Watching the exposure of the ugly underbelly of the American “dream” on full display in the impeachment hearings has been reaffirming for those of us in the body politic who have long thought that self-delusion, rather than freedom and democracy, is the currency of the land. Meanwhile, watching ignorant politicians serving a corrupt master try to do battle on substance with competent public servants has further diminished the political class and left the US Congress looking ever more incapable of fulfilling its legislative and oversight functions.
Importantly, these hearings should be yet another reminder that having some competent public servants in key positions is no guarantee against the development and execution of dubious policy decisions at great cost to the nation. Often-studied foreign policy disasters in, for example, Iraq and Vietnam continue to yield few lessons learned.
The current clash over Trump’s actions in Ukraine is instructive not just for impeachment purposes, but for examining serious institutional shortcomings in the development and execution of public policy. The “official” US policy toward Ukraine requires the overt deification of Ukraine as a vulnerable cradle of latent democracy striving to be free and to align itself with American ideals. The Trump version of Ukraine policy features a weak and faltering country of little consequence to US interests that can be corruptly bent to serve his personal and political interests. The truth about Ukraine almost surely lies somewhere in between.
If Russia overwhelmed Ukraine tomorrow and set up shop there, not much would be lost in America while the narrative got sorted out. Therefore, examination of the Ukraine drama should be inwardly focused to serve as an alarm about the extent to which US institutions are being undermined every day by Trump and his cabal and the putrefaction of the Republican Party. Much of value is being lost in America every day. If the US government is allowed to further rot from the top, both national security and institutional integrity are at grave risk.
With this backdrop in mind, there is a natural inner turmoil among those on the left in America that pits disposing of Trump as the only priority against an attempt to seize the moment created by Trump to drive home long overdue systemic reforms in an America hopelessly corrupted by unrestrained capitalism and its corporate progeny. If you think the nation is in peril on either front, the current Democratic Party “dialogue” should be a cause for critical concern.
The easiest path to angst is to picture a titanic battle between Trump and Joe Biden. The first is a corrupt and narcissistic pathological liar with a highly committed following of willfully ignorant and dangerously self-interested acolytes, and the other is an aging centrist throwback with a sometimes distinguished past, a limited present and a hardly committed following of wistfully hopeful supporters looking for anything that will upend Trump. Maybe hope can win, but the last time it did, the nation didn’t get much out of it.
Two Rich Guys From New York
Enter Michael Bloomberg, another old white man, into the Democratic scrum. Bloomberg has tons of money, earned largely by monetizing what originally seemed like a good idea, something of an earlier version of Mark Zuckerberg. He is also fairly articulate, has some serious experience at governance, and seems fully committed to advancing at least two issues of critical importance to the left — addressing climate change and confronting rampant gun violence. Bloomberg would likely be an upgrade from Biden as a president, but he seems so short of the common touch that it is hard to see him delivering much more than Hillary Clinton was able to deliver in 2016. That could leave the nation in serious peril of a Trump repeat.
If Bloomberg somehow captures the Democratic Party nomination, and you aren’t too concerned about who wins the presidential election in 2020, it could be entertaining to watch two self-proclaimed rich guys from New York trying to outdo each other for the “man of the people” mantle. America again is the big loser.
So let’s suppose for a moment —those of us on the left who don’t want to settle — that sending Trump to prison is not enough of a goal. That means a protracted fight for the Democratic nomination, most probably trying to ride Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren to near the finish line and then making the hard choice about who should win in the end. The risk is high that neither Sanders nor Warren can win the general election. But the reward could be very high if one of them does.
I think it is way too early to give up on the fight for true systemic reform. The continuing battle is for the soul of the Democratic Party, a battle launched in 2016 by Sanders. It is way too early to let Biden and Bloomberg have a clear path to anything, because even if one of them beats Trump, the reward will be four years of trying to undo the Trump damage to remake the nation in Barack Obama’s image. This is not nearly enough for me at this juncture.
What Americans Need
I want single-payer health insurance, I want universal access to meaningful health care, I want a living wage for everyone, I want real tax reform, I want strong government regulation of capitalism’s excesses, I want confiscatory gun control, I want real reduction of student debt, I want a national affordable housing program, I want a humane and welcoming immigration system, and I want us all to confront the racial demons that are at the core of much of what ails the nation. Then, I want America to lead the way to a cleaner environment, to a respect for the world’s natural resources and to an assault on climate change. And I want religion out of public life.
This is a lot to ask of an America mired in deep social, cultural, racial and ethnic divisions. But I am sure of one thing — that to accomplish any of what I want, the nation must reject Trump and his warped national vision. To that end, I may have to be willing to sacrifice some of what I want for all of what the nation most needs now.
*[A version of this article was cross-posted on the author’s blog, Hard Left Turn.]
The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect Fair Observer’s editorial policy.