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Volodymyr Zelensky and Donald Trump

Volodymyr Zelensky and Donald Trump, September 2019. Photo: The Presidential Office of Ukraine

Impeachment hearings imperil Trump’s presidency, but we cannot rely on impeachment hearings to defeat the politics of Donald Trump, argues Sean Ledwith

When former FBI Director Robert Mueller’s report into alleged collusion between Trump and the Kremlin was published last April, the President probably thought he was safe from the threat of impeachment – in his first term at least. The Mueller report failed to identify a smoking gun that Trump’s congressional opponents could point to as clear evidence of his unfitness for office. Having climbed out of that hole, however, the President has promptly found another and jumped straight down it. Last week the top Democrat in the House, Nancy Pelosi, commenced impeachment proceedings against Trump for another misdemeanour involving a foreign head of state.

This time Trump is accused of seeking to pressure the Ukrainian President, Volodymyr Zelensky, into digging for dirt on Trump’s possible rival for the White House next year, former Vice President Joe Biden. Conspiring with a foreign leader to impugn another US politician for electoral purposes is a blatant subversion of constitutional norms and makes Trump far more vulnerable to impeachment in this case compared to the unsubstantiated rumours that prompted the Mueller investigation.  In response, the White House released a summary transcript of the phone conversation in question last week which hardly exonerates Trump. The crucial exchange between the two Presidents took place as part of a 30-minute call on the 25th July this year: 

'Zelensky: I would also like to thank you for your great support in the area of defense. We are ready to continue to cooperate for the next steps, specifically we are almost ready to buy more Javelins from the United States for defense purposes.

Trump: I would like you to do us a favor though because our country has been through a lot and Ukraine knows a lot about it . . . There's a lot of talk about Biden's son, that Biden stopped the prosecution and a lot of people want to find out about that so whatever you can do with the Attorney General would be great. Biden went around bragging that he stopped the prosecution so if you can look into it . . .  It sounds horrible to me.'

Trump’s characteristically brazen response suggests he understands that his political appeal relies upon posturing as an anti-establishment outsider.  This demonstrates that the impeachment hearings, pursued by the political elite at the top of the Democrat Party, cannot substitute for a genuinely anti-establishment mass movement to discredit the politics of Donald Trump.  

Lockdown

The conversation, however, exposes Trump as little better than an old-style mafia boss trying to extort a commitment from an underling in exchange for weapons – in this case 400 billion dollars’ worth of weapons.  It is obvious that others in the White House had immediately recognised the toxic nature of this conversation as measures were initially taken soon after to lockdown the transcript in a secure electronic file, normally reserved for information pertaining to national security. 

The problem for Trump is that this conversation is clearly nothing to do with national security and exposes him as using defence contracts with Ukraine as a bargaining chip to obtain electoral advantage over another member of the US political establishment. The transcript has only come to light thanks to the courageous action of a whistle-blower, presumably in the White House, who was not prepared to turn a blind eye to Trump’s chicanery. 

Trump’s defence is not helped by the fact that earlier this year he openly admitted in an interview with CNN’s George Stephanopoulos that he would be willing to use information supplied by a foreign state if it helped him win an election:

'Stephanopoulos: Your campaign this time around, if foreigners, if Russia, if China, if someone else offers you information on opponents, should they accept it or should they call the FBI?

Trump: I think maybe you do both. I think you might want to listen. I don’t- There’s nothing wrong with listening. If somebody called from a country — Norway – “We have information on your opponent.” Oh. I think I’d want to hear it.'

Jokers

In the first round of impeachment hearings last week, the chair of the House Intelligence Committee, Adam Schiff, described the transcript as ‘the most graphic evidence yet that the president of the United States has betrayed his oath of office.’ Predictably, Trump’s response to the mounting crisis has been rambling and incoherent. In an excruciatingly awkward public meeting between the two leaders at the UN on 25 September, Zelensky (a former comedian) tried to joke his way out of the mess, quipping: ‘A great pleasure for me to be here and it’s better to be on TV than by phone.’ 

Characteristically, his US counterpart responded in surreal fashion with crass and irrelevant comments about a Miss Universe pageant in the Ukraine whilst unconvincingly maintaining that the infamous conversation in July did not contain anything inappropriate: ‘There was no pressure and you know — by the way, you know there was no pressure. All you have to do is see it, what went on on the call but you know that but you can ask the question and I appreciate the answer.’ 

Subsequently, it has emerged that Trump tried to pressurise Zelensky eight times during that conversation to investigate Biden Jnr. 

Since the scandal erupted, Trump has adopted his usual reaction to a precarious position by throwing petrol on the fire. As ever, hyperbole is his knee-jerk response, tweeting that the allegation of malpractice is ‘THE GREATEST SCAM IN THE HISTORY OF AMERICAN POLITICS!’ Presumably bigger than Watergate, Irangate or the Teapot Dome scandal! 

Then, in a thinly veiled and wholly unconstitutional threat to the whistleblower, he reminisced about how the US used to deal with such individuals in a bygone era: ‘I want to know who’s the person, who’s the person who gave the whistleblower the information? Because that’s close to a spy. You know what we used to do in the old days when we were smart?’ 

Limitations

Trump’s dealings with Ukraine may signal the hubristic end of his presidency and if that turns out to be the case there will be rejoicing by all those who have campaigned against his reactionary, racist and misogynistic agenda.  But it would be wrong to rely on the top of the Democrat Party to defeat the politics of Trump.  

Indeed, the Democrats’ own Ukrainian connection should not be overlooked. That Hunter Biden was able to take up a senior position in 2014 as a corporate lawyer for the biggest gas company in the former Soviet republic was probably not hindered by the fact that his dad was the serving Vice President of the US. Earlier this year, Biden Jnr left his post with Burisma Holdings having ‘earned’ $850 000. Those who look to his father to provide an alternative to Trump’s glorification of greed in next year’s presidential race should certainly have a re-think.

Moreover, it was the discredited politics of the top Democrats, personified by Hilary Clinton, that led to Trump’s victory in the first place – with Trump portraying himself as standing up to the establishment.  Defeating Trump’s politics, then, requires that we do not rely on the top of the Democratic Party, but on a mass mobilisation of the widespread opposition to him which can discredit his fake anti-establishment posturing and demand instead radical social change.  

Tagged under: Ukraine The Democrats Trump
Sean Ledwith

Sean Ledwith

Sean Ledwith is a Counterfire member and Lecturer in History and Sociology at York College, where he is also UCU branch secretary. Sean is also a regular contributor to Marx and Philosophy Review of Books and Culture Matters

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