“Why do we keep calling this a solemn occasion?” Doug Collins, the ranking Republican on the House Judiciary Committee, demanded to know during the House debate in advance of President Donald Trump’s impeachment.
He had a point: For all the robotic insistence of Democrats that impeachment was “sad,” “prayerful,” and “somber,” the debate devolved into bathos almost from the start. Republican Representative Steve Scalise screamed and struggled to dramatically tear a piece of paper. His colleague Barry Loudermilk argued that the president was being treated worse than Jesus Christ. (“I don’t like many Jesus comparisons,” the White House aide Kellyanne Conway later commented.) During the vote itself, perhaps the only suspense came when Republican Representative Michael Cloud mistakenly voted “yes” on the first article, giving rise to a short-lived moment during which bipartisanship suddenly seemed possible—before he switched his vote to align with those of his party. Just an hour later, the president stood onstage at a Michigan rally and yelled about toilets and light bulbs.
The pettiness of the day masked the seriousness—even momentousness—of the events that took place. This was, as the press reminded people unceasingly, only the third time in the country’s history that the House of Representatives has impeached a president. The Democrats were not entirely above the nonsense, offering endless platitudes that felt arch and preachy. But it was the Republican antics that threatened to make the process look ridiculous, though the allegations were, in fact, historic in their severity.