How many words will it take to put Donald Trump and his family on an outbound jet to a life of exile in Dubai? What would those words be? “IMPEACH,” the Atlantic announced it will say, on the cover of the next copy of the magazine. Unable to wait, it put the cover story up yesterday, under the headline “The Case for Impeachment.” This case for impeachment was in addition to the 50-part package the Atlantic published earlier in the week, recounting, to uneven effect, various lowlights of the Trump administration.
Perhaps Mitt Romney will read the Atlantic and announce that he is eager to be part of Donald Trump’s trial in the United States Senate, which—did you know?—would be part of the impeachment process. The Atlantic explained this:
The Constitution lays out the process clearly, and two centuries of precedent will guide Congress in its work. The House possesses the sole power of impeachment—a procedure analogous to an indictment. Traditionally, this has meant tapping a committee to summon witnesses, subpoena documents, hold hearings, and consider the evidence.
OK, hang on.
Right, where were they?
The committee can then propose specific articles of impeachment to the full House. If a simple majority approves the charges, they are forwarded to the Senate. The chief justice of the United States presides over the trial; members of the House are designated to act as “managers,” or prosecuting attorneys. If two-thirds of the senators who are present vote to convict, the president is removed from office; if the vote falls short, he is not.
Yeeeeeahhhhhhh, no, sorry, that was more than enough of that. I had to put the musical interlude in there so I wouldn’t fade out from boredom just copy-pasting it. “The House possesses the sole power of impeachment”—Mitt already knows that, we all know it, and anyone who doesn’t know it is sure not going to be getting caught up by reading the Atlantic. Who was this for? What was it doing?
It’s hard to find the right tone to write about this president and this presidency and this ever-more-deranged moment of history—not history, that’s part of the problem: current events. Someday this will all be history, but nobody’s going to put it there by burying it in a landfill of bulk orotundity and building a monument of cut and polished metamorphic words on top. It’s everywhere, this urge to declaim some immortal words of condemnation that will echo down through future generations, but it’s all nothing but a coping mechanism. We all lapse into it now and then; it’s that or call the president a wet-brained diaper boy or Mad Lib some bouncy adjectives around “Cheeto.” None of that works, either.
But even in this moment when performatively ponderous writing is everywhere, the Atlantic‘s contribution was astounding in its ratio of self-importance to unimportance. Paragraph by paragraph, line by line, it kept going nowhere: “solemnly swore to faithfully execute the office of president”…“a concerted challenge to the separation of powers”…“purposefully inflamed America’s divisions”…“privileged his self-interest above the responsibilities of the presidency”—
Maybe the worship of the Founders and their texts has convinced people that the only way to defend the Constitution is to try to write like it? But the Founders had a job to do. The Declaration of Independence managed to mount an argument for rejecting monarchy and to declare a wholly new basis for government in less than 1,400 words. (The preamble to the Constitution is 52 words, or almost precisely one-tenth as long as Atlantic editor Jeffrey Goldberg’s separate note introducing the main article.)
Around the 1,400-word mark, the Atlantic piece was barely underway, talking about whether the Democrats should just wait for Robert Mueller’s investigative report. Meanwhile, as the magazine’s address to posterity sat part-read or waiting to be read in the nation’s browser tabs, the entire government was still shut down; the president was refusing, out of undisguised spite, to allow the Speaker of the House to use military aircraft to visit a war zone; the president’s personal lawyer had conceded and un-conceded that the presidential campaign could have collaborated with Russia; and BuzzFeed was reporting that its law-enforcement sources said the president had suborned perjury. Anyone who wanted the case for impeachment could just read the news.