Why the left should care about impeachment—and support it wholeheartedly
A coalition of progressive activist groups, including MoveOn.org, hold a rally at the Capitol calling on Congress to impeach President Trump, Sept. 26, 2019. | Caroline Brehman / CQ Roll Call via AP

Anyone who’s been reading this publication over the past few years knows that we’ve been raising the specter of impeachment practically since President Trump took office. Our first article to mention that the crimes of Trump could be grounds for impeachment was published only 19 days after his inauguration. As the number and extent of his offenses escalated, we kept pace with our condemnations and indictments of this president. When the Mueller Report finally came out, we said “enough is enough” and took a clear editorial position that the time had come for Congress to act.

We reported on the push by several Democratic lawmakers to impeach Trump—including “The Squad,” Reps. Rashida Tlaib, Ilhan Omar, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, and Ayanna Presley, as well as the persistent efforts of Texas Rep. Al Green. Our readers were urged to contact their member of Congress and ask them to join in. When the Teachers, Service Employees, and Nurses became the first national unions to back impeachment, we reported the news immediately. And as the majority of the American people swung behind removing the president from the White House, this paper again ratcheted up its criticism of Trump’s manipulation and deceit.

All this is recounted not just to blow our own horn or brandish our impeachment credentials, but to make a point: We thought it was a no-brainer that the left should be backing the campaign to BOTH impeach Trump AND build the movement to turn the country in a more progressive direction in 2020 and beyond. In fact, we believed it to be pretty obvious that branding Trump with the stain of impeachment was a particularly effective way to expose the misdeeds of the whole corporate class and their corrupt representatives in public office.

Apparently, not everyone on the left sees it that way.

In a recent op-ed that appeared in The Guardian, Samuel Moyn argues that the “coalition of long-governing elites, from liberal technocrats to ‘never-Trump’ conservatives” is declaring war on the president simply for their own interests—as part of an attempt to re-install centrist neoliberalism in power. That might be largely true, as far as it goes, but is that all that’s at work? Moyn, who is a Yale professor and a contributor to Jacobin magazine, also says that “the pathologies of the country that led to Trump” have to be the main focus for the left—things like the imperial presidency and rising economic inequality.

Certainly, those are challenges that absolutely must be central to the campaign to unseat Trump and the entire capitalist cabal that backed him, as well as those elites that did not. But do we have to choose between impeachment and doing everything else? Is not the push to remove Trump an opportunity to broaden the net of indictment to cover the crimes of neoliberalism writ large?

In a statement issued on Oct. 8, the National Political Committee of the largest socialist organization in the United States—Democratic Socialists of America—took a non-position position on impeachment that in some ways parallels Moyn. Hailing the early calls for impeachment by democratic socialists like Tlaib, the statement then says that Democratic Party leaders such as House Speaker Nancy Pelosi only jumped on the bandwagon because Trump’s actions (i.e. the Ukraine phone call affair) threatened to “impact others in the capitalist class, particularly Joe Biden.” (The fact that there wasn’t majority support for impeachment in the Democratic caucus previously apparently had nothing to do with Pelosi’s move.)

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The statement then goes on to enumerate the many attacks that the Trump administration has been carrying out which should have pushed Democrats to act—immigrant detentions, sabotage of Medicare, undercutting LGBTQ equality, and heightening efforts to criminalize people of color. But rather than placing the growing movement to remove Donald Trump from office as part of the effort to raise mass political consciousness around all these issues and more, the statement proclaims that DSA doesn’t believe the “mere impeachment of Trump…will do anything to bring working-class people into the political process.”

Instead, DSA will continue “to fight…with the working class for demands that will shift power away from the…ruling elite” of which both Trump and Pelosi are a part, because in the end “they will both be against the demands of the working class.”

The mere impeachment of Trump won’t do anything to bring the working class into the political process? This, unfortunately, amounts to condemning impeachment as a sideshow while some other kind of real politics apparently takes place elsewhere. There is certainly no need to defend Biden, and there are arguments to be had about Pelosi’s motivations and timing, but are those reasons enough to stand aloof from a political confrontation that is attracting the attention of millions and bringing a growing majority of the nation into the anti-Trump column?

Impeaching and removing Trump (whether in a Senate trial or, as is more likely, at the ballot box in 2020) is part and parcel of expanding the reach and influence of the whole people’s and democratic movement. Of course, the process can’t just be left in the hands of Congressional leaders alone; the left, socialist, and working-class movements have to be involved in building support for removal and expanding the list of crimes that make up any potential articles of impeachment. As Joe Sims, co-chair of the CPUSA, recently put it, “We can’t leave it to the politicians—the people have to keep the pressure on.”

If the Mueller Report, obstructions of justice, stolen public money to pay for a border wall, putting children in cages, racist attacks on Black lawmakers, or so many more outrages were not enough to press the impeachment button—but Trump’s election interference appeals in Ukraine did the trick, then so be it. Take the win and now push Congress to make it real. From a Marxist and a common-sense point of view, a successful impeachment will mean the creation of new material conditions, a new political context that is better for progressives and worse for the whole array of right-wing forces in the country.

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Ensuring that Donald Trump does not get a second term and defeating the Republican Party up and down the ballot are the primary strategic tasks of the next 12 months—and if impeachment helps achieve that goal (and it almost certainly would), then socialists, communists, and realistic leftists of whatever stripe should be integrating it into all their struggles and demands. (And to be fair, this is the point made by another Jacobin contributor, Max B. Sawicky, in debate with Moyn.)

Millions of people—working-class Americans everywhere whose plants are closing and whose trade unions (if they’re lucky enough to have them) are under attack, poor people suffering daily from the lack of infrastructure and investment in their communities, immigrants who face family separation and racist scapegoating, people of color like Botham Jean who never know when police violence could target them next, women who already can’t access reproductive health services in so much of the country, LGBTQ people who may soon be at risk of discriminatory firings if the Trump administration gets its way, and family farmers who face bankruptcy thanks to a reckless trade war—all these people cannot afford to wait for some kind of pure left politics that, in effect, actually only ends up echoing the sectarianism that aided fascism’s victory in the 1930s.

Progress toward a better political terrain that facilitates working-class gains, and ultimately socialism, can only have as its starting point those political demands which arise from the vital needs of people today and their fighting capacity at the present stage of development. To disconnect all the many mass struggles that people are active in right now from the battle for impeachment would be to undercut the small-d democratic movement and the major gains it has made in terms of political development and raising consciousness in the era of resistance to Trump.

A self-satisfied stance that spends time resenting Democratic Party leaders for taking credit for the mass political work that got us to this moment won’t help move the struggle to the next level. Neither will backing away from the growing campaign to remove Trump in favor of supposedly fighting “against the whole capitalist class.”



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.