Beyond Impeachment: Challenges Facing the U.S. Left in 2020

Peter Hudis

Summary:  While the effort of House Democrats to impeach Trump has not undermined his hold on power, the real test lies in taking the battle against him beyond the confines of the impeachment process — Editors.

(Hungarian translation)

So, Trump has finally been impeached—or at least sort of. The House voted two articles of impeachment—one for abuse of power for withholding military aid to Ukraine unless it provided Trump with dirt on Joe Biden, the other for trying to undermine Congress’s investigation (it did not however charge Trump with the much more serious crime of obstruction of justice). However, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi has deferred for now sending the articles of impeachment to the Senate because of a dispute with Majority Leader Mitch McConnell over the terms and procedures of the trial to be held there. That suits McConnell and the Republicans just fine, since they don’t want a trial in the first place—even though it is perfectly clear that if one is held they will acquit him on all counts.

Hence, as of this moment (December 22) Trump hasn’t actually been impeached and won’t be until the Senate trial is held. It is not clear what leverage Pelosi and the Democrats have at this point to extract concessions from Senate Republicans over the rules and procedures, but this much is clear: the rather rushed and narrowly-focused impeachment process has not substantially moved the needle one inch in terms of undermining Trump’s hold on power.

This is not to say Trump doesn’t deserve to be impeached for flagrantly trying to pressure a foreign country to interfere in a U.S. election and lying through his teeth through the whole process. Yet it’s also the case that he should have been impeached long before his call to the President of Ukraine for far much more egregious crimes.

What about his disastrous unilateral immigration policies, which include tearing children from their arms of their parents—a policy that has led to at least a dozen deaths and produced trauma in many children that may take decades to mend? When Obama used an executive order to create the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program, many Republicans immediately began to talk of impeaching him for “violating the Constitution.” But when a small but important number of leftwing Democrats in the House raised the specter of impeachment over Trump’s actions on immigration, Pelosi waved them off as irrelevant.

And what about his infamous phone call with another President, this one Erdogan of Turkey, in which Trump gave him the green light to attack the Kurds of northern Syria with the clear intent of destroying the zones of liberation in and around Rojava, which had provided the best hope for a democratic, feminist, and socialist alternative in the Middle East? Thousands have died because his actions (in no doubt at least in part inspired by his own business interests in Turkey) but somehow that didn’t make the articles of impeachment either.

One can of course list a whole litany of crimes committed by this racist demagogue, not least of them appointing as Attorney General William Barr, who clearly cares nothing about the rule of law but serves exclusively as Trump’s private attorney on all matters. Trump used to boast that he could murder someone on Fifth Avenue and still retain his supporters; it’s now gotten to the point that the Attorney General of the U.S. would officially sanction it!

When it comes to the political impact of the impeachment process one cannot blame Pelosi and the centrist Democratic Party leadership for the fact that the bulk of Trump’s backers continue to support him. The vast majority of that ilk would support him whatever the case because they favor his decrepit policies. The Republican Party today is less a party than a cult—a cult centered on egotistical self-aggrandizement run amok. For a large section of bourgeois society, there is nothing to believe in any more other than grabbing as much as you can at the expense of those less privileged than yourself—even if it means destroying society in the process.

The more pertinent issue is whether the impeachment process as conducted by the House Democrats has done anything to mobilize the majority of people in this country who oppose Trump and want to see him gone? There is little evidence that it has. If anything—and especially thanks to the recent British elections—there is a growing sense of despair that he may be headed to re-election.

If you face a powerful and serious enemy, you’ve got to fight him with all the political ammunition at your disposal. Narrowing the terms of impeachment to two items in a series of hearings (initially closed to the public at that!) and which lasted barely a month hardly counts for that.

Moreover, that the effort to undermine Joe Biden spurred the Democratic establishment to impeachment makes it clear that the gravest affront in their eyes is to come after one of their own. Would they have tried to impeach Trump if he were recorded trying to undermine the campaign of Bernie Sanders? It’s hard to imagine that they would, since the emails from the Democratic National Committee in 2016 purportedly obtained by the Russians showed that the DNC and Hillary Clinton conspired, in ways bordering on illegality, to deny Sanders the nomination.

Despite the mess that the House Democratics may have made of things, this is no time to despair, withdraw from politics, or presume that denying Trump a second term doesn’t really matter. It does matter. Political democracy is under attack around the world today, from Iran and Turkey to China, from Poland to Russia, from Brazil and Bolivia to India. Trump is just the vile American expression of a global phenomenon. If this effort to undermine and destroy political democracy succeeds, the door will be closed to even discussing the path to a new, non-capitalist future, let alone actualizing one. Trump will remain in power through 2020, regardless of the impeachment process; our job is to ensure he remains there no longer.


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  1. James Fabris

    I agree with just about everything you say here, but I would be interested in hearing more of your analysis of an idea you touch on when you say, “When it comes to the political impact of the impeachment process one cannot blame Pelosi and the centrist Democratic Party leadership for the fact that the bulk of Trump’s backers continue to support him. The vast majority of that ilk would support him whatever the case because they favor his decrepit policies. The Republican Party today is less a party than a cult—a cult centered on egotistical self-aggrandizement run amok.” Trump’s cult-like following is obvious, but how do we best attack it? Can we afford to write it off as an inevitable consequence of our current stage of capitalism and assume that Trump’s supporters will go on defending him no matter what? Or do we need a deeper critique of Trumpism that is not only political but also philosophical? When Raya Dunayevskaya faced the cult-like following of Mao during Cultural Revolution, she developed a philosophical critique of Mao-thought using Hegel’s category of the “artificer” from The Phenomenology of Mind. Later, in the 1980s, she applied this term to Ronald Reagan as well. Do you think Raya’s critique of the artificer and Hegel’ critique of the the third attitude towards objectivity would be at all helpful at addressing the epistemological crisis we are facing today. If so, I would be very interested in hearing your thoughts. It is more clear than ever that the crisis we face is philosophic one.

  2. Darlene knight

    I have to say when I started reading this I thought “oh no someone else is going to downplay Trump’s lying illegal racist behavior “. Then you got to the point. Hooray! I am not one to talk politics right now because there is nothing to say. It is his way or he will trot out his evil minions and things will get worse, if that’s possible

  3. Peter Hudis

    I agree that we need to philosophically understand the present moment. But Trump is no intutionist. He does not trumpet an ideology claiming to posit an immediate knowing of reality. He has no ideology at all. Nor is he an artificier. Reagan was an actor, which is what an artificer must be. But Trump isn’t pretending to be what he isn’t; his acts are what he is. This is why Twitter is so fitting for him: its brevity allows him to present himself “as is” in all its directness and crudity. You get what you see and you see what you get. And many like that crude vulgarity.

    The question is why? I don’t think Trump’s ascendancy would be possible without the 2008 global recession. It has led global capitalism to lose confidence in itself. Before 2008, it could relish in the artifice that neoliberalism was creating a “new world order.” But it cannot do that now, when it has not a clue as to how to overcome the conditions that led to it. The only thing left is to milk the system for what one can get out of it as an individual before the next deluge. Action is now purely about self-actualization of the lowest, most animalistic sort.

    Hence, for a philosophic context in which to understand Trumpism, we may find it elsewhere—in a very peculiar but key section of Hegel’s Phenomenology of Spirit—“the spiritual kingdom of animals.”

    In this stage, individual human doing (das Tun) is absolute: “Action or doing is in its own self its truth and reality, and individuality in its setting-forth or expression is, in relation to action, the End in and for itself.” (Miller trans. p. 236). Action now “moves freely within itself in a void, which, unimpeded, now expands, now contracts, and is perfectly content to operate in and with its own self” (p. 237). No standard of action is acknowledged; each person is its own end, everything else counts for nothing.

    Sound familiar? This is Hegel’s description of modern civil society—shorn of its pretenses. It is animalistic is that its agents are self-absorbed, uninterested in and incapable of mutual recognition. Individuals treat each other as mere means to an end and revel in such treatment as their “natural” condition.

    Trump is the animalistic spirit of civil society run amok, stripped of all pretenses to be otherwise. The same with Boris Johnson, Bolsonaro, Putin, Orban. They are the mirror that reflects the spirit of our time. That bourgeois society can come up with nothing better than this is a testament to its decay. But it will live on, albeit as ghostly as the empty apparitions of self-actualization that now defines it until it is forced from the scene by those who envision and forge a noncapitalist future.