Indeed, 2019 was rich with rupture-climax events. But it might also be said that 2019 was as much the year of the anti-climax--that is, the year that events, long anticipated, finally burst fully ripened. That was, of course, the story of the impeachment of President Trump bu the US House of Representatives. But it was also the case with the decoupling of the Chinese and US economies (and note, not their separation or segregation) marked by rupture at the beginning of the year and a first stage arrangement at its end. This was also the year of Brexit, but not just Brexit but of the metaphor of Brexit fro the great inversions of political affiliation that appeared to affect political communities worldwide. In some sense, this was also the great year of Jew baiting--everyone, it seems, had something to say about the People of Israel, even as their actions usually belied their words. It was also the year of explosions. There were explosions in Hong Kong, in Bolivia, in the UK, and in that stew pot that is Syria-Lebanon. This was also the year of the rise of the core of leadership--in Turkey, Russia, China, the United States, Germany, and France. When one thinks about 2019 in the future, one will think--climax, explosion, rupture, and revelation.
With no objective in particular, this post and a number that follow provides my summary of the slice of 2019 to which I paid attention through epigrams and aphorisms. It follows an end of year tradition I started in 2016 (for those see here), 2017 (for these see here), and 2018 (for those see here).
Share your own!
Ruminations 89: 2019 in Epigrams and Aphorisms:
Ruminations 89(1) (Blasphemies).
Ruminations 89(2) (Cults and Cult Objects).
Ruminations 89(3) (Impeachments).
Ruminations 89(4) (Data, Discretion, and Analytics in the State-Enterprise Complex).
Ruminations 89(5) (The "Jewish Question" as Global Social Ordering)
formerly also empeach, late 14c., empechen, "to impede, hinder, prevent;" early 15c., "cause to be stuck, run (a ship) aground," also "prevent (from doing something)," from Anglo-French empecher, Old French empeechier "to hinder, stop, impede; capture, trap, ensnare" (12c., Modern French empêcher), from Late Latin impedicare "to fetter, catch, entangle," from assimilated form of in- "into, in" (from PIE root *en "in") + Latin pedica "a shackle, fetter," from pes (genitive pedis) "foot" (from PIE root *ped- "foot").
In law, at first in a broad sense, "to accuse, bring charges against" from late 14c.; more specifically, of the king or the House of Commons, "to bring formal accusation of treason or other high crime against (someone)" from mid-15c. The sense of "accuse a public officer of misconduct" had emerged from this by 1560s. The sense shift is perhaps via Medieval Latin confusion of impedicare with Latin impetere "attack, accuse" (see impetus), which is from the Latin verb petere "aim for, rush at" (from PIE root *pet- "to rush, to fly").
The Middle English verb apechen, probably from an Anglo-French variant of the source of impeach, was used from early 14c. in the sense "to accuse (someone), to charge (someone with an offense)." Related: Impeached; impeaching. (Online Etymology)
It is worth considering what follows in the shadow of what the word has, does and will mean.
1. It is not uncommon for the state apparatus itself to be impeached by the people as a core political act; but the state protects its own apparatus through an ideology of law that vests the legitimate power to impeach (like political power) only in itself.
"Protests have been raging across Lebanon for days over proposed new taxes despite assurances by Prime Minister Saad Hariri that his government will work to solve the country's economic crisis. On Friday, the protests devolved into violence in the capital Beirut that saw riot police in vehicles and on foot clashing with demonstrators. . . . Spontaneous anti-government protests erupted late on Thursday in the wake of austerity measures and a slew of new taxes that included charges on WhatsApp calls. The government reversed the tax on WhatsApp calls but the protests have spread to other parts of the country with demand for better living conditions and an end to endemic corruption. . . . The protests, the largest since 2015 'You Stink' campaign, come as the most serious challenge to Hariri's national unity government which came to power less than a year ago." (Lebanon protests: Five things you need to know Cutting across sects and walks of life, Lebanese have hit the streets demanding an overhaul of government institutions).
2. Popular impeachments of the state are to be suppressed as lawless (something chaotic and unmanageable); impeachments within the state apparatus are to be applauded as some sort of apotheosis of law (something orderly and manageable).
"A state of emergency has been declared in the Chilean capital after simmering protests against a rise in metro fares spilled out into widespread vandalism and violence fuelled by rising cost-of-living pressures. As ordained by Chile’s dictatorship-era constitution, the state of emergency will apply to Santiago and can last for 15 days. It grants the government additional powers to restrict citizens’ freedom of movement and their right to assembly. Ominously, soldiers will return to the streets for the first time since an earthquake devastated parts of the country in 2010. “The aim is to ensure public order and the safety of public and private property,” President Sebastián Piñera said in a televised address, “There will be no room for violence in a country with the rule of law at its core.”. . . The latest protests follow grievances over the cost of living, specifically the costs of healthcare, education and public services. Unsatisfied by partial reforms following widespread education protests in 2011, the metro fare rise has proved the spark that has awoken Chile’s formidable student body, according to psychiatrist and writer Marco Antonio de la Parra. . . . On top of social discontent, anger has also been directed at the Carabineros national police force, once one of the country’s most respected institutions but whose reputation has been eroded by corruption scandals and a reputation for brutality, whose heavy-handed repression of protests has also come under the spotlight." (Chile protests: state of emergency declared in Santiago as violence escalates)
3. The difference between popular impeachment and those undertaken by the state (on itself) is the authority of law; but if the authority of law (or its deployment) is itself the object of impeachment then the neutrality of law offers little protection against the strategies of politics.
"You are the ones interfering in America's elections. You are the ones subverting America's Democracy. You are the ones Obstructing Justice. You are the ones bringing pain and suffering to our Republic for your own selfish personal, political, and partisan gain," Trump says in the letter. "You have developed a full-fledged case of what many in the media call Trump Derangement Syndrome and sadly, you will never get over it!" he says. (READ: President Trump Sends Pelosi Letter Protesting 'Partisan Impeachment Crusade').
4. The legalization of impeachment follows an ancient tradition--while the rabble may topple a leader or government through force, elites may achieve the same result through law, producing an outcome that appears to achieve the same outcome in an orderly way but which preserves the structures of the state and conserves resources better used for the maintenance of the political and economic order over which the elite (in today's terms influencers and those embedded within the representation structures of the state) preside; that is what our French and English ancestors taught the world as they deployed the performative power of law as a necessary prelude to the decapitation of their monarchs, preserving the body politic even as they removed the person of an inconvenient or threatening leader.
“If we do not act now, we would be derelict in our duty. It is tragic that the president’s reckless actions make impeachment necessary,” Pelosi said. “He gave us no choice. What we are discussing today is the established fact that the president violated the Constitution.” In making her case for the necessity of impeachment — for the president’s alleged abuse of power and obstruction of Congress — Pelosi invoked America’s framers, saying “great fear of a rogue or corrupt president is the very reason why they enshrined impeachment in the constitution.” (Read: Nancy Pelosi’s opening statement in the House impeachment debate).
5. At just the time that an impeachment quite popular with American elites is occurring, those same elites suggest that impeachment is good for the soul of liberal democracies; yet one wonders whether impeachment liberally applied by political elites to the leaders elected by the masses belies the essence of Western liberal democracy--the fundamental legitimating effect of election; the answer is that election has the same effect in liberal democracies that anointing a monarch had at the time of Mary Stuart, Charles Stuart and Louis Bourbon; it is sacred until the moment that the sword (metaphorically in liberal democracies, usually in the form of law or process) hired () by the elites slice the head off (metaphorically speaking in liberal democracies) of the body so anointed or elected.
President Trump has been raging for months against the impeachment inquiry, calling it an illegitimate coup, a witch hunt, a hoax and a scam to overthrow our democracy. These wild words aside, it’s worth asking whether going through with the constitutional impeachment process will further sap democratic norms. With partisan warfare unlikely to abate for years, it’s tempting to conclude that little good can come from this process. The experience of other democracies, though, points to a different outcome: Impeachment often helps renew a democratic system. In a recent investigation of presidential impeachment in other parts of the world, we found no case in the last 30 years where removal of a chief executive led to a significant erosion of democracy. Elections, basic rights, and the rule of law all survived and prospered. Impeachment, in many cases, acted as a checking function, one elections can’t play. It provided a “hard reset” when a political system had fallen into gridlock because of a lack of public confidence. Impeachment can also re-establish norms of good conduct for office-holders, deterring wrongdoing even if it is unsuccessful in removing a leader. (Opinion: Impeachment has rebooted other democracies stuck in corruption and gridlock).
6. To impeach--to impede, to shackle, to hinder--the wayward leader; that is the form the object of which is the protection of the interests of the patron and their clients, and between amici (friends-allies) of the same social rank. . . . around whose interests the apparatus of state and its operation is organized and narratives invoked; indeed the operative element of impeachment is necessarily both political and moral built around the core element of disloyalty, of a breach of the fundamental obligation of fides (loyalty) to the ruling (not political) leadership collectives.
7. To impeach is redirect elite political agitation into a theater of legal process--the way that chess provides a simulacrum of war, or video games of life--and the control of the leading social forces can be better maintained as against rebellion in its ranks and agitation from below.
"But for those who would like to see Trump ultimately ejected, they will likely be disappointed—two-thirds of the Senate needs to find the president guilty for that to happen and, with Senators expected to vote along partisan lines, the numbers just aren’t there. The numbers aren’t missing just from the Senate, however, they are also conspicuously missing in another venue that, especially in recent years, has played a major role in driving impeachment processes around the world: the street. An impeachment process is not a criminal one, it’s a political one. So although members of Congress are supposed to be voting whether or not the evidence is there to convince them the president did something wrong, in actuality they will likely be voting on whether or not it’s politically expedient for them. Will a vote to remove Trump hurt their political standing? Or their reelection chances? Even some moderate Democrats are thinking hard about this. It’s why large-scale protests can have an impact on impeachments. If politicians think the public is behind the removal of a head of state, they are more likely to vote for removal. There is no shortage of examples among presidential democracies in the last few decades where protests drove impeachment processes. The United States is the notable exception." (Impeachment succeeds best when coupled with mass protests; also Democratic Groups Plot to Make Impeachment Trial Painful for GOP: EVERYBODY HURTS, “We’ve got a few million to put pressure on senators to do the right thing,” one strategist tells The Daily Beast).
8. It is always error to focus impeachment on those who are its purported targets; to impeach is to wield sovereign power, to be admitted within that small group of personages empowered to act not just for the state but for the society they purport to represent; to impeach is to recognize the power of those admitted to that small group who matter for impeachment--it is a sign that a person (or a group) has arrived at the center of social and political power; to participate is to be formally acknowledged as a part of the vanguard in whose leadership rests the political and social power of the state.
"On paper, the impeachment debate fought bitterly on the House floor looks like a straight-up partisan clash, with Republicans dutifully using the president's own buzz phrases to defend him and Democrats just as passionately saying President Donald Trump violated his oath of office and sold out his country. But in person, the difference is as much visual as it is ideological. One one side of the House chamber sit the Republicans, a sea of white, male faces and neutral-colored suits. On the other side is color – reflected both in the faces of the more racially and ethnically diverse Democratic Party and in the colorful dresses and suits of its female members." (The White Men Defending Trump From Impeachment: Trump’s House GOP defenders resembled his base; also Who’s holding the impeachment hearings? Meet the House Intelligence Committee: Backgrounds vary on Intelligence Committee looking at impeachment of Trump).9. To impeach is to entangle, and there is no more delectably ironic entanglement than when those in the business of knowledge production themselves become objects of that production; such entanglement affirms their positions as the peripheral pampered (and rewarded) productive forces of elite power in whose circles they may be permitted to entertain as long as they (or their status) are useful but which cements their own positions within their own status universes; these are the ultimate rational actors.
"Appearing on Wednesday were professors Noah Feldman of Harvard Law School; Pamela Karlan of Stanford University; Michael Gerhardt of the University of North Carolina; and Jonathan Turley of George Washington University Law School. The witnesses detailed the historical context of the Constitutional Convention and vision of George Washington, Alexander Hamilton and other early U.S. luminaries as it pertained to their discussions about including impeachment in the Constitution. Feldman, Karlan and Gerhardt agreed that the Constitution's "high crimes and misdemeanors" framework fits today in connection with Trump's actions in the Ukraine affair. Karlan said she had reviewed the material collected by Congress and was convinced about how far outside the bounds she said Trump has strayed. "Everything I read on those occasions tells me that when President Trump invited — indeed demanded — foreign involvement in our upcoming election, he struck at the very heart of what makes this a republic to which we pledge allegiance," she said. The case is so clear, the first three professors said, that lawmakers can't not continue to pursue impeachment. "If Congress fails to impeach here, then the impeachment process has lost all meaning and, along with that, our Constitution's carefully crafted safeguards against the establishment of a king on American soil," Gerhardt warned. Turley, however, said the case remains incomplete with evidence not yet obtained and witnesses not yet deposed. He also rejected the idea that Trump had obstructed Congress by asking courts to bar witness testimony or documents. The president has that right and the courts have that role, Turley argued, and if Congress resorts to impeachment, it will be the one to have abused its power under the Constitution, he said — not the president. Turley also invoked the example of a few radical Republicans in the case of President Andrew Johnson — the first chief executive who was impeached — who did not vote to remove the president because they felt the case was weak, even though their compatriots were exhorting them to do so. "To impeach a president on this record would expose every future president to the same type of inchoate impeachment," Turley said. "Principle often takes us to a place where we would prefer not to be." (Judiciary Committee Takes Up Impeachment In Hearing With Legal Scholars).10. Whether as an exercise of power by elites (and their vassals) or by popular agitation (whether or not managed from above), the political to impeach is to cause the ship of state aground; a ship grounded for even the best of reasons may be put right but it will not be the same again; the rest is irony and nostalgia.
"Paul Cartledge, a Cambridge University historian and author of "Democracy: A Life," says that democracy is clearly going through a "bad patch" and is under threat, but the world isn't on the verge of a new wave of fascism. "A lot of people have voted in certain ways because they feel that the gap between themselves and those in power is too big, and they want someone to come in from the outside and smash through. It's just been disastrous," he told CNN. 'But I think this period will wake people up," he said. "In 10 years from now, I think we'll see some change.'" (Democracy has taken a detour this century. Can it get back on track? ).
11. The state cannot be impeached, though it can be run aground; for leadership collectives such impeachment ought to blend seamlessly into accountability; but instead it turns into an indictment of those who would indict them.
"Amnesty International said Dec. 16 that at least 304 people were killed in last month’s anti-government protests in Iran, a significantly higher number than what the rights group had reported previously. The protests, which lasted about four days in several cities and towns in Iran in November, were sparked by a sharp rise in gasoline prices. During the violence and in the days that followed, Iranian authorities blocked access to the internet." (At Least 304 Killed in Iran Protests, Amnesty International Says). "In analyzing the data, this brief makes several arguments. First, while protests in Iran are not new, the number and breadth of protests today are significant compared to previous years. Since late 2017, there have been hundreds of small protests per month led by a range of networks from shopkeepers to students to truckers. They have protested about economic conditions, environmental issues, political grievances, and cultural issues. Second, however, these protests are unlikely to threaten the survival of the regime—at least at the moment. Though galvanized by Lebanese and Iraqi protests, the Iranian protest movement remains fractured and lacks central leadership, and the regime’s security and intelligence forces are strong. The capabilities of Iran’s police forces have improved since the 2009 Green Movement, and the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) and Basij can act as surge forces if protests intensify and spread." (Iran’s Protests and the Threat to Domestic Stability).
"A CIA agent was the "main projector" of deadly demonstrations in Iran with assistance from Israel and Saudi Arabia, the country's chief prosecutor alleged on Thursday. Planning for the plot - dubbed "Consequential Convergence Doctrine" - was initiated four years ago by an operative from the Central Intelligence Agency, Iran's prosecutor Mohammad Jafar Montazeri was quoted by the state-run IRNA news agency as saying. The CIA operative and an agent affiliated with Israel's Mossad intelligence agency were in charge of masterminding the unrest, while Saudi Arabia paid for all the expenses, he said." (Iran prosecutor blames CIA, Israel, Saudi for protests; see also "Black Hand [黑手]/ Red List [红名单]: China, Law and the Foreigner ; Mutual Engagements on a Global Scale.").