Richard Nixon’s impeachment investigation and resignation have stood tall in the minds of Americans. For many, it is a shining example of American self-correcting institution keeping power in check. Pundits today have drawn comparisons between Nixon's corruption and President Donald Trump, but they are missing one crucial similarity: The establishment had no problem with the worst of Nixon’s crimes just as they ignore the worst of Trump’s crimes.
In the same period the Watergate scandal was in full swing, public advocacy groups managed to uncover a secret FBI program aimed at targeting dissident groups who challenged the status quo. The program was called the Counter Intelligence Project or COINTELPRO and had been going on since 1956, through both Democratic and Republican presidents. Activities included spying on and disrupting activists in the civil rights, environmentalist and anti-war movements. COINTELPRO was responsible for blackmailing Martin Luther King and even the assassination of Black Panther leader, Fred Hampton.
Nixon is remembered for breaking into the Democratic Party headquarters. His downfall was not about abuse of presidential power, it was about using that power to go after the wrong people. The establishment does not care when power is used to go after people who are deemed unimportant. Activists and leftists don’t have political power and are not worth protecting. Democratic Party leaders are a different story.
The Bush administration serves as another important case study. During the Bush years, it became clear that his whole cabal was responsible for war crimes. The CIA set up black sites around the world in order to torture suspects outside the purview of the justice system. The administration outright fabricated evidence in order to push us into an illegal war of aggression that cost hundreds of thousands of lives. When Speaker of the House of Representatives Nancy Pelosi was asked about impeachment then, she called it a “waste of time.” Lying to the American public to justify mass slaughter is easily an impeachable offense. But a global network of torture sites and the near destruction of an entire society are unworthy of serious concern from the power elite. Besides, if CIA torture was put front and center in the American public, Pelosi herself would be implicated as she knew about it as early as 2002.
These are the lessons that brought us into the Trump era. The Russiagate scandal has overshadowed many of the horrible things the Trump administration is actually doing. Despite all of the media buzz and nonstop coverage, the Mueller report found no evidence to support the charge of collusion. Now, Trump has been caught attempting to get a foreign government to investigate the son of a political rival. The fact that Hunter Biden, the son of former Vice President Joe Biden, should definitely be investigated seems to be left out of the discussion. Trump went after the Bidens, and that cannot be forgiven. Now Pelosi has opened an impeachment investigation against the president.
Just as in the Nixon era, no one in the establishment seems to care about the human costs of the Trump presidency. The children dying in cages at the border generated outrage, but certainly no impeachment hearings. When Trump stripped the clean air act, his own Environmental Protection Agency predicted that this would result in 1,400 premature deaths a year due to health issues. Killing 1,400 people through deregulation is business as usual for the establishment, so there was little outcry. Even after Trump was accused of sexual harassment and rape by several women, there was only rhetorical outrage from the Democrats in power.
Trump’s biggest crime of all may be the ongoing support for the Saudi War on Yemen. Tens of thousands have already been killed in school buses, at weddings and in their own homes. Over 80% of the population requires humanitarian aid to survive. Millions of people have been displaced from their homes, and tens of millions are on the brink of starvation. The United Nations describes it as the worst humanitarian crisis in the world. Some observers have suggested this is enough to implicate the United States in war crimes. Congress has repeatedly voted to end U.S. support for the Saudi war, but Trump has vetoed the resolution several times.
It should be noted that the Democrats had very little to say about the same war when Barack Obama was president. Few would even describe continuing the war as an abuse of power, even though the U.N. suggested that backing up the Saudi Regime and providing military support for the war makes the U.S. complicit in war crimes. But no, it is not the dead and starving Yemeni children that merits major action. The impeachment process only began because of a phone call asking a foreign leader to investigate someone who is almost certainly corrupt. This fact should underscore that the establishment is merely a group of corporate-backed bureaucrats who care more about procedure and formality than the lives of actual human beings.
Given that the Senate is Republican-led, a successful House impeachment will amount to little more than a pointed gesture from the House to the president. Though the process is largely symbolic, the fact that it was started by an inappropriate phone call about political rivals should demonstrate the lengths to which the establishment ignores the real crimes of people in power.
Obviously Trump is a vile and corrupt conman, but as long as the establishment elevates trivial misdemeanors and ignores larger offenses against humanity, the true crimes of power will go unseen and unchallenged by the public. Democratic leaders will able to maintain the illusion that they are doing their best to make the world better simply because they are better than the Republicans. The truth is that both parties represent entrenched corporate power that only cares about the lives of ordinary people insofar as it affects their bottom line.