Trump impeached—The people’s verdict will come on Election Day 2020
Donald J. Trump has become only the third president to be impeached in U.S. history. | Alex Brandon / AP

President Donald J. Trump’s legacy as a corrupt and lawless president is now permanently recorded for all of history. By a near party-line vote, he stands formally indicted of abuse of power and obstruction of Congress, making him only the third president in the history of the United States to be impeached. Attention now shifts toward his January Senate trial, but the ultimate verdict on his criminal rule will come on Nov. 3, 2020.

Some of the most powerful moments in the debate came during remarks by veteran progressive members. Rep. Maxine Waters said the rules of the debate did not allow her “to cite all the reasons this president should be impeached.” Addressing Congress, she said, “Based on all we know about Donald Trump, we could have predicted he would abuse his power.” She quoted Maya Angelou, saying, “When someone shows you who they are, believe them the first time.”

Rep. John Lewis recalled pivotal moments of the past while encouraging a yes vote on the resolution. “When we came to Washington for the Freedom Rides…for the March on Washington…for the signing of the Voting Rights Act…we were excited, hopeful,” he said. “But today, this day, we didn’t ask for this…. When you see something that is not right, you have a moral obligation to do something.” He reminded Republicans, “Our children will ask, what did you do? What did you say? We have a mission and a mandate to be on the right side of history.”

Al Green, a representative from Texas and a long-time impeachment advocate, carried a large portrait of a crying immigrant girl being separated from her parents at the border as he solemnly asked the House, “Shall any man be beyond justice?”

Rep. Maxine Waters: “This day was not inevitable, but it was predictable, because this president has shown himself time, and time again to believe that he is above the law and he has no respect for our Constitution or our democracy.” | Maxine Waters via Twitter

Speaking about the need to protect the future, the voice of Arizona Rep. Raúl Grijalva thundered through the House. “No amount of lies, cover up, or cries of victimization can undo” the crimes of the president, he stated. “Trump leaves us no choice.”

The president’s lackeys in the House, like Judiciary Committee ranking member Rep. Doug Collins and Intelligence Committee ranking member Rep. Devin Nunes, played their role dutifully before the vote, parroting the lines given them by Trump. Widely confirmed facts about the extortion conspiracy directed by the White House were totally ignored or distorted by GOP speakers during their allotted time.

Rep. Pramila Jayapal refuted the Republicans’ rambling and tired talking points about insufficient evidence and hearsay, though, saying that “the president himself is the smoking gun.”

Majority Leader Steny Hoyer pleaded with Republican members to “find the courage to vote for democracy and the Constitution.” None did.

With the vote now concluded, Trump is formally accused of abusing his power for personal political gain when he held up $391 million in security aid to the right-wing government of Ukraine as part of an attempt to extort an announcement of an investigation into the activities of Joe Biden and his son, Hunter Biden, in that country. This scheme to interfere with the 2020 U.S. election was exposed by the intelligence community whistleblower report about Trump’s phone call with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky in late September.

The second article charges that Trump obstructed the congressional probe by refusing to submit documents and blocking witnesses from testifying. Many diplomats and other government employees, however, defied Trump and cooperated with House subpoenas compelling them to share what they knew. From the former ambassador to Ukraine Marie Yovanovitch to Trump’s own EU envoy Donald Sondland and many others in between—all offered testimony during hearings that confirmed Trump’s abuse of his office.

A victory for democracy

Of course, the press outlets of the GOP’s right-wing media ecosystem like Fox News and Breitbart continue to hammer away their repetition of Trump’s claim that impeachment is a partisan perversion, an attempt to get revenge for Hillary Clinton, or some personal vendetta against him. It’s what should be expected from them. But even some left voices have said impeachment doesn’t matter, that it’s a waste of time and energy.

The argument goes that the Senate won’t remove him anyway and the articles drafted by the Democratic leadership don’t even touch Trump’s real economic and social crimes. Pelosi and Nadler have limited the articles of impeachment to national security matters, they say, neglecting Trump’s use of office to enrich himself, theft of public money for his border wall, and imprisonment of immigrants.

Relying on impeachment to condemn Trump’s violations of democratic norms, criminal as they may be, isn’t worth it, or so it’s been said. In this mindset, impeachment amounts to nothing more than a “defense of the old order.”

There are very real shortcomings of the impeachment process, but this is a mistaken view. Certainly, no one could credibly accuse those leading the impeachment effort in Congress of being revolutionaries out to overturn our money-dominated political and economic system. But that does not mean that our constitutional democracy, imperfect as it may be, is not worth defending.

Long ago, Friedrich Engels pointed out the inadequacies of the U.S. Constitution, saying, “It is significant of the specifically bourgeois character of these human rights that the American Constitution, the first to recognize the rights of man, in the same breath confirmed the slavery of the colored races in America.”

Protesters demonstrate outside the Capitol Wednesday morning as the House of Representatives begins debate on the articles of impeachment against President Donald Trump. | Matt Rourke / AP

The Constitution was an advance over colonialism and monarchy, but with institutions like the Electoral College and the Senate, it was also a document crafted to protect the dominance of a particular section of the ruling class. It was a product of compromise, as Marxist historian Herbert Aptheker argued, between conflicting regional interests and two antagonistic socio-economic systems: Southern slavery and the North’s budding capitalism.

Despite being a half-way house between aristocratic and democratic principles, the Constitution staked out important notions that have been used to expand democracy. Among those: legitimate government depends on popular consent; oppressive government is to be undone, by revolutionary action if necessary; power is separated to prevent tyranny; the rule of law applies to all, including those in power; and government operates through written rules—rules which are only broken by oppressors and traitors.

The Bill of Rights, the Second American Revolution against slavery (also known as the Civil War), Reconstruction, amendments guaranteeing the right of women to vote, civil rights, and Black voting rights in the 1960s, and more—all these were victories built on that original flawed foundation. They were markers along the path of winning political equality and reaching eventually toward social and economic equality.

The great anti-slavery fighter Frederick Douglass said it best: “Without struggle, there is no progress.” Winning impeachment is the result of struggle by the people’s movements. Without the resistance to Trump’s border wall, his caging of children, his tax cuts for the rich, his attacks on teachers and other workers, his racist encouragement of white nationalists, his personal and political attacks on women—without all of the coalitions and groups that fought these policies and more, there would have been no impeachment.

So rather than a waste of time or energy, impeachment marks a progressive advance won by the movements opposing Trump, right-wing racist extremism, and corporate rule. Make no mistake, impeachment is a people’s victory.

Convict and remove

Impeachment also marks the beginning of what will be a long effort by millions of people across the country to save democracy from this lawless president and his party in 2020. The immediate arena of struggle will be the U.S. Senate, where the trial will unfold in the first weeks of the new year. Regardless of what happens there, the fight against Trumpism will stretch all the way to November and beyond.

The Republican representatives of the ruling class in the Senate will almost certainly acquit the president, papering over their own factional divisions for the sake of electoral survival and advancing the agenda of the rich and powerful. GOP Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell has already announced, “I’m not an impartial juror.” But regardless of Trump’s likely acquittal, there must still be coordinated campaigns to put pressure on the Senate—pressure to compel the testimony of further witnesses who can confirm Trump’s crimes and pressure, ultimately, for a vote to convict and remove the president.

But Trump’s impeachment and trial are part of the bigger fight to reverse the drift toward right-wing extremism and the consolidation of corporate rule that predates him, but which has accelerated rapidly under his regime. It’s a fight to stop attacks on workers and labor rights. To beat back the sexism, racism, anti-immigrant hysteria, Islamophobia, anti-Semitism, homophobia, and other strategies employed to divide people and prevent united struggles for progress. To stop the attacks on democracy and fair elections. To reverse the wasting of our resources on the military machine. To stop wars and attacks on workers and people in other countries.

It’s a fight to win health care for everyone. To save the world from climate change. To guarantee the right to vote for all without interference. To win a livable wage for all workers. To build an inclusive society that recognizes and values all parts of our multicultural, multiracial, multinational working class and people. And in the long term, to move toward a system where the people—and not big money—determine our future.

The impeachment of Trump is a step along this road. It shows that progress is possible and that the ultra-right can be beaten, but it’s not the end of the road. There are still millions of people to be convinced and millions more to be organized into struggle.

So, onward to the trial of President Donald J. Trump. And after his political accomplices in the Senate let him off the hook, the whole democratic and working-class movement must be mobilized to render the ultimate verdict on Election Day 2020.


C.J. Atkins
C.J. Atkins

C.J. Atkins is the managing editor at People's World. He holds a Ph.D. in political science from York University in Toronto and has a research and teaching background in political economy and the politics and ideas of the American left. In addition to his work at People's World, C.J. currently serves as the Deputy Executive Director of ProudPolitics.