Part of an ongoing debate: see here for all the contributions
Barrie Hardy in Solidarity 578 makes some not unreasonable points about whether Biden administration should seek to prosecute Trump. I remain unconvinced that it is the job of the left to be the cheerleaders for what would undoubtedly be a media circus of chest-beating and bravado rather than a nail in the coffin of Trumpist thought in the future.
Barrie says that the lesson of the impeachment of President Andrew Johnson in 1868 “is that white supremacists must be made to pay for their crimes”. But Johnson was being impeached for being a white supremacist. The prosecution of Trump, if not the impeachment, is likely to be about his tax affairs, his 2016 election campaign, his payments to Stormy Daniels and a range of crimes that are alleged to have occurred before he was even running for President.
If Trump is prosecuted then it is not the job of the socialist left to cry foul, or defend him, far from it. But to be the enthusiastic supporters of prosecution is a distraction and a distraction that is full of pitfalls, not least that the socialist left should be finding an independent path away from machinations in Washington.
Leaving aside Clinton, the parallel with Trump and Andrew Johnson does not hold up. Johnson’s impeachment, in the aftermath of the Civil War and in the period of Reconstruction, was at a time when the American ruling class were still able to play a historically progressive role. Johnson stood in the way of civil rights and suffrage, and was attempting to reconcile with the old slavocracy.
His attempted impeachment, following his opposition to the 1866 Civil Rights Act and the Reconstruction Acts from 1867-1868, undoubtedly pushed forward the period of Radical Reconstruction. It was an important strand in one of the most egalitarian periods in US history. In that period, until the election of Rutherford B. Hayes in 1877, more was done, and quicker, to achieve some semblance of legal and social equality then was achieved until well over 100 years later. And I agree with Barrie that the defeat of Reconstruction was a reversal in outcomes that is still being fought to this day.
But Democrats now are not defending the same kind of Republic as was at stake then. Biden seems to have little interest in extending democratic norms, and why would he? The “norms” of American democracy have served the Democrats well in the intervening years.
Democrats may have howled with horror when Ford pardoned Nixon, but nothing was done. Obama was under pressure to investigate Bush over torture, but chose not to, and to continue with most of the same “war on terror” politics. No doubt former Vice President Biden has no interest in re-opening those wounds either.
And what of Trump’s base and the appeal for martyrdom that prosecution will bring? Trump has been railing against the supposed plot by the deep state and the establishment to undermine him since he called foul on the Iowa Republican primary before he was the Republican Presidential nominee. He invented the idea of “Crooked Hillary” to suggest there was an ongoing cover-up of crimes committed by the establishment’s choice for President.
The organised left and labour movement should not take responsibility for getting Trump in the dock, no matter what potential fear may be instilled in future candidates. And it is worth reiterating that the most likely areas Trump can be prosecuted for are not the incitement to riot at the Capitol or the Muslim ban, or his white nationalist and racist rhetoric, but tax or his relationship with Roger Stone and Wikileaks.
If those cases do not come to trial, or Trump is found not guilty, then so be it. Defeating the various strands of the movement now left in limbo and, as Thomas Carolan says in Solidarity 577, trying to rebuild the idea of truth in an era where millions of people have bought into lies, and often very dangerous lies, is more of a priority than locking up Trump.