Let’s assume impeachment comes for Donald Trump and everyone being investigated for their connections to Russia or their interest in covering up Trump and company’s connections to Russia (or, at best, going out of their way to slow down any examination into Trump and Russia) ends up being morally or politically compromised in such way that they’re ultimately unable to govern, though it could come through something seemingly more inane like making up an accusation and leveling it against Obama, as Noah Feldman points out in Bloomberg.
If impeachment comes before the end of the term and goes through to its conclusion, what happens next? Furthermore: what would happen if all this happens after Steve Bannon and diametrically opposed cabinet secretaries actually end up having a degree of success in “deconstructing” the state, the success mitigated by temporary parallel structures
For starters, we need to work towards having a bit of perspective: the United States is not Ireland just having signed the Anglo-Irish Treaty of 1921, thereby beginning the process of transitioning the Emerald Isle from British to Irish rule. A post-impeachment transitional government wouldn’t be saddled with the problem of representing a federal government that does not exist, does not have a depth of structure, or is not already represented with a footprint around the world. The United States is not Somalia post-1991, seeking a degree of internationally imposed stability on instability and chaos wrought by institutional failure, the Jubba Valley Alliance, and others. It is itself.
It’s also important to note the State Department makes a distinction within the world of transitional justice between the notion of lustration and the notion of purging, the former being defined by Eric Brahm as —
Preventing members of the old, abusive regime from holding office in the new government is one way to at least appear to be changing policies. Removing those who operated the repressive state apparatus also provides a psychological break with the past and marks a new chapter in the nation’s history. Lustration is, however, a very blunt instrument of transitional justice. Some observe that while there is nothing wrong with this practice in principle, it has often been implemented in a sub-par fashion by entangling the innocent.
So what can actually be built or established by way of a transition after a Russia investigation has been thorough, prompt and painstakingly honest?
If the ‘worst case scenario’ with the Russians comes true—or, rather, is proven true or false; if impeachment comes and Trump goes—what should the next President do? Follow the path forged by President Karamanlis in Greece in 1974? Raúl Alfonsín in 1983? (Who—in a volume called Transitional Justice—told his interlocutor that he felt like Argentina had to invent how to deal with the injustices committed by the Junta from nothing?)
In the self-same volume, Neil J. Critiz—the volume’s editor—comes up with one proposition: money. “Compensation serves at least three functions in the process of natural reconciliation,” he writes. “First, it aids the victims to manage the material aspect of their loss. Second, it constitutes an official acknowledgement of their pain by the nation. Both of these facilitate the societal reintegration of people who have long been made to suffer in silence. Third, it may deter the state from future abuses, by imposing a cost to such misdeeds.”
In other words: if for instance Michael Cohen—Donald Trump’s personal lawyer—paid off Russian hackers in Prague, it would be worth considering a monetary fine for Cohen reflecting the nature of the crime (though perhaps it would be a slight degree higher than monetary fines that were imposed on financial institutions in the aftermath of the Great Recession). The monetary fine would be of a large enough size that it could—perhaps—be included in the tax returns of every American. Thus someone seeking to undermine the otherwise normal democratic process of the United States would end up paying money to strengthen the livelihood of every person taking part in this representative democracy.
That is one step.
Another step: would the transitional government be charged with punishing Russia based on the recommendations of the 9/11 Commission-styled investigation? How would it be done? Sanctions? The United States temporarily covering Europe’s energy shortfall as the European Union cuts off energy imports from Russia? Would they defer the decision to the next administration? Would they opt to end Putin’s rule? If it’s the latter, what sort of response would that engender? What sort of knock-on effect would that have outside Russia?
One wonders what would happen if there was a cultural exchange program between Charleston, West Virginia and Chelyabinsk, a kind of democratic exchange not at the level of Nixon taking Khrushchev to Disneyland, but of people brought to visit people, because—let’s face it—the international frame isn’t Putin jumping on the media event of Ferguson to highlight the fact that the West is no better than Russia, nor Trump declining to cite America’s superiority to Russia, but in the ability of our citizen’s most human moments having the means and the chance to be shared together.
If a transitional government ever came to pass, it would be nice if the latter point was kept in mind.