Editorial note: In a society that is so deficient in its understanding of history and a society that so naively assumes that the 2020 Presidential election will be a free and fair one without foreign interference or voter suppression, the citizenry shows little interest in the impeachment issue. Thus the photo that accompanies this story.
Reposted from Medium
Why Big Impeachment Matters More Than Little Impeachment, or Why Our Idea of a High Crime Needs To Evolve
The fallout of the Mueller Report’s all the buzz. Should he be impeached? Shouldn’t he? Let me cut through the noise with a few thoughts, and as always, you judge if they carry any weight. My conclusion is simple and straightforward.
Sure, impeach — that should have been started long ago. But there’s what I’ll call little impeachment, and Big Impeachment. You can think of those as impeachment for different categories of high crimes. What’s on the table is little impeachment — which, while it matters, isn’t going to transform American politics much, if at all (after all, the Senate will never convict.)
To get to Big Impeachment — or radical, transformative, daring ideas in general — The Democrats have to stop playing what pundits call “3-D chess.” Overthinking it, with grand, abstruse strategies. How often have those yielded victory? Never in our adult lifetimes, which is why all three branches of the government are currently controlled by fanatical right wing extremists. Playing 3-D chess, overthinking it, overanalyzing it, wondering if maybe, just maybe, wrong could yield right…instead of doing the right thing, whether come hell or high water…isn’t all that how America got into this sorry state to begin with?
Let me explain what I mean.
I hear it said, over and over again, that the Mueller Report is an “impeachment referral.” Sorry, it isn’t. Mueller punted to Congress. He passed the buck. He explicitly “denied to make a traditional prosecutorial judgment.” It’s true that he might have overreached by indicting the President criminally — but he surely could have recommended impeachment. How do we know? Because it’s been done for far less.
Contrast Mueller’s handling of Trump with Ken Starr’s prosecution of Bill Clinton. Starr began by investigating Clinton for corruption — and when he couldn’t find evidence of that, he stuck to it, doggedly, until at last, he dredged up the unforgivably crime of…a blow job (pardon my French, but these are ugly matters.)
Now, we don’t have to suppose that Mueller should have Ken Starred Trump. Not at all. The point is that Starr explicitly recommended impeachment over a blow job. On multiple counts, no less — LOL. Yet Mueller didn’t recommend impeachment over all of the following — conspiracy, obstruction, collusion. Do you see the obvious disconnect? That’s a double standard, my friends. And it’s a troubling one. If Ken Starr erred in the direction of being overzealous, a partisan hack, then Mueller erred in the direction of caution — or perhaps indifference. Shrug — it’s your job, not mine.
And yet the report’s packed with example of example of offenses crying out to the heavens for impeachment. Urging subordinates to lie? Check. Lying yourself? Check. Abusing your power? Check. Hoping to turn the Presidency into a late night infomercial for your own brand? Check. And so on. Mueller could have easily said — “I can’t say these things rise to the level of crimes — but I recommend impeachment, because the President is held to a higher standard.” Which standard? The standard of, well, “high crimes and misdemeanors.”
But one of the strangest things about the American political system is that “high crimes” are…whatever Congress wants them to be. It’s a glaring loophole, because it means that the polity can be threatened and beaten into submission, like it is now. So instead of getting hung up on technicalities, let’s ask the question a different way.
For example. do you think that serially, habitually lying to the American people constitutes a “high crime”? I do. But maybe you don’t. Let’s try it in an even sharper way.
Do you think that putting little kids in cages — or separating them from their families — with which they’ll never be reunited — constitutes a high crime? It has to, my friends — because it meets the international legal definition for genocide. What about denying those little kids medicine, food, water? That meets international legal definition for torture. What about all those families that will never see their kids again? That’s a crime against humanity, the textbook definition. Or do you think that paying hush money to a porn star constitutes a high crime or misdemeanor? If it doesn’t…but a blow job does…
Perhaps you see what I mean a little bit.
What Congress considers “high crimes and misdemeanors” is way, way, too low a bar. It’s not just obsolete — its morally bankrupt, too. It’s based on 18th century politics, 19th century morality, and 17th century society. But we aren’t in those centuries. We had to invent notions like “crimes against humanity” and “genocide” in the 20th century precisely because the world’s notions of “high crimes” evolved.
Those terrible acts were crimes so unforgivable, so unimaginable — that they were the highest of high crimes, requiring a new category of crime itself, new courts, and a new global system of justice. So let’s keep going.
Is demonizing people as “animals” and “vermin” a high crime? In most European countries, it would be hate speech. Is dehumanizing people — campaigning to take away the rights of certain ethnic groups, to build ghettos — a high crime? It would be considered illegal in most other rich countries. What about quoting and citing supremacist organizations and ideas? That would be considered acting hatefully, maybe even being part of a hate group.
Do you see what I mean a little bit? We are laggards, us Americans. Our definitions of what a high crime is are totally obsolete, way out of date. The fact that we Americans don’t consider modern ideas genocide, torture, hate, and fascism high crimes — but only 18th century concerns like obstruction and collusion — says to the world that we are not civilized people, that we have not really understood history, and that we have not really joined modernity. We are still backwards and behind — and, for us, that also means that our democracy is less robust, more fragile, that we are all the more vulnerable to extremists, lunatic, and fanatics, precisely because their malicious intentions and acts aren’t high crimes.
Remember, a “high crime” isn’t like me robbing you. It is something much bigger and more damaging — so the stakes are very different. The civilized world aimed in the 20th century to prevent “high crimes” with laws against hate speech and hate groups — it had learned the lesson the hard way. The idea was to nip high crimes in the bud — by making the sequence of fascism — demonization, dehumanization, expropriation, and so on — illegal from the very beginning.
So. If an American President doesn’t meet the basic legal test for not committing genocide or presiding over torture..genocide…hate…what’s the point of the idea of a “high crime and misdemeanor”, anyways? Our idea of high crimes and misdemeanors should have evolved, to keep pace with the modern world, with civilization, with modernity, with decency — and that they didn’t is one of the big reasons America never joined the modern world, and fell apart instead, with failed leader after failed leader.
Trump, quite obviously, is the worst of these failed leaders. But not just because of “collusion” and “conspiracy” and “obstruction.” These are small fry, my friends, little fish. They are things which are insignificant in the extreme next to the truer high crimes of abusing democracy itself in the worst ways possible.
You can see by now that I come down on the side of impeachment — but in a very different way than either the left or the right. I think that there’s what you might call little impeachment — obstruction, etc — and Big Impeachment. Big Impeachment, which would be for all the truly terrible and hateful things that have been done, would send a message to the world, that Americans are decent, thoughtful, humane, and civilized people. And maybe it would send that message to Americans, too. Do you see what I mean a little bit?
And yet doesn’t the fact that Big Impeachment is so far outside the realm of political possibility point out that you and I both know it’ll never happen point out exactly what’s wrong with American politics? And aren’t such things impossible because we’ve been playing 3-D chess, which means something like shooting yourself in the foot, and hoping your opponent follows suit, over and over again, for so long, that we forgot any other way? Like the ways of genuine of truth, justice, and equality?
That brings me to the case against impeachment. It’s pretty simple. Ken Starr’s prosecution of Clinton, they say, yielded a backlash against Republicans — and Democrats should be afraid of the same thing. But wait. Did it? Really? Then how did American elect George W just a year later…a man more suited to a late night comedy show than a Presidency? I liked Dubya (sorry). I would have had a beer with him. He was funny. But what he wasn’t was a good leader. The backlash is a fiction, my friends. It never existed. Instead, it laid the foundations for the Tea Party, for ultra-hardcore conservatism, for extremism…for Trumpism.
But do you notice how nobody looks at Ken Starr prosecuting Clinton by hounding him until he found a blow job — but they do care immensely about the backlash? What the? It’s revealing, when you think about it. It says that the establishment is more afraid than it is courageous. They’re more interested in what doing the right thing might cost — than it what it might yield. Yet that’s how the Democrats have failed at being a true opposition for decades now.
My thoughts are very different than those I think you’ll hear from the Ezra Kleins and Jake Tappers and Nancy Pelosis of the world. I think all the pundits and politicians have been wrong our whole lifetimes, and they continue to be wrong, that they couldn’t be wronger, in fact — how could they ever have been right? Didn’t American life fall apart implosively? So let me sum what I have to say up this way.
The Democrats have been playing 3-D chess. They have been hoping to win strategically by losing tactically. They are hoping to win the war by losing the battle. But when you lose battle after battle…as the Democrats have done…soon enough, you stop fighting at all. And the way in which the fight, the fight for progress, stopped in America is at a deep level. A level of morality, a level of expectations, a level of ideas. The Democrats have forgotten that fight even exists.
Our ideas of high crimes have never been updated to match the modern world. For us, even genocide, torture, crimes against humanity, the whole sequence of fascism, from demonization to dehumanization…none of that is a high crime. But it is nearly everywhere else. All of that is why America was particularly susceptible to the political decline which produced Trumpism. The Democrats stopped fighting those big battles. But they are the ones that matter the most. The ones which count, because they genuinely transform societies in the deepest and truest ways.
Should he be impeached? Of course. To not impeach him would be 3-D chess at its worst — losing the battle to win the war you’re not even fighting. But what’s even more crucial is impeaching him for the right reasons. Not just minor-league affairs. But the true crimes — crimes against humanity, history, decency, reason, and truth — that have been committed. Until and unless America can evolve in that direction — such impeachments, while they won’t be meaningless, won’t be shatteringly, profoundly meaningful, either.
I’m under no illusion the Democrats will consider any of that, much less do it. Maybe even you think all this is fantasy, nonsense, daydreaming. Hey, you have to get real, Umair! You have to consider what’s possible! Do I? Or does that way just lead us to further decline, just a little bit slower? Isn’t that how we got here? You can decide that part for yourself.