Vox Populi: A Public Sphere for Politics and Poetry
Regaining Our Common Sense
Two things are inhibiting our exercise of common sense as a self-governed people:
First, the cancer of our corporate media monopoly has ravaged the culture of the democratic process in our nation. Among the many symptoms of this lethal disease is its projection of normalizing false narratives that reek of the body public’s corruption and decay.
For example, of all places, National Public Radio just ran a lengthy segment examining the numerous instances in which Donald Trump has this week proven himself a liar and a fraud by advancing policies in direct conflict with his campaign platform and campaign promises. Throughout the piece, the NPR journalists discussed how Trump was “learning on the job,” how these self-contradictions represented a possible shift to the political center, and how during the campaign, “Trump needed to say” one thing, and as President, he “needed to say” another. Not once during the piece did anyone speak up to say: “Since when did it become acceptable for a person running for, let alone winning, the presidency to so transparently lie and manipulate and speak in inflammatory terms without commitment to the public or accountability for his words?” NPR completely avoided the real story, which is that Donald Trump lacks the intelligence and mental health to meet what has long been the minimum standard for someone running for, let alone holding, our nation’s highest office. Instead, in terms that often amounted to outright praise, NPR normalized Trump’s ego-driven self-license to campaign on lies, fantasies and ignorance.
The second thing inhibiting our exercise of common sense is the continued failure of the political left to learn the lesson of the disastrous 2016 election. This lesson is that compromising our standards, principles and interests is not a “pragmatic necessity” of winning; rather it is a surefire recipe for losing.
Nothing more clearly demonstrates this lesson than the loss by Hillary Clinton, the best funded and most machined contender in the history of presidential politics, to a joke candidate, whose conduct this past two weeks (and for the last twenty years) has made clear Trump’s campaign never should have been allowed by any of us to be taken seriously.
Indeed, it turns out that being uncompromising in one’s standards, principles and advocacy of policies that obviously serve the people’s interest is, in practical terms, the real path to overwhelming victory. Consider that Bernie Sanders is once again, for the third year running, the most popular Senator in America precisely because of his record for integrity and common sense advocacy of bold steps to fix problems causing the people needless suffering. Consider that, without Sanders even being nominated or elected in the recent presidential campaign, three of the most significant planks of his presidential campaign platform—the $15 minimum wage, free college, and single-payer health care—have made substantial gains in the national discussion and in law since the Democratic Convention notwithstanding that all three were portrayed by Clinton and her machine as wildly unrealistic. No wonder there are now a host of Sanders-style new comers winning office or making strong showings even in such traditional red states as “What’s the Matter With” Kansas.
There is but one way to win the support, not just of the shrinking group of Democratic loyalists, but also of the more than 40% of voters who are independent, all of the progressive voters outside the Democratic Party, a large number of the people who don’t bother to vote because they can’t find anyone worth voting for, virtually all of the youth vote, and even a substantial number of current Republican voters. This one way is to have uncompromising integrity and the boldness to assert common sense policies that serve the public interest even though the diseased body public would shout these ideas down as “naïve,” “impossible,” and “unrealistic.”
The Coded Language of Pragmatism and Resistance
But it’s not just that we haven’t learned 2016’s lesson that, if we want to win, then we must be uncompromising and steadfast in our standards, principles and advancement of policies that serve the people’s interest.
It is also that we are still swallowing the coded language urging compromise with the establishment stake holders who don’t want to lose their seats of power, but who are completely obligated to what amounts to the oligarchy of the 1%.
The claim to pragmatism, the asserted need for party unity, and the argument that the voters are tired of partisan politics and want compromise are all three myths promoted by the corrupt Democratic Party establishment that are each logically unsustainable. The only true nonpartisan in the 2016 presidential election was the man who has been an independent his entire career, Bernie Sanders, and his non-partisanship did not require compromise of his standards, principles, or understanding of the public interest in order to earn the gratitude of the entire nation. In similar spirit, note that there can be no unity between the voters and a party that abuses its power, blames the voters for its losses, and sells out the interest of the people. And as already remarked, there is nothing pragmatic about nominating a deeply compromised revolving-door multi-millionaire Wall Street, war-hawk candidate to represent the political left and losing a slam dunk contest against an obviously unhinged reality-TV narcissist. In short, the catch-words, “pragmatism,” “unity,” and “non-partisanship” are lies in the mouth of Democratic Party officials. We’ve got to be smarter than to listen to them.
The proof that we still haven’t learned the lessons of 2016 and are still swallowing the crooked coded language of the seat-warming servants of the 1% who control the Democratic Party is that we can now add another term to this coded language: “Resist!” Resist is an interesting word. We don’t know what the outcome of resistance is supposed to be. As a result, the focus of the word is on the person doing the resisting, not on the lunatic authoritarian in the White House we are trying to resist. This sly shift of emphasis is the establishment’s way of inducing the public to believe it is not pragmatic or possible to impeach Trump, which would ultimately harm the financial interests of their masters who control their purse strings and place them in office. Instead, the underlying message is that we should settle for just “resisting” Trump. The really subtle beauty of this con is that it tricks us into allowing our outrage over the incompetent, callous, and offensive leadership of our government to be endlessly distracted as the thousand different horrors of Trump’s administration spin by on the daily news cycle. We are always resisting something new and never have time to think about how to get rid of the source of all these nightmares.
We cannot and must not compromise the standard for the offices of the President and Vice President that Donald Trump and Mike Pence clearly do not meet. Mere resistance is a compromise trap because it does not hope to impose a consequence for violation of our standards for holding our highest offices; it merely tries to prevent as much abuse by Trump as it can. This is not a recipe for victory or even for meaningful prevention. If we, the people, want our government back so that we can return to the project of self-government we have to demand that Trump be removed from office because he simply is unable to conform to some very common sense minimum standards for holding the highest office in our land.
Impeachment Is the People’s Legitimate Vehicle for Restoring Common Sense
Let me be clear: when the GOP beat the drums of impeachment during Bill Clinton’s administration, the interests of the people were not actually at risk, nor was the function of our political process. The impeachment of Clinton was not an act of public service, but of service to an oligarchy seeking to rein in the Democratic Party. But the impeachment of Clinton demonstrates for us an important fact about our government: Impeachment is a political process for imposing political consequences on high office holders for failing to meet politically defined standards for that office. That’s what the phrase “high crimes and misdemeanors” refers to. As an ultimately mild political remedy, impeachment does not impose on the people or their elected representatives an onerous criminal law burden of proof. Therefore, there is no reason to treat impeachment as beyond our power to require.
The standards set for our high office holders, and the degree of evidence required to establish that these standards have been violated, can be up to us if we cease to passively allow the oligarchy to define these standards for us in a way that serves their interests, not ours. We set these standards through the pressure we put on our elected office holders. We have the power to create a critical mass of public demand that cannot be withstood even by the most corrupt politicians. For example, consider how even an aggressively conservative supreme court recently was unable to defeat the legalization of gay marriage once this critical mass of public demand had been achieved. If we can force the Supreme Court to bend to our will, we can certainly force our elected officials to do the same. And the consequence Trump and Pence face for being convicted of failing to meet our basic standards for holding high office is nothing very grave, just removal from that office. In fact, Trump will be freed to spend all the time he wants at Mar-a-Lago once he’s removed from office—not a bad deal for him.
By contrast, the consequence of failure to maintain high standards for our high office holders is very, very grave. We failed to impeach George W. Bush for his war crimes and the million deaths caused by the war of aggression he waged based on lies manufactured by his administration. Today, we have a mentally imbalanced president provoking war in Syria, Afghanistan and North Korea based on an ignorant, reactionary and ego-driven psychology. Our situation today is a consequence of our failure to impeach Bush earlier on. Our failure to hold firm to our common sense standards for the presidency concerning the commission of multiple war crimes and lying in the state of the union has caused our government and our society to lose its grip on sane presidential behavior.
Our Founding Fathers created the impeachment process so that our self-government could be protected from abusive and reckless holders of high office in the future who posed a threat to the interest of the people and the healthy function of our democracy. We need to have the common sense to understand that we, the people, have the power, the means, and the justification to force impeachment of the President and Vice President by our elected office holders. Trump and Pence pose a clearly evident threat to the interest of the people and the healthy function of our democratic political process, not to mention world peace. We do not need to wait until they are caught red handed and then watch as they get off with their crimes anyway. We can use our common sense.
How to Reach Impeachment Critical Mass
Here is the recipe for applying our common sense. It has two ingredients.
First, we have to frame impeachment in terms of the big picture that catalogs all of the ways in which Trump and Pence are a threat to the interest of the people and in violation of the basic minimum standards we are defining for our high office holders. We must not be lured into making impeachment an argument about whether Trump and Pence actually colluded with Russia’s meddling in the election or whether they just benefitted from it. Nor should our argument be based on whether it was constitutional to bomb Syria the way Trump did, or Afghanistan. It should not be just about Trump’s mental health, his evident ignorance and avoidance of due diligence toward his duties, or his unending conflicts of interest with those of the people he serves. It should not be just about Trump’s investment in the Tomahawk missiles he has been sending to kill people while he eats cake or the cost of his vacations or his absence from his desk for the sake of his golf game. Nor should it be just about his refusal to release his tax returns or his refusal to release the White House visitor logs or his cover up of whatever he is found to be covering up or anything else. Rather, our argument must be about all of these and more. A common sense look at the big picture dictates impeachment. We must keep this big picture constantly measured against our common sense standards for who we allow to continue to run our nation.
Second, we need a disciplined, laser-focused movement that really does display unity on the subject of impeachment. We don’t need Sanders repeating with the DNC’s Perez the futile last ditch effort to avoid Trump that got him to campaign on Clinton’s behalf after the convention. That is the fake unity of two people trying to do two different things but not admitting it. Little will come of this awkward exercise with Perez. What we really need is for all the public interest organizations, all the public protests, all the progressive political campaigns, and all the people who are alarmed and angry about the way our nation is being run to incessantly demand impeachment as the one step that must be completed before turning our attention to anything else.
We cannot address the crisis in our relationship with North Korea, for example, while we leave Trump in office. Nothing that needs addressing can be meaningfully addressed while everything is threatened by this rogue calamity hijacking our government. We must each set aside the fear of the moment we are seized with and face up to the necessity of removing Trump from office before trying to fix any other problem.
We have three big protests this month: one focused on Trump’s taxes, another focused on standing up for science, and a third focused on climate change. Sadly, these efforts are squandering our energy rather than building our momentum. Impeachment is a political process that turns on the focus and energy of the people. We all must be clear that victory for the people requires asserting an uncompromising and bold common sense goal, achievable by gathering a critical mass of public outcry for impeachment.
Had Sanders been nominated, he would have won Kansas and a host of other states Clinton lost. The electoral map would have looked completely different and we would now have a President Sanders elected by a landslide, not the maniacal Twitterer-in-Chief, Donald Trump. Fortunately, if Sanders could have won then, we all can win now by asserting the need for bold steps that restore common sense standards to government.
Everyone inside the Beltway echo chamber said that Sanders’ goals of a $15 minimum wage, free college education and single-payer health care were not possible. Now these goals look like the future. In the same way, people will tell us impeachment will never happen. If we learn the lessons of 2016, however, we will work tirelessly undaunted until we achieve a critical mass of support for impeachment and this will end up coming to pass far more quickly than anyone now predicts is possible. If we want a brighter future, we cannot settle for mere “resistance.” It’s time we all dedicate ourselves to reaching impeachment critical mass.
‘We need a disciplined, laser-focused movement that really does display unity on the subject of impeachment,’ writes Edson. (Photo: Paul Sableman/flickr/cc)