Impeachment trials of American presidents are rare. They are almost by definition grave and serious.
But the proceeding against former President Donald J. Trump was probably the first to include a parental advisory for graphic violence.
Beginning Wednesday’s presentation, which included never-before-seen video of the Jan. 6 assault on the Capitol, Representative Jamie Raskin, the lead House impeachment manager, began with a warning: “We do urge parents and teachers to exercise close review of what young people are watching here.”
The chilling footage wasn’t much easier for adults — for anyone, really, who wants to believe that America is a secure, stable democracy. It was horrible, but it was also horribly necessary.
In a brutal and deftly edited presentation, the managers presented the attack on the election’s certification as a found-footage horror movie.
Sometimes the horror was in seeing how awful and vicious the day was. Security and body camera footage showed police officers defending the building engaged in what could have been siege scenes from “Game of Thrones” — grisly, grunting, intimate violence. On emergency calls, officers screamed out calls for support. “We’ve lost the line!” “The crowd is using munitions against us!” “Multiple Capitol injuries!”
Through it all, an onscreen graphic showed the mob as a red dot inching into the heart of the Capitol. Over and over, the graphic and video showed that we may have been a short sprint, a piece of wood, a wrong turn away from a massacre.
We saw the attack the day it happened, of course. We saw more of it in the days after. But we’d never seen it so completely, so sweepingly.
What the impeachment managers put together wasn’t simply a deluge of shocking clips. It was a complex, edited narrative that moved us from one vantage point to another — Mr. Trump, the mob, the police, the fleeing lawmakers and staffers.
The daylong arguments also had dramatic structure, including cliffhanger-like act breaks as the trial went into recesses.
But there was also a larger, serial arc that laid out, over the course of months, the charge that Mr. Trump had primed his followers to believe he could lose the election only if it were rigged; that he cheered on violence in his name; that he publicized the Jan. 6 rally and targeted politicians — including his own vice president — in a series of increasingly furious tweets.
All of this was an effort to use the tools of television — imagery, emotion, montage — to build a case against a president who was made by and obsessed with TV.
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