The United States of Impeachment

How, exactly, did I get here? My political journey has somehow taken me from canvassing for Obama north of Fort Knox, KY in 2008, to voting for Bernie Sanders in the Democratic Primary outside of West Point, NY in 2016, to – gulp! – “defending” Trump against impeachment in 2019. What a long, strange, trip it has been, as they say. Truth is, I couldn’t sleep last night and have been watching CNN’s wall-to-wall impeachment coverage since 4AM. When the clock struck a reasonable hour on East Coast time, and once I couldn’t contain the frustration any longer, I called my father.

Now, Dad and I are political opposites. No, that’s too mild. We are toxically antithetical. A bit of back story: he and I have gone months without speaking in the past over arguments surrounding the Iraq War and other polarizing political topics. It’s gotten ugly at times. Years ago, we called an armistice and agreed, for the most part, to limit our daily conversations to grandkids and the NY Yankees. Dad voted Trump; I was a Bernie-bro who held my nose then cast for team Hillary. Yet, against all odds, we agree, mostly, that – though for perhaps different reasons – the Democrats’ impeachment crusade is equal parts distraction and farce. As we took turns venting this morning, it struck me that, in hyper-polarized – Red Team / Blue Team – America, our middle-ground discussion must be about as rare (or mythical) as a unicorn.

Look, I know I’m about to get hammered as soon as this piece hits the web. I’m not all that naive. Most left-leaning publications wouldn’t likely have touched it; the few mainstream liberal friends I have left may bolt; and online critics – whether famous or nameless – will once again slap me with the standard labels: Trump-apologist, Putin-stooge, Russian-asset, and/or blatantly un-American. So it goes. Nonetheless, no matter the cost (count me a free-speech-nostalgist), whatever principles I possess demand that I throw my two cents in.

Allow me one caveat (which my pops won’t like): personally, I think Trump is utterly unfit for office – in part, due to his temperament, but mainly because of his policies. What a novel thought, I know! So, I’ll save you the suspense – I ain’t gonna vote for the guy … ever. Furthermore, I think Trump’s committed plenty of impeachable acts, mainly in the foreign policy arena, from overseeing U.S.-abetted, unsanctioned war crimes in Yemen, to escalating America’s bombing of several nations upon whom Congress has not declared war. Problem is, as I’ve written, the same can mostly be said of Baby Bush and “Saint” Obama. And we all know the DNC-machine has zero stomach for criticizing the latter, no matter how mildly.

All that said, I truly believe that Ukraine-gate, like Russia-gate before it, was a dangerous charade – smoke and mirrors – from the start. The entire Russian collusion angle, no matter hard MSNBC liberals wished it were otherwise, never amounted to much of anything. In fact, the whole masquerade served (and serves) mainly as a cudgel for establishment Dems and their media lackeys’ attempt to delegitimize a duly elected president from the very moment he was elected. I know, I know – the Electoral College is a travesty, an undemocratic anachronism. I agree wholeheartedly. Still, according to the rules of the game, Trump won. Period.

Matters deteriorate from there, unfortunately. So polarized, so tribal, has Washington become, that the Democrats marched down this impeachment road knowing full well that they didn’t stand a chance of removing Trump. No one seriously believed the Republican-led Senate, especially with ice-cold Mitch McConnell at the helm, would convict this president. Proof positive came this morning, when first Nancy Pelosi, then Rep. James Clyburn, hinted they might even withhold the impeachment articles from the Republican Senate indefinitely, or, forever. Say again? So what was all this for, then, exactly?!? Clearly, the entire process constituted little more than political masturbation from Jump Street. Though, admittedly, it’s been – and will continue to be – a boon for the media. Like pornography, impeachment-theater makes for great (if guilt-ridden) entertainment – which is precisely the business the media is in these days.

There was hardly an ounce of statesmanlike bipartisanship in yesterday’s vote; and there won’t be any going forward, either. Not a single Republican crossed the aisle to censure the president. Only two Democrats voted against impeachment. This nearly clean party divide is as instructive as it is disturbing. Consider an historical comparison: even before Nixon’s (far more deserved) impeachment came up for a full floor vote in the House, key Republican senators told him he’d lost their confidence. He resigned almost immediately. It’s hard to imagine such a scenario on either side of the aisle in our tortured present.

Tulsi Gabbard, at least, showed some political courage – even Meghan McCain referred to Tulsi’s “balls-of-steel” – and voted “present”, rather than with her party. Rep. Gabbard wasn’t prepared to vote “Nay,” and, admittedly, that may be due to limited political expedience – a last lifeline to what remains of her Democratic connections. Seen in another light, though, hers amounts to a plea for moderation, for bipartisanship. She’d said, previously, that her decision on impeachment would depend, in part, on whether there’d be cross-aisle consensus. And of course there wasn’t. In the email I received from her campaign this morning – worth quoting at length – she explained it thus:

A house divided cannot stand. And today we are divided. Fragmentation and polarity are ripping our country apart. This breaks my heart, and breaks the hearts of all patriotic Americans, whether we are Democrats, Republicans, or Independents. So today, I come before you to make a stand for the center, to appeal to all of you to bridge our differences and stand up for the American people. My vote today is a vote for much needed reconciliation and hope that together we can heal our country.

When the smoke clears, and Election Day 2020 passes, I, for one, wouldn’t be surprised if Tulsi Gabbard leaves the Democratic Party and joins her friend Bernie Sanders as an Independent.

The enormous elephant in the proverbial impeachment room, though, is the little matter of what U.S. policy towards Ukraine and Russia should be. That ought to be at least part of the rub, no? There are, I’d submit, serious questions worth asking about Obama’s – and the entire establishment’s – preferred strategy on this front. The late-stage Obama team – and, certainly, had she been elected, Hillary’s gang – seemed intent, in the wake of Crimea and Ukraine, on drumming up a New Cold War with the world’s other major nuclear power. Is this warranted; is it smart? Count me doubtful. Furthermore, who, exactly, are, America’s “partners” in Ukraine? Well, it might be inconvenient to admit, but a solid chunk are legitimate fascists, neo-nazis, in fact.

Okay, Trump shouldn’t have used the language he did with Ukraine’s president; his transactional style strikes me as immature and unstatesmanlike. That said, is it truly in the interest of the US to arm military factions – some army, some militia – in a proxy war with Russia? It didn’t end so well last time Washington played that very game a few decades back in Afghanistan. Ukraine is as near to Russia as Mexico is to Texas. Thus, logic – or even a simple glance at a map – should put to rest the notion that the whole proxy campaign has anything to do with the well-worn fiction that the US must fight the Russians “there,” rather than “over here.” No, I’m sorry: the Democratic (and Republican-National-Security-insider) plan strikes this author as a terrifyingly dangerous form of brinksmanship.

Another potential result of the impeachment show is what it forebodes. In the future, expect both parties, whenever they are in the opposition, to treat every election loss as evidence that the new president is illegitimate. Impeachment proceedings might just become the new normal – hardly, if my memory of high school civics serves me, the intent of the Founding Fathers. Sure, maybe Mitch McConnell started down this trail with his post-Obama-election statement that “The single most important thing we [Republicans] want to achieve is for President Obama to be a one-term president.” Even if we grant them that, the Democrats have exponentially upped the ante. Mark my words, Americans will come to regret that escalation when Washington politics fracture (is it even possible?) ever further in the years to come.

Finally, I’d be remiss if I didn’t address the distraction aspect of the all-Trump-all-impeachment, all-the-time, phenomenon. Trump isn’t going anywhere; in fact, I predict he’ll win by an even larger margin in 2020. Nothing tangible, after all, will come of this vote. Not a thing will change. So here’s the real pity: as the show unfolds over the next several months, impeachment will suck all the air out of the actually important problems and stories of the day. Meanwhile, the forever wars will rage, and US foreign policy – along with the world, itself – will sink ever deeper towards hell in a hand basket. Impeachment will bury the true scandal of the moment – the Afghanistan Papers, remember those? Yemen will keep getting bombed; Iraq will drift towards yet another collapse; Israeli apartheid will cement ever further; and India’s Prime Minister Modi will escalate his potentially civil-war-inducing suppression of Muslims.

Through all that, count on one thing: America will remain paralyzed, distracted. Last night, all the female Democrats in the House – at Pelosi’s behest, one assumes – wore black to mark the “seriousness” of their faux somber occasion. Turns out the attire was totally appropriate, if for the wrong reasons. Black befit the moment, not because Trump behaved badly, but because the Democrats just ushered in the Age of Impeachment, of sustained partisanship, of ignoring the real scandals and existential threats before this wayward republic of ours. With that, I yield the floor.

This article originally ran on Antiwar.com.

Danny Sjursen is a retired US Army officer and regular contributor to Antiwar.com. His work has appeared in the LA Times, The Nation, Huff Post, The Hill, Salon, Truthdig, Tom Dispatch, among other publications. He served combat tours with reconnaissance units in Iraq and Afghanistan and later taught history at his alma mater, West Point. He is the author of a memoir and critical analysis of the Iraq War, Ghostriders of Baghdad: Soldiers, Civilians, and the Myth of the Surge. Follow him on Twitter at @SkepticalVet.

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