Scandal Mongering as Anti-Politics
Today brings news that the president shared classified secrets with Russia that had been given to the US by an ally that did not give permission to share such secrets. My social media is lit up with people who hope that this scandal is the scandal that finally brings down the president. This story requires us to believe and support the CIA, not unlike the last scandal, the firing of Comey, that required us to believe and support the FBI. These scandals do not appear to do much to change the order of things, but to allow them to be more stable.
I proposed on Inauguration Day that we ignore Trump the person and fight the political battles. Today, after more than 100 days, I find many many people seem to want to fight Trump on the scandals, and not the political battles. I get it. It seems easier to shut him down by showing him to be ill-fit for the office. But I think there is something characteristically liberal about that approach–liberal in the sense of concerned with procedure and the equal application of the law instead of justice and freedom for those who are oppressed. This approach sidesteps the political work of having to show how every policy and new cancellation of rules hurts poor people, black people, immigrants, LGBT folks, women and the sick and disabled. I worry that this approach makes it seem like the real scandal is the sharing of secrets instead of the moving of wealth to fewer and fewer people. It makes it seem like the real scandal is a president who has no attention span instead of making the lives of more and more people precarious.
I see the charges of fascism and authoritarianism against this president in a similar light. They make the problem less about the policies and more about the procedures. Signs that the president wants the executive branch to be able to act without the checks of the legislative or the judicial branch are rampant in things he says. But, as Corey Robin points out, his failures suggest however much he wants to be tyrant, he hasn’t been able to get much done. Spending our political outrage on the personality of the president–however authoritarian it might be–makes it seem like the problem is not what he wants to do, but how he wants to go about achieving his ends. As if it would be fine if he were better able to work with Congress and the Courts to kill Medicare and cut taxes for the rich.
The political battles in the many forms they take are a slog. The focus on the scandal supposes that we can win the political battles without the political fight. I don’t think we can. Bush didn’t win in 2000 because of Clinton’s scandals. Seeing the scandals come to fruition in the form of impeachment also won’t win the political fight. If the Republicans get tough about this it will only be because they think they can’t win their political battles with this president at the helm. We shouldn’t want them to win those battles, when they include ending the EPA and defunding public education.
We concede too much by supposing that the political battles over whom the community is for and where its resources will go are only secondary to the proper ordering of governmental decisions. That’s really what I mean by politics: the contestation over what the community is and what it should be doing. Efforts that close off that contestation result in preserving the current situation of the community and its aims. That’s why the scandal-mongering does not seem fruitful. A more respectable administration with the same goals as this one will not be a more just and free one. Fighting the regime on the scandals leaves us supposing it would be.