The House of Representatives impeachment inquiry into United States President Donald Trump was launched by Democratic House Speaker Nancy Pelosi on September 24 and marked a departure from her previous stance of resisting calls by the so-called “left wing” of the party to begin the impeachment process.
The exposure, by an anonymous “whistleblower”, of Trump’s attempt to force Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky to investigate Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden and his son Hunter for alleged corruption, caused Pelosi to make this step.
We now know that the whistleblower was a Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) agent dispatched to the White House. The alleged corruption relates to Hunter’s past lucrative business operation in Ukraine.
The US Constitution states that the president may be impeached or charged for “high crimes and misdemeanors” by the House. Pelosi’s charge is that Trump’s request to the leader of another country to get dirt on one of his rivals in the 2020 election amounts to an unconstitutional “high crime”.
It certainly appears to be so. However, Trump’s record as president has included a series of impeachable offences, many far worse than trying to get Zelensky to interfere in a US election.
One example is Trump’s war on asylum seekers at the Mexican border. This has included separation of children from their parents, imprisoning children in small cages, torture and horrible conditions, leading to death in many cases.
Why did Pelosi resist impeaching Trump for such criminal acts? Why has she seized on the attempt to pressure a foreign country to get dirt on Biden?
Leftist author and activist Chris Hedges told Democracy Now! the reason is that Biden is the preferred presidential candidate of the Democratic establishment. As House leader, Pelosi wants to pre-empt any possible attack on Biden that could emerge from Ukraine.
I agree with Hedges. Moreover, the impeachment process puts Biden front and centre in the public eye. This draws attention away from other Democratic candidates, especially Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren and their reforms, such as national health insurance, which the establishment opposes.
In recent Democratic voter polls, combined preferences for Sanders and Warren are more than for Biden, who is dropping a bit, but still the front-runner.
Pelosi’s announcement convinced many reluctant Democrats to support the impeachment inquiry.
Trump doubles down
Each day since Pelosi announced the inquiry has brought new revelations. The evidence includes admissions by Trump that he did pressure Zelensky to investigate Joe and Hunter Biden, and that this pressure included a quid pro quo: the release of more than US$200 million worth of military aid to Ukraine (which Trump had put on hold) and a promised trip to the White House for the Ukrainian president.
Trump’s response to the inquiry has been erratic and contradictory.
He dismissed the inquiry as illegal and called for Adam Schiff, head of the House Foreign Affairs Committee leading the impeachment inquiry, to be investigated for “treason”. He accused the whistleblower of being a spy and implied they should be shot.
Trump has also threatened mass unrest if he is removed from office, referring in a tweet to a statement by white racist evangelical pastor Robert Jeffress, which threatened “a Civil War like fracture in this Nation from which our Country will never heal”.
Jeffress was in Jerusalem with Trump and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, where he gave a prayer at the ceremony for the relocation of the US embassy to that city.
White Christian evangelicals are fiercely anti-Semitic but also pro-Israel — they want all US Jews to get out of the country and go to Israel. They are also one of the main groups constituting Trump’s popular base.
Trump’s defence at present is to double-down on his claim that Joe Biden is thoroughly corrupt, and to insist (after initially denying it) that his request for an investigation of the Bidens by the Ukrainians was completely proper and correct. He also called on China to investigate the Bidens.
Trump’s barrage of insults and threats, his stock in trade, is meant to harden his base, estimated to be about one-third of the population.
So far, almost all Republican spokespersons are backing Trump’s assertions — albeit with somewhat less inflammatory rhetoric. They know that without Trump, the Republican Party would be in deep disarray.
Hunter Biden did work for one of Ukraine’s largest gas companies, Burisma, as a legal advisor. He was paid $50,000 a month. Ukraine’s top prosecutor announced on October 4 that he would audit several important cases (including that of Burisma’s very wealthy owner) previously dropped by his predecessors. Any decision to open an investigation has to wait until the audit is completed, which could take some time.
One thing that has emerged is that corruption is rampant in Ukraine. Previously, US mainstream media held up Ukraine as a model of democracy and good government as against Russia.
Both countries are very much alike internally since their return to capitalism, however much they are at odds with each other
Right now, it seems likely that the Democrats in the House will use their majority to impeach Trump, but he will not be convicted in the Senate.
In the Senate, the Republicans have a 53–47 majority. To convict Trump, two-thirds (or at least 67 Senators) must vote in favour. So far, the Republican Senators are holding firm behind Trump, with few exceptions.
Clearly, there are major differences and sharp conflicts among the politicians of the two capitalist parties. This reflects divisions in the US ruling class itself.
Back in 1848-51 in France, there was a struggle between rising autocrat Louis Bonaparte and the opposition “Party of Order”, as Karl Marx referred to it.
Marxist economist Sam Williams, who runs the blog, Critique of Crisis Theory, uses the same term to refer to those in the US ruling class who oppose Trump.
Williams recently wrote: “The US capitalist class is deeply divided on the question of whether or not Trump should remain in office after 2020. Many US capitalists — those who form the Party of Order — fear that Trump, by whipping up white racism, is radicalising the Black-Brown part of the US population, which is rapidly becoming the majority of the US working class.
“These capitalists always complain that the president is ‘dividing us rather than uniting us’. What they fear above all is that Trump is dividing an increasing section of the working class from the exploiting capitalist class.
“The extremely reactionary nature of the Trump administration in all aspects is encouraging the growth of support for socialism — even if vaguely defined at present — on a mass scale not seen in the US since the Great Depression.
“Today, even bourgeois polls show that a majority of young people, including a significant sector of the white population, favour socialism over capitalism.
“Other US capitalists, also affiliated with the Party of Order, are concerned that Trump’s increasingly nationalist economic policies will destroy the entire global division of labour, foreign trade, and most importantly, the system of surplus value production that has grown up since the end of World War II and the end of the Cold War.
“Under this system, the bulk of surplus value is contained in commodities produced in the countries of the Global South but consumed in the Global North.
“Trump’s trade war is encouraging those in China who believe China should develop its own products and trademarks in high-growth industries, especially ‘high tech’, rather than depend on the current international division of labour, which ensures that most of the surplus value — or profit — goes to the capitalists of the imperialist countries, above all the US.
“At the same time, the Party of Order fears that Trump’s nationalist policies are not only encouraging more nationalism in China, the same policies have also encouraged the growth of nationalism in Europe, since his trade wars also affect the European capitalists.
“However, many other US capitalists strongly support Trump … If Trump wins a second term and the Republicans end up in control of Congress once again … [they] will also attempt to cut Medicare, Medicaid and Social Security.
“The Trump-supporting capitalists point to the pro-corporate tax cuts and his withdrawal from the Paris Climate Accord, combined with his ignorant mocking of the dangers of climate change and his enthusiastic support for expanding fossil fuel production. They are delighted by his ‘deregulation’ and strongly anti-union policies.
“The pro-Trump wing of the capitalist class … believes the current form of the US empire is no longer serving their interests.
“They agree with Trump that the time has come to get tough with rival capitalists and use the full power, including military power, of the US state to grab more markets and sources of raw materials … while doing everything possible to increase the exploitation of the workers at home.”
Exactly how this plays out, including between the two capitalist parties and factions within them, remains to be seen.