Introduction: Thinking Impeachment Outside the Mueller Box
If ever a US president deserved impeachment, it's Donald Trump. Right after Trump's inauguration, even before Robert Mueller launched his investigation, Free Speech for People and Roots Action had launched a petition campaign demanding Trump be impeached on the very solid legal ground of his violations of the US Constitution's domestic and foreign emoluments clauses.
Considering how the prohibitive cost of national election campaigns makes billionaires likelier than ever to run for president, dusting off the Constitution's wise if forgotten emoluments provisions seems crucial to ensuring future billionaire presidents (if we're foolish enough to elect any) don't let personal business interests "trump" their loyalty to the nation's good. Given Trump's notorious corruption --he even used his grasp of political corruption as a campaign selling point--impeaching Trump over emoluments seemed a prudent way to make presumptuous political neophyte billionaires think twice about ever running again, given the high personal cost of divestment from business interests our Constitution pretty clearly demands.
Wise and constitutionally solid as an emoluments-based impeachment seems, Congress--and most to the point, Congressional Democrats--never were the least bit interested in that sound anti-corruption approach. Not that it was the only publicly supported basis for impeaching Trump available. To date, Free Speech for People and RootsAction have complied almost 1.5 million signatures on their joint Impeach Trump Now petition, which now lists a host of solid grounds for impeachment beyond Trump's blatant violations of the Constitution's domestic and foreign emoluments clauses.
Seeking to spread the widest net for public support in their grounds for impeachment, Impeach Trump Now's initiators have included reasons stemming from the Mueller report in their list. While some of those grounds may be legally sound, including them strikes me as politically imprudent and potentially self-defeating for the cause of impeachment. Why? Because the Democratic Party establishment and their servile corporate media reprehensibly warped the Mueller investigation into an obsessive "Russian collusion" witch hunt, thereby grievously harming Democrats' public image, their prospects of impeaching Trump, and even their chances of winning the 2020 election. If establishment Democrats gain control of the impeachment narrative, their self-serving, voter-wearying Russiagate tale will likely crowd out far more compelling reasons for impeaching Trump--more dramatic, groundbreaking reasons that could inflict irreparable electoral harm on Republicans in 2020 and beyond.
By far the most dramatic and easy-to-establish reason--one that won't mire Congress in endless, tedious months of beating the Russian dead horse (or bear)--is Trump's beyond-criminal climate policy. And Democrats can easily enhance the riveting, newsmaking drama of that impeachment basis by proper charge framing: there are compelling, intellectually solid reasons to stigmatize Trump's most grievous misdeed as climate terrorism.
By boldly framing Trump's most destructive policy as "climate terrorism," Democrats could reverse the impression given by their failed witch hunt for Russian collusion that they're focused on grievances as low-priority to voters as Trump's navel lint while he inflicts unprecedented, irreparable harm on human civilization in plain sight.
By focusing on climate terrorism--by far the most radical way of "thinking outside the Mueller box"--Democrats could prove to voters that they care more about the common good than self-serving partisan priorities like the Russiagate narrative. Given the extremely short timetable for climate action, the entire future of civilization probably depends on Democrats convincing voters that climate-denying Republicans are intolerably bad news. Given how horribly Democrats have botched this urgent task of persuasion to date, a fresh, dramatic messaging strategy--like the one I propose here--will surely be required.
Exploiting Republicans' Most Suicidal Gamble
As journalist Allan Nairn brilliantly explained nearly a year before Mueller released his report, Democrats made an insanely risky gamble in pinning virtually their entire anti-Trump case on Russian collusion. For our purposes, I'll quote a whole prescient passage from Nairn's Intercept interview here (emphasis mine):
Look, Trump is a guy who's guilty of almost everything, in a meaningful sense. Yet, here, the Democrats have pinned the political future of the world on nailing him for the one thing of which he may in fact be innocent: Russia collusion. I mean, he's guilty of just about everything else. But maybe there is no hard proof of Russia collusion. And my God, what a bitter, disgusting irony that would be if the whole edifice of opposition to Trump comes crashing down, if that speculative bet that that can be proven fails to pay off. It's irresponsible to devote the majority of your political resources to that when so many other things are more substantively important, and also beyond debate.
One thing that's far more substantively important--and beyond debate in the face of humanity's climate emergency--is the criminal insanity of Trump's climate policy. Which is essentially everyday Republican climate policy on steroids. Again, Nairn gives us a crystalline intellectual lens for grasping Trump's exacerbation of normally extremist Republican tendencies . Nairn's Intercept interview is fittingly titled "Allan Nairn on How Trump Dragged a Rightist Revolution to Power."
Nairn's word dragged, when combined with his phrase rightist revolution, couldn't possibly be more insightful. As Nairn points out, Republicans' agenda--an extremist oligarch agenda put into play roughly around 1980--is so contrary to the interests of ordinary voters and therefore so unpopular it couldn't possibly win democratic elections on its own merits. So in part, Republicans have had to rely on an antiquated, anti-democratic Electoral College and Senate (which radically overrepresents small rural states), red-state voter suppression laws, district gerrymandering, and democracy-crushing court appointees to maintain any grip on power.
But they've also had to rely on demagogues who pander to the worst tendencies in their non-oligarch base. Trump is by far the most dangerous and despicable of such demagogues, exploiting every yahoo tendency in average people that democracy's elitist critics go spasmodic over. While Nairn rightly emphasizes racism, he fails to mention a dangerous, resentful anti-intellectualism that castrates every worthwhile impulse in democracy. If democracy is about developing human potential to its fullest (and electing capable leaders), average people need to admire the intellectual quest for truth and cultivate the budding intellectual in themselves.
Trump's unrelenting attack on climate science is yahoo anti-intellectualism at its worst and most dangerous. In its unprecedented potential for apocalyptic global harm, and its roots--like all terrorism--in irrational, extremist ideologies, Trump's catastrophic environmental policy fully deserves the name of climate terrorism. Trump's policies flow directly from extremist Republican market fundamentalism and yahoo science denial, elevated to the status of a fanatical religious cult. In the case of Trump's vice-president Mike Pence, the fanaticism is literally religious.
By making an extremist bet against science itself--and therefore against reality-- Republicans have unwittingly staked their future on a gamble even more suicidal than Democrats' self-destructive Russiagate obsession. Since science is humanity's most provably reliable tool for grasping the nature of reality itself, reality itself will gradually, inevitably avenge the suicidal folly of betting against science. While average people regrettably harbor yahoo anti-intellectual tendencies, those tendencies can't overthrow the direct evidence of their senses--especially when that evidence is accompanied by real physical danger and pain. Nature itself, via unprecedented wildfires, floods, tornadoes, and hurricanes, is now making far more convincing climatology arguments to average people than any "lab-coated egghead" ever could. By denying verifiable reality, Republicans have--wittingly or unwittingly--chosen political suicide. What's at stake in 2020 is either suicide for a criminally insane party--led by a Climate-Terrorist-in-Chief--or for civilization as we know it.