Everything about Monday’s ritual — in which House impeachment managers traversed corridors through which lawmakers had fled a pro-Trump mob less than three weeks ago — was discomforting.
Rep. Jamie Raskin offered a breathtaking reminder of just how close more than two centuries of American democracy had come to a fatal fracture when he read out the sole charge against the former president.
“Resolved, that Donald John Trump, President of the United States, is impeached for high crimes and misdemeanors … Article One, Incitement of Insurrection,” the Maryland Democrat read, charging the accused in simple, surreal language of “inciting violence against the government of the United States.”
Inside the chamber awaiting Raskin’s solemn delegation were the senators themselves — who will in effect be both the jury for Trump’s trial and witnesses to his offense — seated in a courtroom that is literally a crime scene.
Television pictures of Trump fans storming the Capitol and chasing police officers in their Make America Great Again hats have become familiar by repetition. But the impeachment article’s vivid description of the outrage seemed to shock all over again in the ringing tones of Raskin, whose own recent tragedy, the loss of 25-year-old son Tommy, added an extra layer of poignancy.
A dark moment of history
The ceremony was by no means a familiar event — having taken place only four times in US history. But the fact that many television viewers have now seen it unfold three times in just over 20 years is testimony to a polarized age.
And the sight of impeachment managers wearing black masks offered an almost medieval mood to a foreboding slice of history and hinted at the national pandemic crisis unfolding outside the Capitol — which forms another dark dimension to Trump’s legacy.
What was most strange was that the president who is the subject of the Constitution-based ouster attempt was not up the road in the White House. He’s not even president anymore! And he is besmirched by the historic stain of a double impeachment.
Biden’s sheer conventionality has made the events of the Trump presidency seem more distant than they actually are. But like an episode of national post-traumatic stress disorder, Monday evening’s grave theater brought it all back.
A suitable coda to a riotous presidency
Many Republicans, most of whom are not likely to vote to convict Trump over his effective coup attempt, didn’t show up at the desks that rioters had searched when they breached the Capitol on January 6.
The absence of many Republicans reflects the awful choices that the former president, has yet again, inflicted on his party. While several GOP senators, such as Utah’s Mitt Romney, have hinted that they may vote to convict Trump, it seems increasingly unlikely that there are 17 GOP votes to build the two-thirds majority needed to convict him and ban him from future federal office.
As with the ex-President’s previous impeachment over his attempt to get Ukraine to interfere in the election to damage Biden, some Republicans are citing quickly concocted procedural objections so they don’t have to rationalize his behavior. They insist, against strong evidence, that a former office holder and private citizen is immune from impeachment trials.
Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Florida, is less inventive. He says the trial is “stupid” — choosing to argue that the real threat to national unity is not Trump’s behavior but an accounting of his culpability that might dissuade future presidents from sacking the Capitol on the way out of the Oval Office.
Biden appears resigned to the damage the trial will do to his swift hopes of enacting his emergency Covid-19 rescue plan.
Such an outcome would be seen as gross negligence by many Americans who watched in horror as Trump tried to steal the election and then attempted to torch democracy when he couldn’t. But given the Republican Party’s four years of abetting his criminality, this is an unsurprising coda to the most tumultuous presidency in American history.