Former US ambassador to Ukraine and a career diplomat Marie Yovanovitch put her finger dead on the issue: On the one hand there lay what Trump loyalist Gordan Sondland represented: “he was being involved in a domestic political errand and we were being involved in national-security foreign policy,” she said. On the other side lies the State Department, which “is being hollowed out from within at a competitive and complex time on the world stage.” In other words, at a time of rising competition from Russian and Chinese imperialism, US imperialism needs a layer of trained and tried and true diplomats to look out for its interests, rather than the interests of just one individual, Donald Trump.
That is what these impeachment hearings are really all about. Will US foreign policy be conducted in the interests of the dominant wings of the US capitalist class, or will it be conducted in the interests of one individual – Donald Trump? The fact that this question even has to be asked starkly demonstrates the political crisis of the US capitalist class.
Yovanovitch also explained the importance of Ukraine in geopolitics: “Ukraine is a battleground for great power competition, with a hot war for the control of territory and a hybrid war to control Ukraine’s leadership…. Corruption is also a security issue, because corrupt officials are vulnerable to Moscow. In short, it is in America’s national security interest to help Ukraine transform into a country where the rule of law governs and corruption is held in check,” she said, before directly fingering Vladimir Putin as a beneficiary of the administration’s actions in Ukraine.
Other witnesses at these hearings gave further substance to the crisis:
William P. Taylor
There was William P. Taylor. A West Point graduate, Vietnam vet and a career representative of US capitalism through Democratic and Republican administrations alike, Taylor was recruited by Secretary of State Mike Pompeo as special US envoy to Ukraine after Trump ran Marie Yovanovitch out. In early October, Taylor testified behind closed doors, but his opening statement was released. Taylor testified that before even accepting the position he was concerned about the role of Rudy Giuliani, but that he accepted it because “if your country (that is, US capitalism) asks you to do something, you do it.”
One sidelight of Taylor’s testimony is the fact that, according to him, “the president doesn’t want to provide any assistance at all.” Had that aid not been disbursed by the end of the fiscal year (September 30), the legislative authorization for this aid would have expired, and it couldn’t have been disbursed at all. So, it was not simply a matter of Trump trying to gain some political favors; it was a matter of his resisting aid that would be used to fight Russian-aligned forces. This is entirely in keeping with Trump’s loyalty to Putin, which in turn flows from his history as a money launderer for the Russian oligarchs.
The Democrats conveniently have completely ignored this aspect.
On the issue at hand, Taylor explained that there was a threesome – the “three amigos” (plus one) who were running US policy regarding Ukraine. These were then-Special Envoy Kurt Volker, Ambassador Sondland, Secretary of Energy Rick Perry, plus one – Trump’s personal lawyer Rudy Giuliani.
Among other incidents, Taylor testified to a text message he had sent to EU Ambassador Gordon Sondland asking are “we now saying that security assistance and [a] WH meeting are conditioned on investigations?” Evidently wanting to avoid having any written record, Sondland responded “call me”. “During that phone call, Ambassador Sondland told me that President Trump had told him that he wants President Zelenskyy to state publicly that Ukraine will investigate Burisma and alleged Ukrainian interference in the 2016 U.S. election,” and that both release of the funds as well as a potential White House visit were dependent on this, Taylor testified.
In other words, this witness has proven his loyalty to the US capitalist class, regardless of which party is in office. And this witness has documented that the president is operating outside the norms that have been put in place to try to ensure that the president follows the will of the dominant wings of the US capitalist class.
One of the more interesting witnesses was Fiona Hill, former National Security Council official. The daughter of a coal miner and a nurse, Hill is from a British working class background. On the personal level, her loyalty to the US capitalist class stems in part from the fact that her class background did not prevent her from obtaining a prominent position in the United States. She delivered some of the most damning statements in her testimony:
“Some of you on this committee [i.e. the Republicans] appear to believe that Russia and its security services did not conduct a campaign against our country—and that perhaps, somehow, for some reason, Ukraine did,” Hill said. “This is a fictional narrative that has been perpetrated and propagated by the Russian security services themselves. The unfortunate truth is that Russia was the foreign power that systematically attacked our democratic institutions in 2016.
“President Putin and the Russian security services operate like a super pac,” she said. “They deploy millions of dollars to weaponize our own political opposition research and false narratives. When we are consumed by partisan rancor, we cannot combat these external forces as they seek to divide us against each other, degrade our institutions, and destroy the faith of the American people in our democracy…. We are running out of time to stop them. In the course of this investigation, I would ask that you please not promote politically driven falsehoods that so clearly advance Russian interests.”
She also quoted former Trump appointee John Bolton: “You tell Eisenberg”—John Eisenberg, the N.S.C.’s chief counsel—“that I am not part of whatever drug deal Mulvaney”—Mick Mulvaney, the acting White House chief of staff—“and Sondland”—Gordon Sondland, the Ambassador to the European Union—“are cooking up.”
In effect, what Hill (and Taylor before her) was doing was giving voice to the mainstream of the US capitalist class in its attempt to clamp down on or remove Trump. Under a full-blown bonapartist government, like that of Saddam Hussein for example, people like Hill (and Taylor) would simply have been executed before they got to speak up. But we’re not all the way there yet. (Whether we will get all the way there is another question.)
A witness of a completely different sort was Gordon Sondland. He had served as the Trump-appointed ambassador to the European Union and had gotten that post not as a loyal servant of the US capitalist class as a whole; he was given that political plum in return for his $1 million donation to Trump’s inauguration party. In other words, he was a Trump loyalist.
In his first, closed door, testimony, Sondland simply lied a number of times, figuring that none of the subsequent witnesses would contradict him. When it turned out that he’d figured wrong, he suddenly “remembered” a number of different phone calls.
There were two important aspects to his testimony: First came when he was asked if there was a quid-pro-quo. He replied “the answer is ‘yes’”.
The other issue was this: As with rats and the proverbial sinking ship, a number of high up figures in the Trump administration have tried to distance themselves from the Ukraine scandal. Among those are Mike Pompeo, who is rumored planning to run for the Senate from his home state of Kansas as well as planning to use this as a base to run for the presidency in 2024. Another is VP Pence. Both probably having an eye on a 2024 run for the presidency, they claim to have had nothing to do with this scandal. Specifically referring to these two, however, Sondland testified that “everyone was involved.”
Simply a “battle of the elites”?
Recently, one socialist commented on Facebook “Ukrainegate, like Russiagate, is solely infighting between corrupt elites.” Another commented: “[Impeachment] represents little more than a legalistic form of ruling class rivalry. Taking sides in such rivalries is not the job of the Left. Our job is to oppose the state in toto, not this or that bourgeois politician.”
Such comments imply that nothing basic has changed or is changing in how capitalism rules in the United States. This is a failure to recognize this huge change, as oaklandsocialist has commented on in the past. First and foremost, our job is to understand, starting with an understanding of the crisis within the capitalist class. Substituting the abstract for the concrete does not help in this.
The threat to “the rule of law”, the “constitutional crisis”, which is the Trump presidency, in reality is a challenge to capitalist democracy itself. In other words, the way US capitalism has ruled ever since 1865 (the end of the US Civil War) is starting to shift. The fact that things have gone so far shows the weakness of the mainstream of the US capitalist class itself. This weakness is born of the end of the “American Dream” at home and the challenges to and weakening of US imperialism abroad. In times past, it would have been able to use its media to mobilize a mass outcry against a president like this and had him out of office. They would have either used the “Nixon” strategy or the “Kennedy” one. Now, their base has shrunk enough that they lack the votes for the former and don’t dare use the latter for fear of the enormous open crisis that would result. Blood would literally run in the streets if something “happened” to Trump.
The way this crisis of US capitalism expresses itself also represents a crisis of the US working class, a major portion of whose members voted for Trump. Some of the more conscious workers in the US see the uprisings around the world – Chile, Colombia, Haiti, Lebanon, Sudan, and on and on – and ask when will we have a similar uprising. When will at least a major sector of the US working class come out onto the streets to fight for the interests of workers and the oppressed? One possibility is that this will not happen until after the 2020 elections. In any case, some sort of real shock may be necessary.
Meanwhile, we must struggle to understand the nature of the crisis within our enemy. In that way can we start to help the working class see itself as the future ruling class in the United States.
Since this article was published, the Democrats on the House Intelligence Committee have issued their report on their investigation. As reported by the NY Times, this report completely confirms this analysis. The report says, in part, “The founding fathers prescribed a remedy for a chief executive who places his personal interests above those of the country: impeachment…. ” They say Trump “subverted U.S. foreign policy toward Ukraine and undermined our national security in favor of two politically motivated investigations that would help his presidential re-election campaign.
“Today, we may be witnessing a collision between the power of a remedy meant to curb presidential misconduct and the power of faction determined to defend against the use of that remedy on a president of the same party,” Mr. Schiff wrote. “But perhaps even more corrosive to our democratic system of governance, the president and his allies are making a comprehensive attack on the very idea of fact and truth.”
He added, “How can a democracy survive without acceptance of a common set of experiences?”
The editors of the Wall St. Journal, on the other hand, are caught in a bind. Ever since Trump’s tax cuts bosted profits, they have been in his corner. However, they also recognize that, just as in the case of Trump’s troop withdrawal from Syria (which they condemned), Trump’s games with Ukraine don’t further the interests of US imperialism. So, on the one hand, they mock Adam Schiff. “He is Adam at the bridge of our republic, heroic defender of American democracy,” they write. But they cannot defend Trump’s use of US foreign policy to further his own personal interests, so they add that Trump’s behavior “is not a flattering tale, and it would make a compelling plank in a 2020 campaign indictment of Mr. Trump’s character and poor judgment.”