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Impeach all the presidents

by Maj. Danny Sjursen

Sorry, liberals, but Nancy Pelosi’s newly announced impeachment inquiry will not end Donald Trump’s presidency prematurely, no matter how badly Democratic voters may want it. Even if he’s found guilty in the House, a Republican-controlled Senate is sure to deny Pelosi the requisite 67 votes needed to remove him from office. Maybe that isn’t such a bad thing, either. After all, evicting Trump would elevate a bonafide Christian fascist to commander in chief in the person of Mike Pence.

Don’t get me wrong, it’s not that Trump doesn’t deserve to be kicked out of office. He’s run this country like he’d run a nepotistic crime family, a corrupt Atlantic City casino, or some combination of the two. The latest Ukraine scandal is, indeed, a serious matter. In fact, early polls suggest plenty of Americans support impeachment, and there is value in creating a public record of Trump’s abuses.

It’s just that: 1) it’s far more palatable and strategic to beat Trump at the ballot box; and 2) the real presidential abuses of power are systemic and not unique to the former reality show host. What’s more, Democrats’ efforts to impeach could well end up backfiring, handing Trump an undeserved second term.

Let’s start with that last point. Recent history, both at home and abroad, suggests that when an opposition party adopts “impeach the bastard” as its political message, the hated leader tends to benefit at the polls. The slapstick Monica Lewinsky charade into which Republicans threw all their energy in the late 1990s, to offer one example, ended up bolstering Bill Clinton’s popularity.

More recently, in Italy, the Partito Democratico failed miserably in its efforts to evict buffoonish populist Silvio Berlusconi. (While it eventually drove him from office, it never defeated him at the ballot box.) What’s worse, Berlusconi has been succeeded by a slew of authoritarians who mimic many of his worst qualities. Do Democrats really want to empower the next, perhaps even uglier, manifestation of the Trump monster?

Make no mistake, Trump voters won’t take impeachment lying down. In 2016, the then-Republican candidate for president wasn’t kidding, or wrong, when he said his supporters would stick with him even if he murdered someone in broad daylight in New York City. An impeachment “end run” that fails to achieve its desired aim could make Democrats look not just weak but desperate, unwilling to engage with the real issues of the 2020 election: health care, reparations, taxes, immigration and so forth.

Most urgent right now is that we recognize that neither Trump’s alleged interference in the 2020 elections nor his apparent obstruction of justice in the Russiagate investigation ranks among the worst of his offenses. Disturbingly for mainstream liberals, these abuses of power have a long history that also implicate his recent predecessors, including one Barack Obama.

It blows my mind that congressional Democrats will draw a red line on Ukraine while virtually ignoring decades of presidential misconduct. Where was Congress when Obama, then Trump, sponsored Saudi Arabia’s war crimes in Yemen? Both presidents provided military assistance to a cause that could not have proceeded without it. And both failed to secure the constitutionally mandated approval from Congress.

Where was the legislative branch when George W. Bush, then Obama, then Trump, twisted the already questionable post-9/11 authorizations for the use of military force (AUMFs) to expand U.S. wars across the greater Middle East that have shattered the region? Or when Bush perennially, and illegally, detained accused “terrorists” at Guantanamo Bay? Or when Obama assassinated an American citizen in a drone strike without any semblance of due process? Or when Trump militarized the southern border, separated families, stuck kids in cages, and then denied them soap or toothbrushes? Are we to believe that none of these unilateral and constitutionally prohibited executive actions met the threshold of “high crimes and misdemeanors?” Give me a break.

Most likely, this latest impeachment gambit is too little far too late—an act of political theater full of sound and fury signifying nothing. Oh, it’ll make for great entertainment, thrilling a corporate media that long ago abandoned news for spectacle. But as has become the American way, it will invariably ignore the systemic rot that made Trump’s election, and the dictatorial actions of recent presidents, possible in the first place.

So here’s my modest proposal for Congress and the American people, if (or more likely when) the former fails to deliver: Impeach the military-industrial complex and the venal corporate arms dealers, the “merchants of death” who profit from worldwide slaughter. Impeach the “revolving door” generals like Jim Mattis who slide seamlessly from the military to the boards of the nation’s largest defense contracting firms. Impeach the militarized police forces and mass incarceration structure that transform impoverished black and brown communities into occupied enemy territory. Impeach yourselves, Congress, for being asleep at the wheel for decades now, for wallowing in tribal stalemate and eschewing your constitutionally mandated duty to declare and oversee this nation’s wars. Impeach the whole damn system of American empire, both at home and abroad.

As I close, I’d be remiss if I didn’t disclose the genesis for this article’s title. Ryan Keen, a friend, former soldier, poet, and fellow member of the antiwar group, About Face: Veterans Against the War, exchanged frustrated texts with me following the Pelosi impeachment announcement. “It won’t work,” he wrote. It will make Democrats “look impulsive.” He later added that impeachment is a “charade they know won’t come to fruition.

Ryan served in the U.S. Army in Iraq as a prison guard at Camp Cropper for some of the “high-value” detainees the U.S. held there. He observed abuse, torture and early signs that America might just be creating a “terror university” in its jails, creating, in the process, the seedbed of ISIS.

For a decade and a half, Ryan has struggled with a whole range of veterans’ mental health crises, from PTSD to depression. He’s a self-taught man who relies on his experience in war as the foundation for his activism. Ryan has no advanced degree in international relations, nor did he study political science at a fancy university. But he knows something Pelosi doesn’t, something he wrote me the morning after she delivered her address: “The issue isn’t the person, it’s the system.

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