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Impeachment, Electoral Uncertainty, and Class Struggle

Where is the impeachment inquiry going and what does it have to do with class struggle?

Ana Rivera

October 10, 2019
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The impeachment proceedings begun by Congress have created a political crisis, one that has overshadowed other political issues of the 2020 presidential race.  Meanwhile, President Trump struggles with his approval ratings; he is in a position of trying to consolidate his base with polls indicating a tight 2020 race regardless of the Democratic nominee. Democrats are aligned in a corporate defense of one of the establishment’s candidates. Joe Biden is losing influence while Elizabeth Warren is gaining momentum. Behind the curtain, the political regime and its parties are in crisis as the working class and youth increasingly engage in struggle.

Congress finally declared the beginning of the investigation that could lead to Trump’s impeachment and, eventually, to his recall, though that scenario seems unlikely. The investigation began, but the charge has yet to advance in the House of Representatives. If approved, the president’s removal would take two-thirds of the Senate, where the Republican Party has the majority.

The phone call that triggered the scandal occurred July 25. In it, the U.S. president urged the president of Ukraine, Volodymyr Zelensky, to investigate Joe Biden’s son. Hunter Biden has been linked to the gas company, Burisma Capital, in Ukraine. In Trump’s words, the investigation would be a “favor” to the United States to “fight corruption” in the country. Immediately after, the White House classified the call as confidential, which is only allowed, in theory, for information that is central to national security. 

Although the political crisis was triggered by an intelligence agent’s revelation about the call and its cover-up by the government, Washington’s pressure on Ukraine goes back a long way. For months, Trump’s lawyer, Rudy Giuliani, has been meeting with members of the Ukrainian government. Ukraine’s objective was to visit the White House and reestablish U.S. military aid, which had been frozen; Giuliani’s objective was to obtain a public statement implicating the Bidens in acts of corruption in the midst of the electoral process. Ukraine, one of the poorest countries in Europe, has a suffocating economic dependence on the IMF, the United States, and the European Union, especially since the Crimean crisis in 2014. This makes the government of former comedian Zelensky a complete puppet of imperialism, regardless of the fact that he won the elections with rhetoric against corruption and the political establishment.

Hunter Biden was a member of Burisma’s board of directors until April. He became a member in 2014, after the departure of then-President Viktor Yanukovych, an ally of Russia. Joe Biden, who intervened for the U.S. government in the Ukrainian conflict, pressured the attorney general’s exit at the time. Burisma was repeatedly accused of fraud and corruption, but the investigations were never concluded. Now the Ukrainian Attorney General’s Office announced that it will investigate the gas company, but will do so as part of a larger investigation into companies that have been accused of corruption.

After long resisting the calls for impeachment from the progressive wing of the Democratic Party, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi announced that proceedings would begin. Pelosi had opposed impeaching the president because she thought it would divide Congress and the Democratic Party itself, which would be particularly threatening in the context of the presidential race. Impeachment has been used only three times in U.S. history, and it has never resulted in a recall. An attempt had already been made, unsuccessfully, to investigate whether Russia intervened in the 2016 elections. But the Ukraine case is more concrete and easier to investigate. In addition, the news of a new whistleblower with information to be presented to the congressional investigation shows that the intelligence services will continue to be players in the electoral campaign.

The decision to push the impeachment now represents both the Democrats’ electoral calculation for 2020 and the closing of the Democratic ranks. The Democrats had to push for a political trial in order to recover some of the lost initiative and to counter Trump’s attacks. But also behind Pelosi and the Democratic Party’s resistance to impeachment is the need to protect the presidential system and the  political institutions whose legitimacy is increasingly under question. The wear and tear and rejection of capitalist democracy continue to deepen; the majority feels that it represents only the political and financial elite and is alien to their own interests. It is on this basis that Trump won the last presidential election, portraying himself as an anti-establishment “outsider” and winning the support of sectors who were disappointed with the Democrats and facing growing economic problems.

Today, Trump’s administration faces its lowest approval ratings since 2017. Disappointment has reached the agricultural bourgeoisie affected by the trade war with China. The trade war has critically reduced the export of soybeans and other crops, as well as the oil tax exemptions, causing a crisis for ethanol producers. Although Trump still retains important support, there is growing disapproval and uncertainty in this key sector of his electoral base. Discontent has also grown among manufacturing workers, who turned against Hillary Clinton in the last election: Trump promised to keep jobs threatened by the economic crisis, as well as change to trade policy, which was a key to flipping the vote of this traditionally Democratic sector. But failed promises and concerns about employment, health care costs, housing, and wages could drive them away from the Republicans. Nevertheless, Trump maintains an important political base and has managed to hegemonize the Republican Party—a better position when compared to the divided Democratic opposition.

For this reason several analysts consider impeachment a double-edged sword for the Democratic Party: by occupying the center of the electoral arena, it could displace the campaign agenda that could strengthen them—one focused on health care, employment, and salaries. It was this agenda, more popular and focused on the defense of Obamacare, that helped the Democrats win the legislative elections in 2018.

With the race for internal elections, big questions come up. Though it has managed to unify the Democrats’ different wings in defense of Joe Biden, the Ukrainian scandal has hurt the chances of the former vice president, who until now was the favorite in the Democratic race. He has now dropped to second place behind Elizabeth Warren. The political capital of the Obama administration represented by Biden does not seem to be strong enough to counteract the discrediting of the political establishment, which appears corrupt and distant from the masses. Knowing this, Trump doubled down and publicly declared that Ukraine and China should investigate Hunter Biden; with this, he seeks to encourage his own base and show a supposedly corrupt conspiracy of the Democrats and the big media against his government. An example of this was the outburst of a Reuters journalist during a press conference with the president of Finland. The president’s favorite game is to use any possible circumstance as an opportunity to rant against an alleged coup against him, thus mobilizing his most radicalized base. He obtained more than $8 million in donations in the week in which the impeachment was announced, including 50,000 new donors who had not contributed to his campaign in the previous election. But is the media show enough to regain the lost support of the critical sectors that brought Trump to the White House?

Another crucial factor in the coming election is the vote of the Hispanic population, which has largely rejected Trump for his immigration policies and racism, as well as for the cost of living, especially the cost of health care. Democratic candidates, on the other hand, would reap the most support from Hispanics, who favor Biden and Sanders. This situation complicates Trump’ prospects in key states like Texas, where today he would lose the election and where the Republican Party would lose for the first time in more than 40 years.

Democrats are struggling to win back the vote of the working class, whose rejection of the 2016 campaign cost them the presidency. Although Biden is the Democratic candidate with the highest electoral base among white workers in skilled employment, he is also the one most likely to be affected by the Ukraine crisis and impeachment. For months now, Biden has been gradually falling back in the polls; the latest polls place Warren as the favorite of the Democratic primary for the first time. 

The senator has her greatest support in white, middle-class, college-educated sectors, attracting the support of the women who voted for Hillary Clinton. Bernie Sanders’ vote has a bigger composition of Hispanics, unionized workers, and young people. With Biden on the spot in the Ukrainian case, however, Warren benefits most in the Democratic primary. She can gain ground with Sanders’ voters, among whom she is generally popular, and she can show herself as a candidate with a better chance of winning against Trump. To achieve this, Warren has adopted several of Sanders’ proposals, such as those related to the health system or a Green New Deal, although Sanders’ voters are skeptical that Warren, with a much less radical discourse, will take serious measures on the minimum wage, free university tuition, or the fight against climate change. If Warren effectively remains the favorite and wins the Democratic primary, Sanders would have to capitalize on the discontent of his base to encourage a lesser-evil vote against Trump to get her to the White House. Wall Street operators and businessmen like Mark Zuckerberg have been worried about Warren’s redistribution promises. She has claimed that she will only redistribute the income of the richest 1% and that capitalist stability is not at risk.

What is remarkable is the importance that the problems of the working class have gained during this campaign. In this context, one can read the support of the Democratic candidates for the historic strike of the General Motors workers. Joe Biden, Sanders, and Warren all expressed their support for the UAW workers’ demands, while Republicans have avoided the issue as much as possible. The strike also challenged Trump’s anti-union policy by putting the power of the organized working class back on the scene. This represents a problem for the president, since the auto workers were among those who turned the balance in his favor in 2016, in repudiation of Clinton. In an effort to make the decrepit Democratic Party more attractive, the progressive wing has addressed workers and youth: Warren, the most acceptable progressive for the establishment, announced her presidential candidacy in Lawrence, Massachusetts, the site of the 1912 “Bread and Roses” strike, and more recently, at a rally in New York, spoke about the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory fire, in which 146 women workers died. With the memory of these events, Warren was seeking to develop the rhetoric of a grassroots movement that would bring her to the presidency. For his part, Sanders has repeatedly insisted on the power of the unions and their historic importance for the conquests of the working class in the United States. This pro-worker rhetoric does not stop Warren and Sanders, however, from closing ranks with Biden and the Democratic Party elite. Nor have they opened the discussion on impeachment to the workers and youth, keeping it limited to the narrow, parliamentary ground. In this way, they keep the focus of the discussion on Trump and not on corruption and the privileges of the political caste.

There is a contradiction in this pro-worker rhetoric in the midst of an electoral race: it encourages the confidence of the workers and the youth in their own forces, with the potential that it can also lead to them seeing the limits of reformism of the left wing of the Democratic Party. The strikes of the strategic sector of GM workers, of the nurses, the teachers, as well as the thousands of young people who took to the streets in the climate change strike, are events that may be indicating a new stage of class struggle in the United States. Although the trade union bureaucracy has no interest in organizing the black working class, immigrants, and working women, who suffer most under U.S. imperialism, the alliance of these sectors could become the nightmare of the bourgeoisie. There is an imminent world economic recession and deep political polarization, a renewed interest in socialism and growing awareness that capitalism offers the youth only a dismal future. In this context, the political battles for the independence of the working class and the organization of its most oppressed sectors will become crucial.

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