Ukrainegate Is All About a Personal Benefit

Erin Scott/CNP via ZUMA

For indispensable reporting on the coronavirus crisis, the election, and more, subscribe to the Mother Jones Daily newsletter.

Scott Jennings, a longtime Republican political operative, writes in the LA Times today about Donald Trump: “We aren’t being willfully blind. We’re not liars or hypocrites. We haven’t abandoned our ethical standards. We do, however, have concerns about what’s driving this impeachment and whether the proposed punishment fits the alleged infraction.” Most of these concerns boil down to the fact that Democrats have disliked Trump from the very start.

Fine. Whatever. But a bit later Jennings gets to the heart of the impeachment charges against Trump:

And then there’s the matter of the Ukrainian aid. Republicans perceive Democrats as simply ignoring the long history of administrations using aid to reward or punish foreign governments for their actions.

This is it. The big difference between Trump and Biden—and everyone else—is that Trump used military aid as a way to extort a personal benefit from Ukraine. That’s the start and the finish of the whole thing. If he had used military aid as bait to get Ukraine to fall in line with American interests in one way or another, no one would have blinked.¹

But he didn’t. He used the aid as bait to get a personal favor from Ukraine: namely an investigation into an opponent in a presidential campaign. That’s as plain an example of abuse of power as you could imagine. And after he was caught, Trump didn’t apologize or promise not to do it again or anything like that. He conducted a scorched-earth attack that left Democrats with no choice but to impeach.

I should know: I’m one of them. Lots of my fellow liberals have been calling for Trump’s impeachment practically since he was elected. I haven’t. As much as I loathe the man, I didn’t think he had done any single truly impeachable thing, and I also wasn’t sure that impeachment was politically wise anyway. Then came Ukraine. I continued to think that impeachment might be politically unwise, but it took only a few weeks for the question of whether Trump’s actions were impeachable to become obvious. Of course they were. Secretly withholding congressionally-approved military aid in return for a personal benefit? Putting responsibility for this in the hands of his personal lawyer instead of US diplomats? Instructing aides to lie to Congress about what was going on? Politically wise or not, of course Trump had to be impeached over this. It would be both cowardly and a mockery of the Constitution to do otherwise.

But this all hangs on the fact that Trump’s price was personal, not national. This is the thing that I suspect hardly anyone really gets.² Investigating a campaign opponent is a personal benefit. In an autocracy, campaigns are treated as mere appendages of governing, but in democracies they aren’t. We’re a democracy.

¹Jennings tries to pretend that Joe Biden did the same thing, withholding aid to Ukraine in return for firing a prosecutor who was investigating Hunter Biden. This is simply a lie. Biden was publicly carrying out US policy which was supported by the president, the State Department, and virtually all of Europe.

²Not us political junkies, of course. I’m talking about the other 99 percent of the country.

SIX TRUTHS

Reclaiming power from those who abuse it often starts with telling the truth. And in "This Is How Authoritarians Get Defeated," MoJo's Monika Bauerlein unpacks six truths to remember during the homestretch of an election where democracy, truth, and decency are on the line.

Truth #1: The chaos is the point.

Truth #2: Team Reality is bigger than it seems.

Truth #3: Facebook owns this.

Truth #4: When we go to work, we're in the fight.

Truth #5: It's about minority rule.

Truth #6: The only thing that can save us is…us.

Please take a moment to see how all these truths add up, because what happens in the weeks and months ahead will reverberate for at least a generation and we better be prepared.

And if you think journalism like Mother Jones'—that calls it like it is, that will never acquiesce to power, that looks where others don't—can help guide us through this historic, high-stakes moment, and you're able to right now, please help us reach our $350,000 goal by October 31 with a donation today. It's all hands on deck for democracy.

payment methods

SIX TRUTHS

Reclaiming power from those who abuse it often starts with telling the truth. And in "This Is How Authoritarians Get Defeated," MoJo's Monika Bauerlein unpacks six truths to remember during the homestretch of an election where democracy, truth, and decency are on the line.

Truth #1: The chaos is the point.

Truth #2: Team Reality is bigger than it seems.

Truth #3: Facebook owns this.

Truth #4: When we go to work, we're in the fight.

Truth #5: It's about minority rule.

Truth #6: The only thing that can save us is…us.

Please take a moment to see how all these truths add up, because what happens in the weeks and months ahead will reverberate for at least a generation and we better be prepared.

And if you think journalism like Mother Jones'—that calls it like it is, that will never acquiesce to power, that looks where others don't—can help guide us through this historic, high-stakes moment, and you're able to right now, please help us reach our $350,000 goal by October 31 with a donation today. It's all hands on deck for democracy.

payment methods

We Recommend

Latest

Sign up for our free newsletter

Subscribe to the Mother Jones Daily to have our top stories delivered directly to your inbox.

Get our award-winning magazine

Save big on a full year of investigations, ideas, and insights.

Subscribe

Support our journalism

Help Mother Jones' reporters dig deep with a tax-deductible donation.

Donate