After almost a year in the making, the impeachment of President Donald Trump ended not surprisingly in an acquittal. This judgment is less about Trump’s innocence and more a reflection of how deeply partisan U.S. politics has become.
For many, this was thus a foregone conclusion, another example of how divided Democrats and Republicans remain. Presumably, this situation will only get worse in the run-up to the 2020 presidential election.
At its heart, the impeachment trial was meant to be about restoring the supposed dignity to the nation’s highest elected office and more broadly faith in its democracy. For many Democrats, the case against Trump could not have been clearer. He obviously acted inappropriately in demanding that a foreign power investigate his political rival with the threat that if they did not, necessary aid would be withheld.
Scratching only slightly beneath the surface though reveals a sordid world of elites where it is perfectly normal for the vice president’s son to get a lucrative job in another country with little or no experience.
In the days following the acquittal, reactions have been predictably partisan. Republicans have cheered that this “witch hunt” is finally over, while Democrats have bemoaned the fact that Trump appears to not only have emerged unscathed but politically stronger.
Putting aside these partisan differences, perhaps above all else, the impeachment was a missed opportunity to indict and transform a corrupted status quo.
Truth or Partisanship?
From the very beginning of the impeachment proceedings and the investigation leading up to it, the Democrats claimed they were interested only in the truth. This made President Trump a somewhat easy target, given how often he diverts from the facts. Yet for Congress, this went far beyond the president’s everyday mistruths. The accusations ranged from collusion with Russians to the attempt to use state power to weaken a political rival.
The seriousness of these charges was only matched by the political theater surrounding it. Senate Republicans indicated that they would not allow for witnesses while Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi delayed in sending the impeachment to the Senate. This attempt to “save” U.S. democracy was being played out every day on cable news and social media, driving up ratings and capturing the attention of a captivated audience in the U.S. and around the world.
Like most highly publicized moral crusades, the truth of the matter was complex and escaped such easy sensationalism. Undoubtedly, the president acted inappropriately. Yet so too did Hunter Biden and his vice president father, who seemed content to turn the other way while his son was blatantly profiting off his name and connections in a corrupt energy company.
The task now is not to relitigate simply who was right or wrong, guilty or innocent, and to what legal and moral degree. Rather, it is to ask what the impeachment has uncovered about the ability and willingness to hold itself to ethical and political account.
The immediate fear is that Trump will use this victory as an excuse to ramp up his quite blatant disregard for conventional protocol or basic presidential decorum. More troubling is that it sets a precedent for future leaders to play political favorites when it comes to assisting communities and foreign countries. Democratic presidential candidate Bernie Sanders declared that,
“[Trump getting away with this] means that future presidents can say to a governor: ‘Hey I’ve got some infrastructure money for you, but you’re not going to get your fair share unless I get your endorsement,’ or go to China and say ‘Hey China, I need some help in my upcoming election, see what kind of dirt you can dig up on my opponent and we’ll give you a better trade agreement.’”
Sanders’ statement reveals the impeachment’s actual moral stakes. Yet it was undermined by the immorality of the status quo that the Democrats are working so hard to defend despite their high-minded rhetoric.
It is worth remembering that the first impeachment against Andrew Johnson was waged fundamentally by radicals in Congress’ intent to ensure the civil and political rights of newly emancipated African Americans. Fast forward from the 19th to the 21st century, and today’s Liberals are committed to protecting the shady dealings of a former vice president’s son.
Even more troubling is how this threatens to give moral cover to the bipartisan support for continued global U.S. imperialism and militarism. Democrats in Congress claim that the aid to Ukraine is an unquestionable good that is necessary to stave off Russian aggression in the region and internationally.
However, the facts tell an entirely different tale. Instead, it is one of the U.S. helping to unconstitutionally install a far-right pro-Western regime under Barack Obama and then continuing to arm it to questionable effect.
It also distracts from the reality that one of the impeachment’s leading proponents and biggest stars, congressman Adam Schiff, is heavily funded by the defense industry, including a Ukrainian arms dealer who was concerned about Obama’s sudden disinterest in ramping up a very profitable war with Russia.
Viewed in this light, the underlying righteousness of these proceedings quickly turns into a partisan squabble between political parties, neither of whom have anything like clean hands.
Impeaching the Status Quo
Whatever side one is on, however, it was made abundantly obvious at in this age of political polarization and partisanship, neither party would have the courage to properly take on the deeper systemic issues and problems facing U.S. democracy.
While Trump represents a more obvious danger to U.S. democracy, the Democrats pose an almost equal threat. In the name of protecting the U.S. republic and its ideas, they legitimate a corrupt economic and political establishment at home and abroad. This turns justifiable critiques about elites into another partisan driven media frenzy where the only winners are the global military-industrial complex and the oligarchs it most profits.
Trump may have officially been acquitted, but those most guilty of undermining U.S. democracy and human rights internationally remain tragically untried by either the law or the court of public opinion.
Perhaps there is one piece of optimism to be derived from these events: the only thing that can help the country overcome its polarization is the chance to unite in the near future to impeach the status quo.Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed here are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial position of The Globe Post.