuel in January 2007 said they would keep Bush around and the war going for two more years in order to run “against” them again. Never mind that the Democrats’ whole permanent election campaign strategy of simply not being Trump would collapse in the absence of Trump.
Next they’ll tell you that you’re failing to help the good Democrats who need you to focus on elections instead of silly distractions like establishing limits on dictatorial power. Never mind that you can’t be doing this along with your other sins. Never mind that the focus on elections has given the Democrats election losses and the rest of us a country trending toward shitholery.
Next they’ll tell you that impeachment is not what poor people’s organizations want. And in the end they’ll tell you that it just can’t be done. But show me a poll of poor people who oppose impeaching Trump. I’d like to see that. The problem is not poor people, or their desperate needs for food and shelter, or middle-class people. The problem is the activists who have made the flabbergasting discoveries that there are lots of people, including Mike Pence, in the U.S. government with horrific records and that whole agencies and policies are corrupt and destructive. (I know, isn’t it unbelievable? I’m shocked, I tell you.)
The answer, if there is one, is for the people who haven’t been properly trained in wise activism to simply get active, to do more than sign a petition, to organize an event, to set up a lobby meeting, to put stories into both good and large media, and to engage in nonviolent civil resistance — not to be confused with The Resistance. None of the big organizations who jumped onto Occupy when it made the corporate news had proposed creating it in the first place. If you build an impeachment movement, they will come. If you don’t, I’ve warned you what’s coming.