These House managers were lawyers and witnesses and victims simultaneously. And as they spoke to the American public, they emphasized their multiple roles as victims and witnesses, while noting that some of the very people sitting in the Senate chamber are accomplices, too.
Last year, Sen. Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.), then the Senate majority leader, reprimanded Democrats who wouldn’t sit patiently while Trump slowly cycled through the stages of election grief until he eventually arrived at acceptance — even though the president was giving every indication that he planned on setting down roots somewhere between anger and denial. Now McConnell has told his Republican colleagues to vote their conscience in this trial, as if that’s some magnanimous gesture, some grand display of integrity. What is a person to make of McConnell’s declaration, other than that it is just another reminder of what caused voters to lose faith in their elected officials so long ago? Every single thing, everything, no matter how grave it might be, seems to be political.
And yet, the House managers are arguing that this impeachment is not political — or at least not simply that. This second impeachment is special because it’s historic and also because it’s personal. To everyone.
No one made that clearer than Del. Stacey Plaskett of the Virgin Islands, who drew a parallel between the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, when she was working on Capitol Hill as a staffer, and the January riot. The 44 passengers on United Airlines Flight 93 gave their lives to prevent terrorists from flying that plane into the Capitol building, Plaskett said. Enslaved people gave their lives to construct that building. “This Capitol stands because of people like that,” said Plaskett (D). And on Jan. 6, fellow Americans attacked it. Those who witnessed that, which is the entire country, should take that personally.
These House managers were not as coolly dispassionate as those during Trump’s first impeachment a little more than a year ago. Rep. Adam B. Schiff (D-Calif.), who was the lead impeachment manager in 2020, presented a stoic face to the public. Schiff turned out daily in razor-sharp suits and starched shirts; his appearance became a metaphor for the bloodless exactitude of the Democrats’ case.
Rep. Jamie B. Raskin (D-Md.), who leads this one, is a more humane presence. On the first day of the trial, he spoke of having buried his son only days before the would-be insurrection. He recalled the pain of his grieving family and how it was something of a balm when his daughter accompanied him to the Capitol on the day the election was to be certified. He reassured her that it would be safe on Capitol Hill, and he believed his own words until they were suddenly proved wrong. And when the building was breached, he was afraid for his daughter’s life.
Raskin told that story with more than a few pauses. He looked down and away from his fellow legislators. He didn’t tell it in explicit detail. He didn’t amplify the emotions because he didn’t need to. They were in full view in the bearing of a sorrowful father in a gray suit and blue tie.
On Wednesday, he offered the prologue to the case against Trump. The former president never made a full-throated effort to stop the violence or even tamp it down. Instead, he coddled and consoled the rioters by saying, “I know your pain. I know you’ve been hurt. … We love you. You’re very special.” But Trump never consoled a horrified nation.
Raskin ended those remarks by recounting the words of a Black law enforcement officer who had been called the n-word so many times by rioters that he’d been brought to tears. “Is this America?” the officer had wondered.
Raskin then turned the microphone over to his Democratic colleague, Rep. Joe Neguse, who is the first African American man to represent Colorado. Before he began, Neguse identified himself as the child of immigrants. Specifically, he is the son of refugees from Eritrea in Northeast Africa. His job was to outline the breadth of Trump’s role in the Capitol riot, to make it clear that the narrative didn’t begin in the morning hours of Jan. 6 with a single speech.
In a manner that Trump, the master marketer could surely appreciate, Neguse highlighted the three taglines the president used to rally his troops. “The election was stolen.” “Stop the steal.” “Fight like hell.” Each of them served as a chapter heading for Trump’s three-part plan to upend democracy. And in his presentation, Neguse was the proud son of immigrants, a Black man personally standing up for the American electoral system.
Rep. Madeleine Dean (D-Pa.), also an impeachment manager, declared herself the mother and grandmother of three, with one more on the way. Rep. Ted Lieu (D-Calif.) grew up poor watching his parents sell trinkets at flea markets. Both of them spoke with the clear-eyed calculations of a lawyer, but always reminding the audience watching from home that the case is about more than the law.
They were the managers this case called out for — people who refused to let anyone in the room or at home forget that everyone has a stake in this trial. They aren’t telling the country what happened on Jan. 6. The country already knows. People have seen the video and heard the chants. They know what Trump said. They know precisely who he is.
The managers aren’t telling anyone anything they don’t already know. They’re simply reminding the public that it’s their right and their duty to take it all personally, because they most certainly do.