Somewhat to my surprise, I have been engrossed over the last few months by the impeachment of President Trump, and its entanglement with the corrosion of the political institutions and with the retrenchment of the American Empire. It has been something of a rabbit hole of discovery, not just about American politics, which I have largely ignored beyond casual, inescapable tuning into the news, but also about my own navigation through the political dilemmas of our time.
I cannot quite recall what triggered the interest. I think at some point I thought, what is going on here? Something is not quite right. It may have been the absurd, hysterical, hostile rhetoric towards Russia which has been embraced by the American Democratic party. It may have been a few bouts of insomnia that led me for some reason to watch on youtube some of the earliest public hearings of the House Intelligence Committee investigation, and almost immediately sense that there was not due process and reasonable interrogation of the facts going on here. And at some point I decided to listen to the perspectives of the other side, and not merely turn sceptical but blind eyes away from the field.
That was how I discovered Stephen K Bannon’s podcast Warroom: Impeachment. Here were people I had never turned my ears toward before, and whose views I knew only through retail media glosses. Stephen K Bannon was the “alt-right” populist strategist of the Trump campaign, who had appeared to flame out early in the Trump presidency. Raheen Kassam was introduced to me by the podcast as the communications architect of Nigel Farrage’s Brexit campaign. Jason Miller was a communications strategist for the Trump campaign. I had never closed my my mind to such perspectives, but nor had I ever approached them as if I could learn something. I would assume they were bilious ranters, with suspicious attitudes; surfers of dangerously nationalist sentiment.
And soon I would be proved wrong. The podcast revealed intelligent, inquiring and intriguing hosts. The hosts brought to the show fighters, but also distinguished constitutional lawyers and high class political leaders. And day by day, through tuning into show, I was convinced that this was the “crime of the century” – the transcripts and hearings and other writing on the impeachment, the RussiaGate hoax, the unconvincing remonstrations of Democratic politicians and progressive activist “scholars” showed that there was indeed an outrageous and illegitimate conspiracy to defrock the presidency by the new nomenklatura of the administrative state, intelligence apparatus and corporate media.
It was not really a conclusion I expected to reach, and I am still in a flux of perplexity, considering what it means for my thoughts on political institutions. But as an interim judgement, here are three lessons of impeachment.
Lesson 1: The corporate media and its celebrity journalists play at being political actors, but with no legitimate authority. The misrepresentations of the facts of the case on outlets like CNN and MSNBC are truly shocking, and there is not even a mirage of even-handedness or open inquiry. The same may be said even of the Australian national public broadcaster, the ABC, that presents an extremely partial perspective on Trump and impeachment. Key journalists have inserted themselves into the proceedings, under the spell of a belief that they are actors in this drama. Rachel Maddow of MSNBC clearly worked with the Democratic impeachment team on the release of very fuzzy evidence by Lev Parnis. There are too many ex-political operatives who masquerade as neutral reporters. And there is too much co-dependence between these journalists and the politicians who rely on them for air time. Yet alternative media is subverting these voices.
Lesson 2: The FBI’s and CIA’s interference in the 2016 election and later conspiracy against Trump as President is the crime of the century. The appalling nature of the abuse of basic legal, constitutional and democratic principles by the FBI, and likely the CIA, beggars belief. The Report of the Inspector-General on FISA Abuse and the CrossFire Hurricane investigation is damning. I bought James Comey’s book, but I was never fully convinced. It always struck me as odd that he should react so extremely, shrinking as if from an internal fear, to President Trump’s comment to him that he expects loyalty. He has been shown to be deeply deceptive and treacherous. America’s security state has become a Kraken in its democratic waters. It is entangled with political operatives, the media and the policy community and the commercial interests of both the war machine, the crony capitalists and the media. It must be confronted to restore decent political institutions and conduct in America.
Lesson 3: Restoration of the American republic – and democracy around the world – requires the retrenchment of the American Empire. To confront that Kraken of the American security state – as much a cancer on democracy as the Chinese Communist Party or Vladimir Putin – will require the retrenchment of the American Empire. In John Darwin’s magnificent and magisterial After Tamerlane: The Rise and Fall of Global Empires 1400-2000, he demonstrates clearly the absurdity of any argument that America is anything but an imperial power, with its 700 or more military bases around the world. And he says “as the costs of greatness rise, and its benefits fall, the American taxpayer might come to resent the burden of empire and lose heart in the effort to preserve American power in its lonely preminence” This turning is surely part of the story of both Trump and the conspiracy against him. He was the candidate to stop the endless wars, to drain the swamp of those who argued for them, and yet also he rode the tiger of a belligerent commercial nationalism. Make America Great Again was a movement of resurgent pride, but always risked being the lashing out of a wounded elephant. The FBI conspiracy and the impeachment hoax – with its bizarre echoes of Joseph McCarthy when Adam Schiff makes the unhinged comment that “we fight Russia over there so we don’t have to fight Russia over here” – shows just how far the security state and its compliant partners in the Democratic party and the media will go to maintain the American Empire. The Democratic candidate who most directly challenged that Empire – who argued to bring troops home so America could fix its domestic problems – Tulsi Gabbard was even attacked by Hilary Clinton as a “Russian asset.” Only by retrenching the American Empire can the American republic be saved.