On March 2, 1797, President George Washington wrote a letter comparing himself to a “wearied traveler who sees a resting place, and is bending his body to lean thereon.” The idea of retiring after his controversy-filled second term was “most grateful to my soul,” Washington confided to his former secretary of war, Henry Knox.
“Tomorrow, at dinner, I shall as a servant of the public, take my leave of the President Elect,” John Adams, “…And the day following, with pleasure, I shall witness the inauguration of my Successor.”
The first president was also the first person to hand over the power of his office peacefully, setting the template for more than two centuries of such transfers. That tradition was put at risk for the first time on January 6, when a mob invaded the US Capitol seeking to stop the final certification of Joe Biden’s election victory. This week former president Donald Trump went on trial in the Senate, accused of setting the stage for that event, and was acquitted two days before the Presidents Day holiday that honors George Washington. All 50 Democrats and seven Republicans voted against Trump, but that fell short of the 67 votes needed to convict him.
Whatever else it may have accomplished, the impeachment trial surely burned the memory of the Capitol riot into American history forever. House impeachment managers wove together horrifying videos, some seen publicly for the first time—along with Trump’s speeches and tweets around the election and its aftermath—to present a timeline of a president who pushed a big lie that the election was rigged, helped assemble and ignite an angry crowd and sent it toward the Capitol, just as Congress was doing its constitutional duty.
“The then-President knew that the crowd he had summoned was prone to violence,” wrote Doug Jones, a former US senator from Alabama. “He even retweeted some of their posts and amplified their violent and divisive rhetoric. This was a crowd ready to start a revolution in Trump’s name, and he knew it.”
Jones, a former federal prosecutor, observed, “I never dreamed I would see what happened in this country on January 6. I never dreamed that I would see a president stoke the flames of hate to cause a siege of the US Capitol with Congress in session. If Trump’s actions are not impeachable, then nothing is, and we may as well strike that provision from the Constitution.”
Even though he was acquitted, “this was far from a triumph for Trump,” David Axelrod wrote. “Though he avoided sanction, the trial imposed a more enduring penalty on him by laying bare for the world and history his craven role in orchestrating the seditious mayhem at the Capitol.”
In a speech on the Senate floor Saturday, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell condemned Trump’s actions before and during the riot, but he was among the Republicans who voted to acquit on the grounds, disputed by many legal experts, that the Senate doesn’t have the power to try former officials. Those lawmakers shirked their responsibility, Laura Coates argued. “On Friday, senators recognized Capitol Police Officer Eugene Goodman’s courage and gave him a standing ovation for risking his own life to save theirs on January 6,” she noted. “A day later, when it came time for the senators themselves to show courage, however, they folded.”
The House managers’ case added much to what we knew of the riot, wrote SE Cupp. “From the bloodcurdling calls from Capitol police, begging for backup as an angry, violent mob breached the Capitol, to the stunning footage of Officer Eugene Goodman diverting Sen. Mitt Romney of Utah away from an imminent threat of danger, to video of Vice President Mike Pence being hurriedly evacuated, and affidavits revealing rioters ‘would have killed Mike Pence if given the chance,’ it is all unspeakably awful and somehow even worse than we knew.”
Joshua Replogle is a CNN photojournalist who was at the Capitol January 6. He covered the Parkland school shooting in 2018 and the attack on the Pulse nightclub in 2016. But this time he was one of the people who had to run for his life — and hide in a Capitol office. A day before the impeachment trial got underway, he offered a chilling account of his experience. “My heart beats in my ears. A knot in my stomach holds me down,” he wrote. “I feel like I am finally in the shoes of any number of shooting survivors I’ve interviewed over the years. Their faces, their experiences blur in my mind. This type of fear is something I never understood as a journalist; to fully grasp it, it must be experienced. Time stands still.”
At about 6 pm, hours after the Capitol was stormed, Trump tweeted, “These are the things and events that happen when a sacred landslide election victory is so unceremoniously & viciously stripped away from great patriots who have been badly & unfairly treated for so long. Go home with love & in peace. Remember this day forever!”
“Ask yourself,” Elie Honig wrote after Democratic House managers on Wednesday, the trial’s second day, presented evidence, including Trump’s tweets that day. “Are those the words of a person who was genuinely ‘horrified’ by what he saw, to quote Trump’s attorneys? To the contrary, in my view, the tweet establishes beyond any real doubt that Trump was pleased at what his supporters had done. He called them ‘great patriots,’ and urged them to ‘(r)emember this day forever!’ Those are unequivocal words of empathy with the mob — even exultation — not regret.”
Over the first three days, the Democrats put on “an ironclad case,” observed Frida Ghitis. “Those who vote to acquit become accomplices in Trump’s assault against America’s democracy. History will remember that, even if their self-interest drives them to ignore their conscience and their duty to the country and to the truth.”
Michael D’Antonio noted that Trump may publicly celebrate the acquittal, as he did a year ago after the Senate failed to convict him in his first impeachment. But, he wrote, “nothing he says will eclipse the images of violence at the Capitol, which must be considered the defining moment of his time in office. Nothing will rewrite the story of his disgrace and humiliation.“
For more on the trial:
Amy McGrath and Paul Rieckhoff: America’s military needs to confront the enemy within
Robert Alexander: If Senate won’t convict, how else can it punish Trump?
3 former GOP senators: Trump should not escape accountability on a technicality
Ruth Ben-Ghiat: America saw and heard January 6 all over again this week
Julian Zelizer: What if Trump hadn’t had Twitter
Seth Rogen’s cause
For 15 years, Seth Rogen and his wife, Lauren Miller Rogen, wrestled with the heartbreak of her mom’s struggle with Alzheimer’s. “It took her as it takes so many — bit by bit, day by day, slowly robbing her of her thoughts, her memories and those corny jokes she loved to tell,” they wrote.
“As part of her care team, we learned what it meant to parent a parent as the illness cheated Lauren’s mother of her ability to do for herself the daily tasks we take for granted, from eating to bathing to dressing.” They learned “that government and most employers provide people — especially young people with little to no caregiving resources. We learned the ugly truth that the US is the only industrialized nation without a national paid family leave policy to help people balance care for older loved ones while working.”
In 2012, the Rogens founded HFC, a nonprofit which stands for Hilarity for Charity, to help fill the gap in care, and are advocating legislation to expand paid family and medical leave.
Too much salmon
In Bill Burton‘s household, March 13, 2020 was “the last day the kids had school, the day of our last in-person meetings and the last day I wore dress shoes.” That means they marked their “1,000th meal in captivity” with Wednesday’s breakfast. As with many families, cooking at home has become a constant.
“Who knows how many thousands of eggs, pounds of ground turkey and boxes of wheat rotini we’ve gone through…but the upside is that we learn more about each other every single day. For example, about 40 weeks in, after baking salmon on a weekly rotation, I learned my wife does not, in fact, like salmon,” wrote Burton, former deputy White House press secretary and special assistant to President Barack Obama. The other upside was having “a loving family to share this isolation with.”
Still Burton says he does “miss those spontaneous moments of connection that only happen when we’re out in the world, trying hard, living fully, and leaning on each other in ways big and small.“
This week’s news on Covid-19 was encouraging, as cases continue to drop around the nation — and world. The speed of vaccinations in the US is increasing, though still only a small proportion of the population is fully protected. Another encouraging sign — the feared “twindemic” of a major flu outbreak coinciding with the Covid-19 pandemic hasn’t materialized, as Dr. Kent Sepkowitz noted. The question is that no one knows for sure why the flu numbers have been so low.
“A substantial part of the difference in controlling the two viruses may derive from a simple fact: our immune systems have dealt with flu every year for decades, whereas this strain of coronavirus is altogether new to our lymphocytes and other components of our immune response,” Sepkowitz wrote.
While progress is being made against the pandemic, “normal” life isn’t returning anytime soon. Nicholas Christakis predicted in a CNN Opinion video that full recovery from the pandemic won’t be reached until 2024.
Valentine’s and Galentine’s
Today is Valentine’s Day, but this weekend also marks another holiday, Nicole Hemmer pointed out. “Of all the made-up holidays that sitcoms have graced us with — Friendsgiving, Festivus, Chrismukkah — none is more wholesome or more necessary than Galentine’s Day.”
Hemmer traced the evolution of Galentine’s Day to the “popularity of ladies’ nights,” which became “a central part of the debate about feminism in the 1970s and 1980s. And the core of that debate took place at the most unexpected of places: Chippendales. Yes, that Chippendales. The male dance revue where men stripped down to padded thongs while throngs of women gasped and ogled and cheered.”
When Natasha S. Alford‘s mother, a teacher in Syracuse, NY, was diagnosed with Covid-19, her daughter saw her “lesson planning instead of resting.” She kept “typing away at the computer between light coughs, as I pleaded with her to take the day off immediately.” Fortunately, Alford’s mother recovered, but the situation points to the huge demands the pandemic is placing on teachers, students and parents.
“Her students and others across the country already faced impossible hurdles, from shaky WiFi connections to challenging home situations, in which some parents were required to work and leave their children unsupervised,” Alford pointed out. “Some kids slept through the alarm set for them to wake up and log on. Others tried their best to keep up, but missed the hands-on instruction needed to help them learn complex material and were very clearly falling behind. And still a select few thrived in a virtual setting, eagerly consuming lessons and executing assignments.”
“Not all parents are ready to send their children back to school, nor do they trust that schools are equipped to safely welcome them back. That divide splits along racial and economic lines, with many parents of color being less likely than White parents to risk it,” she wrote. On Friday, the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention released guidelines for safely reopening schools, stressing five strategies to prevent the spread of Covid-19.
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Peniel E. Joseph: The ‘Black Messiah’s’ throughline to George Floyd
Holly Thomas: Christopher Plummer’s awesome power
Issac Bailey: What the Super Bowl and America have in common
David A. Andelman: George Shultz’s critical lessons for today’s America
Justin Timberlake’s apology
A New York Times documentary cast a harsh light on the way Britney Spears has been treated by fellow celebrities including Justin Timberlake and the media. It “put a laser focus on how so many men have capitalized, for their own career success, on both society’s pleasure in consuming accounts of women’s suffering and our propensity for denigrating ‘nasty women,’” wrote Marcie Bianco.
The documentary exposed, “in new ways and for new audiences the extent to which Spears’ health and career suffered as she was hounded by the media and battled with her father, with whom she has been in a multi-year legal battle for control of her life.” Timberlake appeared to have benefited from the breakup of his relationship with Spears. The effect, “Britney’s downfall, Justin’s ascent — was replicated a few years later, this time, with Spears’s idol, Janet Jackson as Timberlake’s foil,” as a result of the “wardrobe malfunction” in the 2004 Super Bowl halftime show.
“With the documentary’s release and calls for his response and apology on social media,” Bianco wrote, “the opportunity has presented itself for Timberlake to fully take responsibility for his actions. Without accountability, there no end in sight to the many forms of misogyny that continue to injure women.” On Friday Timberlake posted a statement that he was “deeply sorry for the times in my life where my actions contributed to the problem” and apologized to Spears and Jackson.