By Chris Fry
The president is an unabashed white supremacist. His racist policies are designed to roll back gains hard-won through incredible struggle. He travels the country spouting the vilest bigotry. His political “base” includes terrorist groups like the Knights of the Golden Circle, the Knights of the White Camellia and, of course, the Ku Klux Klan. Individual Black people are shot down in the streets with impunity. Brutal massacres kill dozens at a time. This president’s policies arouse such outrage among the people that demands for his ouster through impeachment spread from the halls of Congress to most of the country.
The year is not 2019; it is 1868. And the president is not Donald Trump; it is Andrew Johnson.
The squandering of the “Dump Trump” movement
Today, the leadership of the Democratic Party is in a deep quandary entirely of its own making. From day one of Donald Trump’s inauguration, millions of people have poured into the streets to protest against him: from millions of women marching against his crude misogyny, to massive protests against his bigoted anti-Muslim ban, to incredible outrage against his openly racist attacks against migrants that included tearing children away from the arms of their parents and placing them in cages like animals. Trump’s pro-Nazi statements about Charlottesville sent shockwaves of anger and disgust through workers and oppressed across the country.
This massive outrage expressed itself in a huge electoral victory for the Democratic Party in the 2018 elections, where they won control of the House of Representatives. Clearly, ousting Trump through the legal mechanism of impeachment topped the agenda of millions of voters, particularly those from the oppressed communities. This fervor was so deep that even some who called themselves “socialist” ousted the more corporate Democratic politicians and took office.
And what have Nancy Pelosi and Chuck Schumer done with this popular movement to oust Trump, two years before the next election? They narrowed their effort against him entirely to his election campaign’s supposed “collusion with Russia.” They relied entirely on the Mueller investigation from that bastion of repression, the Justice Department (DOJ), to indict Trump. That, they refuse to do.
In the midst of all this, Speaker Pelosi announced that impeachment is “off the table.” She and Senator Schumer held a “friendly” meeting with Trump to discuss an “infrastructure” program, which is, of course, a pipedream that will never happen, but it does show the complete capitulation of the Democratic Party leadership to the Boss Trump regime.
Now the Trump regime shows its complete contempt for its impotent Democratic Party opponents, arrogantly defying all subpoenas for White House witnesses and documents. Instead of launching impeachment hearings based on this defiance, as well as all the racist, sexist, anti-worker, vile Trump policies that are aimed to sweep away all the gains from decades of struggle by the workers and oppressed, the House leaders are meekly announcing plans to going to court to file “contempt citations,” which will accomplish nothing.
They have not even uttered a whisper against Trump’s war threats against Venezuela, Iran, China, Syria or anywhere else.
Like their Republican Party counterparts, these Democratic Party minions of Wall Street corporations and bankers, who are enraptured by Trump’s tax cuts and “deregulation,” are telling the workers and oppressed that we must endure two more years of Trump’s atrocities so that we can finally vote for one of their little army of Democratic candidates.
The treachery of Andrew Johnson
Anti-Trump activists can find some helpful history in the impeachment of President Andrew Johnson, which occurred in February 1868, just a few months before the presidential election.
In the early period of the U.S. Civil War, Karl Marx wrote an article about it for the German newspaper Die Presse, where he stated: “So far, we have only witnessed the first act of the Civil War – the constitutional waging of war. The second act, the revolutionary waging of war, is at hand.”
Marx is describing the agonizingly slow transition of the war from a struggle over whether the U.S. Constitution permitted states to leave the Union to the liberation of four million Black slaves from horrible bondage. The first part of the war saw the Union Army returning escaped slaves to their masters according to existing law. The second part saw the arming of hundreds of thousands of Black soldiers to destroy the slavers’ army, a revolutionary break from that law.
To win Lincoln’s 1864 re-election campaign, the Republican Party dropped abolitionist Vice President Hannibal Hamlin from the ticket. They put on former slave owner Andrew Johnson, the only U.S. Senator from a Confederate state to refuse to leave his senate seat to join the slavers’ rebellion. With the Confederate armies close to collapse, it was thought that this would aid Lincoln’s post-war reconstruction effort.
But within weeks of taking office, with the assassination of President Lincoln, the country soon learned that, just like Trump, Andrew Johnson was totally unfit for that office.
Johnson held the absurd view that the Confederate states never actually left the Union. All the former Confederate leaders had to do was to hold a state convention, select congressmen and senators, and resume holding their seats in Congress. Even though the southern states were still occupied by Union troops, within six weeks of taking office, Johnson allowed southern leaders to reform their state governments.
And, perversely, the infamous “three-fifths” clause in the Constitution that previously gave slave states increased representation for three-fifths of their slave population was now eliminated. These states could count all of the freed slaves to their total population and increase their political representation and power as a result, even though these freed slaves were still unable to vote themselves. Southern states could claim 28 more congressional seats, as well as 28 more electoral votes. All of this came on the heels of the Civil War, which cost the Union more than 640,000 casualties, 360,000 dead, just to see the former slave owners increase their power.
Alexander Stephens, who had been vice president of the Confederate government and who was under indictment for treason, was selected as the senator from Georgia, with Johnson raising no objections to him or any other former Confederate leader.
All the southern state legislatures passed the infamous “black codes,” which denied all rights to the newly-freed Black population. Murderous atrocities, from individual lynchings and shootings to mass murders, erupted throughout the region. In May 1866, white police and firemen ravaged Black neighborhoods in Memphis, killing forty-six Black people and burning hundreds of homes.
In July of the same year, a mob of white police attacked a Black political meeting in New Orleans, murdering 47 and wounding more than a hundred. In a speech, Johnson blamed this attack on the Black victims.
Johnson returned all of the confiscated land of the slave owners that had been distributed to ex-slaves back to their original owners.
Like Trump, Johnson never hesitated to express his white supremacist views. In his December 1867 address to Congress, he declared that “Negroes have shown less capacity for government than any other race of people.” He stressed “[t]he great difference between the two races in physical, mental, and moral characteristics.”
This bigot now had the levers of power to control the reconstruction of the country and decide the fate of four million destitute ex-slaves. The question was then, as it is now with Trump, who is going to stand up to him?
To be concluded in part two.