The impeachment process was a nauseating display of moral hypocrisy. The sound bites by Republicans and Democrats swiftly became predictable. The Democrats, despite applauding the announcement of the voting results before being quickly silenced by House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, sought to cloak themselves in gravitas and solemnity. Pelosi’s calculated decision to open the impeachment proceedings with the 1954 “under God” version of the Pledge of Allegiance was an appropriate signal given the party’s New McCarthyism. The Democrats posited themselves as saviors, the last line of defense between a constitutional democracy and tyranny. The Republicans, as cloyingly sanctimonious as the Democrats, offered up ludicrous analogies to attack what they condemned as a show trial, including Rep. Barry Loudermilk’s statement that “Pontius Pilate afforded more rights to Jesus than the Democrats have afforded to this president.” The Republicans shamelessly prostrated themselves throughout the 10-hour process at the feet of their cult leader Donald Trump, offering abject and eternal fealty. They angrily accused the Democrats of seeking to overturn the 2016 election in a legislative coup.
It was a mind-numbing spectacle, devoid of morality and ethics, the kind of political theater that characterizes despotic regimes. No one in the House chamber was protecting the Constitution. No one was seeking to hold accountable those who had violated it. No one was fighting to restore the rule of law. The two parties, which have shredded constitutional protections and rights and sold the political process to the highest bidders, have engaged in egregious constitutional violations for years and ignored them when they were made public. Moral stances have a cost, but almost no one in Congress seems willing to pay. Trying to tar Trump as a Russian agent failed. Now the Democrats hope to discredit him with charges of abuse of power and contempt of Congress.
The politicization of the impeachment process has only exacerbated the antagonisms and polarization in the country. It has, ironically, increased support for Trump, who in this toxic environment may well be reelected. His approval rating has jumped to 45 percent, up from 39 percent when the impeachment inquiry was launched, according to the latest Gallup survey, conducted from Dec. 2 to Dec. 15. This is the third consecutive increase in Trump’s approval rating. Among Republicans, Trump has a job approval rating of 89%, almost nine in 10 in the GOP. Fifty-one percent of Americans oppose impeachment and removal, up five percentage points since the House inquiry began, Gallup reports.
Yes, Trump’s contempt of Congress and attempt to get Volodymyr Zelensky, the Ukrainian president, to open an investigation of Joe Biden and his son, Hunter, in exchange for almost $400 million in U.S. military aid and allowing Zelensky to visit the White House are impeachable offenses, but trivial and minor ones compared with the constitutional violations that the two parties have institutionalized and, I fear, made permanent. These sustained, bipartisan constitutional violations—not Trump—resulted in the failure of our democracy. Trump is the pus coming out of the wound.
If the Democrats and the Republicans were committed to defending the Constitution why didn’t they impeach George W. Bush when he launched two illegal wars that were never declared by Congress as demanded by the Constitution? Why didn’t they impeach Bush when he authorized placing the entire U.S. public under government surveillance in direct violation of the Fourth Amendment? Why didn’t they impeach Bush when he authorized torture along with kidnapping terrorist suspects around the world and holding them for years in our black sites and offshore penal colonies? Why didn’t they impeach Barack Obama when he expanded these illegal wars to 11, if we count Yemen? Why didn’t they impeach Obama when Edward Snowden revealed that our intelligence agencies are monitoring and spying on almost every citizen and downloading our data and metrics into government computers where they will be stored for perpetuity? Why didn’t they impeach Obama when he misused the 2002 Authorization for Use of Military Force to erase due process and give the executive branch of government the right to act as judge, jury and executioner in assassinating U.S. citizens, starting with the radical cleric Anwar al-Awlaki and, two weeks later, his 16-year-old son? Why didn’t they impeach Obama when he signed into law Section 1021 of the National Defense Authorization Act, in effect overturning the 1878 Posse Comitatus Act, which prohibits the use of the military as a domestic police force?
There are other bipartisan constitutional violations, including violating treaty clauses that are supposed to be ratified by the Senate, violating the Constitution by making appointments without seeking Senate confirmation, and the routine abusive use of executive orders. But the two major political parties, salivating at the thought of wielding the king-like power that now comes with the presidency, have no desire to curb these far more dangerous violations.
The selective use of the two violations to impeach Trump is a weaponization of the impeachment process. Should the Democrats take control of the White House and the Republicans control of the Congress, impeachment, with or without merit, will become another form of political pressure exerted within our dysfunctional and divided political system. The rule of law will be a pretense, as in the current process of impeachment and Senate trial.
The impeachment circus, which will culminate in a preordained, choreographed and televised show in the Senate, coincided with The Washington Post’s release of what is being called the Afghanistan Papers. The Post, through a three-year legal battle, obtained more than 2,000 pages of internal government documents about the war. The papers detail bipartisan lies, fraud, deceit, corruption, waste and gross mismanagement during the 18-year conflict, the longest in U.S. history. It is a blistering indictment of the ruling class, which, as the papers note, since 2001 has seen the Defense Department, State Department and U.S. Agency for International Development spend or win appropriation of between $934 billion and $978 billion, according to an inflation-adjusted estimate calculated by Neta Crawford, a political science professor and co-director of the Costs of War Project at Brown University. “These figures,” the Post adds, “do not include money spent by other agencies such as the CIA and the Department of Veterans Affairs, which is responsible for medical care for wounded veterans.” [See Chris Hedges discuss the Afghanistan Papers with Spenser Rapone, a West Point graduate who served as an Army Ranger in Afghanistan.]
This window into the inner workings of our bankrupt ruling elite, responsible for widespread destruction and the loss of tens, perhaps hundreds, of thousands of lives in Afghanistan, was largely ignored by the media during the impeachment proceedings. Neither political party, and none of their courtiers on the cable news shows, is interested in exposing the bipartisan failure, lying and grotesque incompetence on the part of the United States in the years it has occupied Afghanistan. Afghan and U.S. officials concede that the Taliban is stronger now than at any other time since the 2001 invasion.
In a functioning democracy, the publication of the Afghanistan Papers would see generals and politicians who knowingly deceived the public hauled before congressional committees. The Fulbright hearings, during the Vietnam War, although they did not lead to prosecutions, at least aggressively held U.S. officials to account and made public their duplicity and failure. But in the wake of the new disclosures, no one in either political party or the military will be held accountable for the debacle in Afghanistan, a conflict that saw a vast waste of resources, including nearly a trillion dollars that could have been used to address our pronounced social inequality, rebuild our decaying infrastructure and help end our reliance on fossil fuels.
The Afghanistan Papers lay bare a truth the hyperventilating Republican and Democratic mandarins in Congress prefer to mask. On all the major structural issues—war, the economy, the use of militarized police and the world’s largest prison system for social control, the infusion of corporate money to deform the electoral and legislative processes, slashing taxes for the wealthy and corporations, exploitative trade deals, austerity, the climate emergency and the rapidly accelerating government debt—there is little or no difference between the Republicans and the Democrats.
The political clashes are not substantive, despite what we heard in the impeachment hearings. They are rhetorical and largely inconsequential. The Republicans and the Democrats recently passed a $738 billion defense bill for fiscal year 2020, a $21 billion increase over what was enacted for fiscal year 2019. The vote was a lopsided 377 to 48. The U.S. spends more on its military than the next 10 countries combined. Also, a day after the impeachment of President Trump, the Republicans and Democrats in the House passed a thinly veiled rewrite of the Clinton administration’s North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA), the 25-year-old free trade agreement that hollowed out our manufacturing centers and sent U.S. jobs and production to Mexico. Again, the vote was lopsided, 385 to 41. When the wealthy and our corporate masters want something done, it gets done. Our elected officials serve them, not us. We are to be controlled.
The Republican and Democratic politicians, like the generals, government bureaucrats and intelligence chiefs, once they leave their government posts will be generously rewarded by being given jobs as lobbyists and consultants or being appointed to corporate boards. These politicians are the mutant products of our system of legalized bribery, shameless kleptocrats. The only interests they serve are their own. This truth binds half the country to Trump, who although a con artist and himself flagrantly corrupt, at least belittles and mocks the ruling elites who have betrayed us.
Trump and his supporters are not wrong in condemning the deep state—the generals, bankers, corporatists, lobbyists, intelligence chiefs, government bureaucrats and technocrats who oversee domestic and international policy no matter who is in power. The Afghanistan Papers, while detailing the quagmire in Afghanistan—where more than 775,000 Americans were deployed over the 18 years, more than 2,300 soldiers and Marines killed and more than 20,000 wounded—also illustrate how seamlessly the two ruling parties and the deep state work together.
“What did we get for this $1 trillion effort? Was it worth $1 trillion?” Jeffrey Eggers, a retired Navy SEAL and White House staffer for Bush and Obama, is quoted as saying by The Washington Post. “After the killing of Osama bin Laden, I said that Osama was probably laughing in his watery grave considering how much we have spent on Afghanistan.”
The Post writes, “The documents also contradict a long chorus of public statements from U.S. presidents, military commanders and diplomats who assured Americans year after year that they were making progress in Afghanistan and the war was worth fighting. Several of those interviewed described explicit and sustained efforts by the U.S. government to deliberately mislead the public. They said it was common at military headquarters in Kabul—and at the White House—to distort statistics to make it appear the United States was winning the war when that was not the case.”
“As commanders in chief, Bush, Obama and Trump all promised the public the same thing,” the Post notes. “They would avoid falling into the trap of ‘nation-building’ in Afghanistan. On that score, the presidents failed miserably. The United States has allocated more than $133 billion to build up Afghanistan—more than it spent, adjusted for inflation, to revive the whole of Western Europe with the Marshall Plan after World War II.”
There is no difference, the Afghanistan Papers make clear, in the mendacity and incompetence of the policymaking apparatus no matter who controls Congress or the White House. No party or elected official dares defy the military-industrial complex or other titans of the deep state. The Democrats through impeachment have no intention of restoring constitutional rights that would curb the power of the deep state and protect democracy. The deep state funds them. It sustains them in office. The Democrats are seeking to replace the inept and vulgar face of empire that is Trump with the benign and decorous face of empire that is Joe Biden. What the Democrats, and the deep state that has allied itself with the Democratic Party, object to is the mask, not what is behind it. If you doubt me, read the six-part series on Afghanistan in the Post.