Five Ways This Impeachment Isn’t Good Enough
How to Get a Grip, Get Real, and Think Critically About What This Moment Means to History, the World, and Us
Written and Published by Umair Haque in Medium, 11/15/2019
Impeachment frenzy!! Maybe, like many people I know, you’re caught up in it. You feel a sense of relief and strength and safety, for a change. Or maybe, like some others, you’re just yawning at it. It’s bizarre twists and turns.
(Now, I have to warn you, if you’re not ready to think critically about impeachment, don’t read this essay. I mean that. Go bask in those good feelings for a few days, and maybe come back if you want. Go right ahead and get that impeachment high. Your feelings are more important than your thoughts, yes really. It’s important not to feel…the way we’ve all felt…for the last few years. If, on the other hand, you do want to think a little bit harder about it, then read on.)
Now. I get the frenzy. Americans have felt powerless for a long, long time. Woo-hoo!! Get this horrific orange jackass out of office! Can we have our country back now? Yup, indeed. But I think a little critical distance in in order. Reading the papers and the tweets and the columns, what struck me most was a total inability to think well, critically, seriously about this impeachment. Sure, we should support it. But in what way, precisely? Happily? Or maybe a little more warily, carefully, reluctantly?
There’s massive support for impeachment. See that pic above. But there are many things to impeach for, many kinds of impeachments. We have chosen a particular impeachment. Not all are created equal. Especially in their aftereffects and consequences. So is this one the right one? The best one? Is this impeachment — the what and why of it — the one we need and deserve?
This particular impeachment says certain things to the world, and to history. And they are not good ones, if we think about them even a little bit. I have lived through many social collapses. And here is what I know. Right about now, we’re riding the wave of a drug-like high. Once the high passes, the crash back to earth is going to say some of the following things. You won’t like them.
I’m going to keep it short and blunt. You can judge for yourself if I’m just indulging in pointless, petty, perfectionism — I invite you to, because I hate it when people do that — or whether my words carry any water worth drinking.
Here’s number one.
America can’t do justice to fascism and authoritarianism. Let’s put all the cards on the table. The President is being impeached for a scandal that involved removing an ambassador to trade influence for military aid. What the President is not being impeached for is any of the following: building camps, putting kids in them, tearing families apart, inciting violence, dehumanizing vulnerable people, and so forth.
(You might say: “but none of that’s breaking the law!” That’s besides the point: Congress can define a “high crime” how it likes. And if putting kids in a camp isn’t a high crime, then…the fascists have won.)
What this impeachment says to the world and to history is that America can’t do justice to fascism…because it’s not actually doing it. Either because it’s scared and intimidated, or because it’s indifferent, or because it actually secretly kind of likes it. One of those things must be true. In that way, this impeachment is a Pyrrhic victory. Sure, we might impeach the Prez. We probably will. But not for the truly terrible things — the things which have torn lives apart. Just for petty infractions of office.
American institutions are broken, and it’s history has poisoned its democracy. The point of doing justice to fascism is to deter it. That was why the International Criminal Court was set up. It’s why the Nuremberg Trials happened. But a society that can’t do justice to fascism also has no real hope of deterring it. You must hold the bad guys accountable if you want to create a reason for there not to be bad guys in the future.
lokInstitutions must have priorities, and so must societies. That applies to justice perhaps most of all. A fascist is a greater threat to a society than a common criminal because the fascist wants to destabilize society and annihilate whole peoples. A fascist in power is perhaps the greatest threat to a society there can be. For that reason, doing justice to fascism is one of the most basic functions of a democracy. It is why, for example, Europe pursues hate speech cases and hate crimes with such vigor and aggressiveness. But America seems not to understand this. And impeachment is the biggest example yet — trying a monster for the least bad things he’s done? What the?
American history is different, though. America was a segregated nation until the 1970s, and Trumpism has fed on that. But none of that has been brought to justice, has it? The hate and violence and rage and dehumanization of the Trumpist movement? It is not a part of this impeachment at all. It is simply politely ignored. But the world sees us trying to ignore history — and history sees us trying to ignore it, too. And they both laugh at us — for still not having learned a thing.
So you, the good American, might see a noble battle for impeachment. But the world sees a society with institutions so broken they can’t perform society’s most basic functions, a society with a history of violence so deep it’s left it unable to even see true evil when it’s staring it right in the face. Seeing fascists, rejecting fascists, holding fascists accountable, punishing them. All those things have been failed at.
“True evil…who cares?!”, America seems to be saying. The world is shocked. Because to the world, that makes America a failed society — barely even worth being a laughingstock. And it does to history, too. Because when we don’t hold true evil to account, we legitimize and normalize it. But what does that say about us?
American society is morally weak, and can’t distinguish true evil from petty infraction. What do you think the world sees when it looks at Americans…in a frenzy over corruption…but perfectly OK with concentration camps and kids in cages in them? I’ll tell you what it thinks, in hard terms. It is revolted. It is horrified. And it laughs. The world has long thought of Americans as dumb and violent and brutal people. And now it has been proven right.
America is a morally weak society — what greater proof can there be than a society which thinks overt, violent, fascism replete with concentration camps…is worth less scorn than garden-league corruption? That normalizes and legitimizes fascism in the truest way, pretending it never existed at all? The world is amused by Americans not being able to fight their very own fascists…because America has been the world’s bully for a very long time. And you know what they say about bullies, don’t you?
Do you know how if you tell anyone across the world you’re American, they kind of roll their eyes? Expect a lot more of that. The world isn’t going to have much respect for people who can’t take on their monsters. Who can’t distinguish true evil from minor infractions of rules. The world knows that if you can’t tell what true evil is, you have lost your moral compass entirely, You are in the desert. And history knows it, too.
America will never regain its self-respect. Wait — what about you and me? What about our self-respect? What about feeling like the kinds of people who can hold monsters to true account?
You see, this impeachment will give us a mania, a frenzy, for a moment or two. But it will not give us back the self-respect we need. To feel that we have power our overselves morally, as true moral agents. That we are capable of saying: “never again!”, or “this cannot happen here!”, or “not in my name!”…and really mean it.
Once the mania and the frenzy is over, what then? When the rush passes, and the adrenaline recedes? Then we will still feel ashamed of ourselves. We will still feel weak. And we will be right to feel those things. Because we are weak, and we are shamed. We will always have to know, deep down, how impotent we really were. We had to get the fascist for corruption. But we could not bring him to justice for his true horrors. All those kids in those cages. Who will speak for them? Nobody. That sense of impotence, of powerlessness, will haunt us. It will corrode us inside, just like it does to every powerless person.
But for us, that reckoning will be truer. We’ll know something terrible about ourselves. When we were faced with true evil…nothing much happened. We are the kinds of people who gave evil a free pass, while cheering on the prosecution of the least bad thing.
What does that make us — in our own eyes? What do people who let evil happen feel? They hurt themselves, because they feel guilty. They abuse themselves, because they feel weak and feeble and powerless. Not worthy of self-respect and dignity. Americans have felt like that for a long time. So it’s no surprise there’s a kind of frenzy over impeachment. But impeaching a monster for infractions is not going to give us back a sense of power, of self-directedness, of self-worth. Once the mania passes, we are going to feel deflated, empty, and hollow. Full of regret and remorse for what we weren’t capable of. And our self-respect will forever suffer for it.
America isn’t worth befriending, and it is worth attacking. You might imagine that impeaching a Prez for a foreign corruption scandal teaches the world that America is strong and you better not mess with us. You’d be wrong.
What do you think the world is going to think of a country — a hyperpower — that can’t do justice to fascism? It’s going to lose respect for it. It’s going to know that such a country is weak, morally and institutionally. That it doesn’t have much fight left in it. And so you can kiss the old America goodbye — the one that was a true hyperpower. The attacks from all angles — Russia, North Korea, etc — will only intensify. Because it is laughable. It does say that you can interfere with us, all you like. The most we’ll ever do is hold weak impeachment hearings a few years after the fact, which give monsters a slap on the wrist.
But it’s not just attacks that will intensify. So will the loss of American friends and allies.
You see, the rest of the world knows how important it is to do justice to fascism. Europe knows it. Asia knows it. Africa knows it, too. Only America doesn’t seem to. But the world also knows that a nation that can’t hold it’s fascists accountable is one that is easy to take advantage of. One that has little dignity. One that has little real power, in the end. And they are right to think so.
Do you think many nations will want to be friends with a country that can’t brings its fascists to justice? Don’t you think they will be forever a little disgusted — and also a little wary? Don’t you think they will find ways around an America that broken, and treat it with the contempt it rightly deserves? I do, and I guarantee you they will too. Now, the way out of that conundrum was to impeach Trump for his true horrors, not just his minor infractions. But nobody much was interested in that.
How much respect do you think Europe will have for an America that gave fascism a free pass? How about Canada? What about Asia? You’re kidding yourself if you think those societies are going to respect us more after impeachment. They are going to respect us less, because they see what we are not doing, what we are incapable of.
I’m sorry to be blunt. You’re welcome to disagree with me. But I’ve lived through fascist collapses — have you? And here is what I see.
We are trying for a President to be tried for the least bad thing he’s done — not his true evils. Among a long, long list of truly terrible and horrific evils to choose from. We might feel a sense of strength and power now — but that is just mania, just frenzy, a high. What trying a monster for the least bad thing he has done tells history and the world how weak the society which tries him really is. The trial indicts the prosecution. The verdict indicts the jury. Many trials are like that. Miscarriages of justice. This impeachment is one.
America will not be respected again. At least not in our lifetimes. Its friends will abandon it, its enemies will laugh at it. And in its own eyes, too, it will lose self-respect. That much is deserved for those who give evil a free pass. Isn’t it? But isn’t that we are doing? Maybe even what you are doing? Think about it. I’m not judging you or shaming you or blaming you. Nobody’s listening. Except you, to yourself.
This impeachment — this weak, forlorn thing — reveals the weaknesses at the heart of American collapse: true evil is forgotten, brushed under the rug, while Americans are told to settle for what they can get. Isn’t that exactly…how we got here? So It is an ill omen for the future. Sure, we should “support” it. But ambivalently. Remembering that real justice for true evil was never done. Never even aspired to. And a society that can’t do justice to its monsters is one that is still collapsing — only sometimes it doesn’t quite know it.