Mainstream Democrats failed the impeachment process

Now, it is time for the progressives to take over and put forward a new political alternative.

Nancy Pelosi
US House Speaker Nancy Pelosi signs the two articles of impeachment of US President Donald Trump before sending them over to the Senate on January 15, 2020 [Reuters/Leah Millis]

On December 19, Donald Trump became the third president in US history to be impeached by the House of Representatives. Now, it is up to the Senate to conduct a fair trial.

But Mitch McConnell, the majority leader of the Senate, has already announced that he will not be impartial. In fact, he has shown his contempt for the House vote for impeachment and sided with the defendant even before the trial has begun. It seems that Trump will escape removal from office because the Republican-controlled Senate will acquit him.

The president is being impeached for manipulating foreign policy to benefit his domestic reelection prospects and blocking Congressional oversight. While these are certainly high crimes and misdemeanours, they represent an extremely truncated list of Trump’s offences that is far too legalistic to shift most Americans, whose opinion of him has largely remained unchanged.

In addition to the two narrow articles of impeachment, Democrats should have pushed for public scrutiny of Trump’s dreadful policies: putting children in cages, waging undeclared wars, undermining democratic processes in other countries, cracking down on dissent, cutting and privatising essential services like healthcare and education, introducing tax breaks to the wealthy, and violating our treaty obligations on issues including trade, the environment, and migration.

It is this picture of a disastrous presidency – with or without the impeachment trial – that the American people need to grasp.

But the Democrats failed to turn the House impeachment proceeding into an x-ray of Trump’s entire record, and now the Republicans will turn the Senate proceedings into a trial of Joe Biden, Hilary Clinton, and the Democratic Party.

In other words, they will use the spectacle as fodder for Trump’s reelection campaign. The Democrats should have done the same when they had the chance, but they did not, and for one reason: most of the things Trump has done, the mainstream Democrats did before.

Before Trump, Democratic presidents mistreated immigrants, waged wars, undermined democracy abroad, cracked down on dissent, pursued austerity, privatised public services, and undercut multilateralism. They were less brazen, but the neoliberal upper echelon of the Democratic leadership has essentially agreed with Republicans on such policies since the 1990s.

It is remarkable just how politically and morally tone-deaf both parties have been. Within two years of the Iraq invasion, a majority of the country wanted the troops home, yet both Republican and Democrat presidents continued the bloodshed. After the 2008-09 financial crisis, a majority of the country supported bailouts for homeowners instead of banks, but Republicans and Democrats preferred Wall Street over Main Street.

Today, two-thirds of the country supports a higher minimum wage, but Republicans and Democrats have failed to raise the minimum wage since 2009. The American people have good instincts; they know what is good for them, for the country, and for the world. It is American politicians who have forgotten how to listen, if they ever knew.

The problem is that failure to listen means our leaders do not change their behaviour. Republicans must face the classism, racism, xenophobia, and sexism of their leader. Democrats must face their own history.

The impeachment trial in the Senate is our opportunity to hold both parties to account. Even if it becomes a travesty of a public trial without witnesses in the Senate, the media, citizen’s groups and progressive thinkers can hold hearings, teach-ins and use all means to create public awareness of the issues that matter to us ordinary citizens – human rights in all areas including healthcare and education.

Offensive as he is, Trump advances and represents a clear agenda, and the Senate Republicans will use the impeachment proceedings to remind everyone that the Democrats do not.

Trump represents the interests of a narrow faction of the elite and pads his classism with racist, xenophobic, and sexist appeals. His opposite will be someone who represents the interests of poor and working people, and blends economic justice with anti-racist, anti-xenophobic, and feminist appeals.

Therefore, the progressive Democrats must lead the way while there is still time and construct a larger narrative for the American public. They need to put forward a progressive agenda which will not stop with highlighting Trump’s bad policies, but will present positive policies that will serve the common good.

Chief among these policies has to be the complete elimination of discrimination in every sphere including discrimination against the nonwhite immigrants and undocumented workers. In addition, social and economic policies such as universal healthcare and better access to education for the disadvantaged need to be a central part of this progressive agenda.

Our best hope is that the mainstream Democratic leaders will finally come to their senses and stop prevaricating in the name of sweet moderation.

Failure to seize this opportunity means the victory of Trump’s barbaric agenda. Of course, such an agenda can never be legitimate, but winning an election provides a veneer – they put caged children in front of us and we failed to resist. But resist we must.

Our leaders have so far failed to make clear what is at stake; the trial in the Senate is our opportunity to do so. Either we put Trump’s entire agenda on trial, including Democrat antecedents and complicity, or we sink further into barbarity.

The views expressed in this article are the authors’ own and do not necessarily reflect Al Jazeera’s editorial stance.