TRY AS WE MIGHT, it has proved impossible to prise Donald Trump from the global headlines. The latest instalment of this never-ending soap opera is a second impeachment process, which, theoretically, if successful, would bar him from holding office. At this stage, it’s not likely to succeed. But certainly, it will give some a sense of justice being done: a bad man (and he is that) will be forced into a humiliating confrontation with his crimes, most especially that Capitol attack. So why does this process leave many of us feeling dirty?
Back in 2003, Charles Krauthammer defined “Bush derangement syndrome” as “the acute onset of paranoia in otherwise normal people in reaction to the policies, the presidency — nay — the very existence of George W. Bush.” If the left was guilty of obsession with the person of Bush, consider its fixation on Trump (remembering that, unlike Bush, Trump cannot claim upwards of a million deaths). The Trump fetish was so powerful that swathes of American liberalism reclaimed Bush and his acolytes – those once reviled neocons – as heroes of the #resistance.
Obsession has already produced an earlier impeachment process, which backfired horribly. Trump was always an unpopular President: he won because Americans found Hillary Clinton a tad more unlovable. But by last February, after months of fussing over “Russiagate”, Trump had secured his highest ever poll ratings, with 49 percent of Americans approving his job performance, and (also a record high) 47 percent approving of his handling of foreign affairs. This is easily forgotten, because Trump soon hit the skids, botching the coronavirus then Black Lives Matter. Still, his race with Biden was far closer than it needed to be, because the Democrats still had little to offer but negativity: vote for us, we are not Trump.
This time will be different, many suppose. This time, Trump has whipped up a posse to attack America’s democratic processes. And public opinion now backs impeachment (although see this from David Pratt). Moreover, the argument goes, whereas last time the grounds were tenuous, this time there is real moral purpose: Trump’s unfitness for office is now less about conspiracy theories and more about fact. What could be more concrete and obvious than the Capitol attack? So even if the exercise is futile (it won’t meet the two-thirds Senate majority), justice, at least, is on our side. Something needed to be done.
In truth, what disturbs me here is less the tactics, which may or may not prove fruitful in undermining the Republicans. It’s the fact that the left needs a bogeyman, a single unlikeable enemy, to rouse itself to any type of action. Trump derangement is a product of a political establishment with nothing positive to say and nothing concrete to offer.
It allows the socialist left to crowd in behind Joe Biden, a politician with a rap sheet longer than your arm, and feel morally vindicated, rather than ask tougher questions of itself or define what it stands for. Worse, it feels like the liberal establishment is doing all this because it makes us feel better. And while everyone needs a cheer right now, frankly, this one distracts from the huge political realignments needed to confront successive global crises. This will be our payoff while an old establishment restores itself to power. That’s why, insofar as we enjoy the spectacle, we will always have that dirty feeling.