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In John Updike’s story “Gesturing,” first published in 1980, the newly separated Richard Maple finds himself in a Boston apartment with a view of a startling new skyscraper. “The skyscraper, for years suspended in a famous state of incompletion, was a beautiful disaster,” Updike writes, “famous because it was a disaster (glass kept falling from it) and disastrous because it was beautiful.” The architect had imagined that a sheer glass skin would “reflect the sky and the old low brick skyline of Boston” and would “melt into the sky.” “Instead,” Updike continues, “the windows of mirroring glass kept falling to the street and were replaced by ugly opacities of black plywood.” Still, enough of the reflective surface remains “to give an impression, through the wavery old window of this sudden apartment, of huge blueness, a vertical cousin to the horizontal huge blueness of the sea that Richard awoke to each morning, in the now bone-deep morning chill of his unheated shack.” Not too surprisingly, the distressed tower becomes an oblique symbol for the state of Richard’s life, soul, and dissolved marriage, slicing in and out of the story, much as its counterpart slices in and out of the Boston skyline.

The skyscraper in “Gesturing” is unmistakably the John Hancock Tower (officially renamed 200 Clarendon in 2015), designed by I. M. Pei and finished in 1976. Modernists had dreamed for decades of a pure glass architecture, and it does not take much to see John Hancock as the complicated fulfillment of these hopes. It did, as in the Updike story, suffer from engineering failures. Its glass panes were unable to withstand the city’s intense winds. Additional study revealed that the building had deeper issues of structural integrity and might, under heavy wind, collapse. But sustained attention and repair have kept the building intact, and it remains the single most beautiful object in one of the world’s most tedious, stuffy cities—on one of Boston’s handful of pleasant blue days, it reflects and multiplies the scudding clouds.

Pei, who was born in China (his initials stand for Ieoh Ming, but he is almost invariably referred to by his British-style abbreviation), died this month in New York at the extraordinary age of a hundred and two. For the better part of a half century, Pei received major commissions all over the United States, and several beyond it, that are essential to the fabric of our cities, though we may not always recognize how his work is woven into them. He was a modernist who, unlike others, largely avoided lapel-grabbing gestures. The John Hancock Tower draws modest attention to itself, but no one would go out of the way to see it. His most famous work, the glass pyramid outside the Louvre, is still an adjunct—albeit an iconic one—to the world’s most famous museum of art. Glowing and light-filled, the pyramid is the paradoxical iconic work that has become inextricable from its surroundings; it is now impossible to imagine the museum’s fronting plaza without it.

In other words, Pei carried out the tradition of architectural modernism more thoroughly than most other architects. Trained at M.I.T., he was impressed by Le Corbusier in his youth, but he appears to have imbibed none of Corbu’s megalomania and world-making ambition. Pei was, instead, a consummate professional, one of the people who made modernism feel conservative and traditional. The East Building of the National Gallery, in Washington, D.C., married a sharp, trapezoidal construction with a monumental marble veneer. Here was a modern project that accommodated itself to the neoclassical ethos of the self-embalming American capital. It is emblematic of a figure who put up buildings everywhere that one often doesn’t know are his while at the same time becoming a figure of significant international renown, the winner of virtually every prize and form of recognition available in the field. The fact is doubly amazing because he was Asian-American in a field hostile to minorities (and to women). Though he admired masters like Louis Kahn, his work is as far from Kahn’s gnomic expressions of mystery as can be. “I worry that ideas and professional practice do not intersect enough,” he told the critic Paul Goldberger. “Maybe my early training set me back. Maybe it made me too much of a pragmatist.”

One result of Pei’s longevity is that in some sense he embodied the entire drift of the modern movement—he worked throughout the latter half of the twentieth century and was implicated in its achievements and its catastrophes. The work by Pei that is geographically closest to me rises in the towers of Society Hill, just north of where I live in Philadelphia. A suite of three Miesian towers, perforated with windows like little alcoves in a sandy concrete frame, they are best seen in the morning from the Ben Franklin Bridge, as they catch the rising light over the Delaware River. The deep windows create deep shadows, enhancing a general sense of volume and presence. Compared with so much other glass-and-metal waterfront development, the towers are unassuming and light: an incredible achievement that repays continuous reacquaintance. To approach them from my neighborhood, you walk through one of the oldest districts in the city, filled with early nineteenth-century brick row houses, and ascend a cobblestoned street to a flattened plaza. As with so many modernist housing developments, there are broad expanses of useless lawn, as well as the usual array of simultaneously bizarre and anodyne public sculptures. What is unusual, in addition to the towers, is the surrounding set of modernist brick town homes, also designed by Pei, which are intended to make the transition from the historic streetscape less abrupt. Unmistakably mid-century, and with a darker brick pattern than the Federal-style homes they face, they nonetheless are of the scale of the buildings they graciously imitate.

But Pei’s formal gestures to the past mask the fact that he helped engineer a violent break with it. The Society Hill Towers are the result of one of the more aggressive urban-renewal efforts in Philadelphia history, in which the aluminum manufacturer Alcoa partnered with the New York-based real-estate company Webb and Knapp to build a luxury development intended to bring wealthier residents back to the city center. The city’s Planning Commission anticipated displacing thirty-four per cent of the residents and the razing of the neighborhood’s Victorian buildings. An entire era and style of Philadelphia architecture disappeared; so, too, did a historically black neighborhood. A four-bedroom apartment in Pei’s towers rented for a thousand and fifty dollars in 1978—near the top of the city’s rental market at the time. One aspect of Pei’s professionalism was his disinterest in the consequences of his residential and commercial work, a fact that merely made him more like most architects.

Another Pei landmark, the University Village towers, run by N.Y.U., also resulted from urban renewal, bringing to mind the old question about good architecture and its longstanding relationship with bad history. How does one admire a beautiful development, as I do with Society Hill, and not think of the immense cost incurred in producing it? Perhaps more than any other twentieth-century architect, Pei’s work invites this sort of rumination. Unfailingly intelligent in executing his projects, and moved to modern design by conviction, he nonetheless wanted his work to slip into the everyday. It is fitting that among his most impressive buildings was a tower whose function was to mirror its surroundings.

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When Ta-Nehisi Coates wrote “The Case for Reparations” for The Atlantic, in 2014, he didn’t expect the government to make reparations anytime soon. He told David Remnick that he had a more modest goal. “My notion,” Coates says, “was you could get people to stop laughing.” For Coates, to treat reparations as a punch line is to misunderstand their purpose. He argues that reparations weren’t only meant to atone for the horror of chattel slavery but to address racial inequities and the economic impact that has persisted since emancipation, more than a century ago. “The case I’m trying to make is, within the lifetime of a large number of Americans in this country, there was theft.”

“The Case for Reparations” was an intellectual sensation, and Coates did change the conversation; of the more than twenty candidates in the 2020 Democratic Presidential race, eight have said they’re in favor of at least establishing a commission to study the subject. He points to Senator Elizabeth Warren, who sought out Coates to discuss his article years before she was considered a candidate. But Coates’s own hopes for America truly making amends remain modest. “It may be true that this is something folks rally around,” he says, “but that’s never been my sense.”

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Do: Explore a new warm-weather hobby, like kayaking, gardening, or hiking.

Don’t: Invest a lot of money in accessories for your hobby before trying it out.

Thing That Will Inevitably End Up Happening: You purchase gardening shears, a single oar, and cute hiking boots, only to spend the bulk of your free time watching a new Netflix show in which British cupcake bakers compete in the kitchen against American prison inmates.

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Do: Try a new style on for size. Pick out a funky pair of sandals or an unusual dress silhouette and allow your flirty summer personality to shine through!

Don’t: Buy clothing made of fabrics that don’t lend themselves to hot climates.

Thing That Will Inevitably End Up Happening: You buy a jumpsuit off Instagram that’s made from the same fabric as those parachutes from your elementary-school P.E. class. You wear it once to something really important and leave after forty-five minutes when butt-sweat stains hit critical mass.

Do: Skip the expensive weeklong vacation and enjoy a quick weekend getaway to someplace other than the beach. Try exploring the mountains or go antiquing upstate!

Don’t: Attempt to cobble together a vacation at the last minute and end up wasting time and money.

Thing That Will Inevitably End Up Happening: You force your noncommittal friends to join you on a day trip to the nearest and worst beach. After a really tense two-hour drive in horrible traffic, you spend four hours worrying about something you stepped on that was probably just a shell but possibly a stray needle? You drink tragic, lime-flavored beer to subdue anxiety and receive a forty-dollar open-container ticket.

Do: Allow yourself to engage in a summer fling, no strings attached!

Don’t: Get too invested in a summer romance that you know has an expiration date.

Thing That Will Inevitably End Up Happening: You waste the precious sunlight-induced serotonin in your brain on an all-consuming crush that haunts your every waking hour. After one weird “drinks thing” with said crush, at which he reveals that he has a different love interest/significant other, you weep in the cab home while listening to Robyn with the window down.

Do: Forget the overpriced rooftop bars and throw a no-pressure outdoor gathering at home. Tell friends to bring good beer and good vibes.

Don’t: Spend the whole summer in the same boring happy-hour bar you frequent the rest of the year.

Thing That Will Inevitably End Up Happening: You discover that your boring happy-hour bar has turned into an overpriced rooftop bar. You decide to bail and smuggle mini vodka bottles into a 6 P.M. showing of “Pokémon Detective Pikachu” and dump them into a large, blue-flavored slushy. You end up living your best life.

Is America Ready to Make Reparations?

May 27, 2019 | News | No Comments

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Late in the Civil War, the Union general William T. Sherman confiscated four hundred thousand acres of land from Confederate planters and ordered it redistributed, in forty-acre lots, to formerly enslaved people—a promise revoked by President Andrew Johnson almost as soon as it was made. More than a hundred and fifty years later, the debate on what America owes to the descendants of slaves, or to people robbed by the legal discrimination that followed, still rages. David Remnick talks with Ta-Nehisi Coates and Susan B. Glasser about how reparations has become a major focus in the 2020 Democratic primary contest. And we’ll visit Georgetown University, where students have chosen to take reparations upon themselves.

Ta-Nehisi Coates Revisits the Case for Reparations

The writer set out to make America stop laughing at jokes about reparations. Five years later, Presidential candidates are taking his research very seriously.

“Come on and Bring on the Reparations”

Sekou Sundiata’s poem, read for us by Carl Hancock Rux, addresses the debts that white culture and society owe to African-Americans.

Reparations and the #Resistance

After decades on the fringes, the debate around reparations has moved into the political mainstream, with eight Presidential candidates interested. Why now? And is there a future for reparations?

At Georgetown, Students Vote to Pay Reparations for the University’s History with Slavery

In 1838, Georgetown administrators sold nearly three hundred enslaved people to sugarcane plantations to help fund the college. In 2019, students voted to pay reparations to their descendants.

Who Should Receive Reparations for Slavery and Discrimination?

Three prominent scholars discuss how reparations would work, and address a controversy over who would be eligible.

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The third season of Joe Swanberg’s Chicago-based series “Easy,” which dropped on Netflix two weeks ago, is anchored by an idea that’s as much a matter of aesthetic form as of dramatic substance. The nine episodes are centered on crucial conversations on which the very stuff of life—love and money, work and family, long-held dreams and self-images—hangs in the balance and undergoes drastic, painful shifts. Swanberg’s expansive ambitions are reflected in a notable twist of the season’s structure: the first and fifth episodes—which bring back from last season Andi (Elizabeth Reaser) and Kyle (Michael Chernus), a couple pushing forty and married with children, who are experimenting with an open relationship—combine to form a feature film of sorts, running nearly an hour and a half and culminating in a twenty-minute-long sequence in which they voice fears, agonies, stifled conflicts, and new dilemmas. Had it been placed on the big screen, those twenty minutes would be among the most imposing and shattering movie scenes of the year to date.

The big screen lurks behind the series as a crucial source of inspiration; “Easy” ’s scenes from a marriage are haunted by the spirit of Ingmar Bergman—both in their stakes and in their proportions. Just as the embedded featurette threatens to burst its confines in a flood of terrifying tensions, so several of the briefer episodes come off as compressed features, their ample stories truncated by Procrustean twentysomething-minute confines—yet nonetheless involving extended, imaginatively fervent conversations. The most powerful of them include the third episode, featuring Kiersey Clemons and Jacqueline Toboni as a couple undergoing a breakup and pursuing new relationships; it also involves the world of filmmaking and draws dramatic energy from the shared passions of creative endeavors. The fourth episode stars Kate Micucci as a lonely music teacher whose romantic gamesmanship threatens the lyrical and luminous birth of actual romance.

Swanberg is among the most practical-minded of independent filmmakers. He has long made the nuances of the business of art, and of business itself, central to his work, and many of the new episodes pursue these familiar themes in new directions. The seventh is centered on a street vender (played by Kali Skrap) who’s in the employ of another (Anthony Smith) and tries to go out on his own. The eighth involves two families and three businesses, with Dave Franco playing a garage-based beer brewer who wants to continue working as an independent—apart from his estranged brother (Evan Jonigkeit), who runs a major brewpub—and faces trouble from his gentrifying neighborhood, while the two brothers’ wives (Zazie Beetz and Aya Cash, respectively) are planning a risky expansion of their successful pet-treat business.

Swanberg’s independents, with their under-the-radar and unofficial ventures in their various fields, also have to face trouble with the law, and with the ways and wiles of power—including their own. A few men get long-overdue comeuppances and face the limits of their own abilities and self-knowledge. The themes and the passions of the episodes are contained only uncomfortably in the series’s episodic format. The grand ending of the ninth and final one, which is centered on the world of television production, and culminates in the painful, romantic confrontation of an actress (Gugu Mbatha-Raw) in a state of professional crisis with an ex (Jake Johnson, Swanberg’s longtime collaborator), suggests that the torrent of experience and emotion that Swanberg has unleashed in his three-season series is now awaiting a different, large-scale spectrum of form that goes beyond the standard dimensions of movies or television.

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Can the #NoBuy movement stop fast beauty?

May 27, 2019 | News | No Comments


27th May 2019

There’s no denying that social media has revolutionised the way we approach beauty. Just look at the contouring phenomenon – YouTube’s top-performing tutorial racked up over 14 million views in the past year alone, and is still going strong seven years after Kim Kardashian posted a before-and-after, pre- and post-contouring selfie on Twitter. For more recent examples, simply search #glassskin on Instagram, which currently yields over 97,000 posts of perfectly “glossed-over” skin.

Having the latest trends and beauty brands at our fingertips has certainly fuelled the growth of fast beauty, and ensured we’re buying more product than ever before. The three-step “cleanse, tone and moisturise” routine has evolved into a potential eight-step ritual with the help of K beauty-inspired essences, serums, masks and mists. Global personal care and beauty product annual sales are projected to reach US $500 billion by 2020.

Yet, as awareness around sustainability rises, the tide may just be starting to turn against mass consumption, with a growing movement across social media that is encouraging us to rein in our beauty addiction in more ways than one.

The rise of #NoBuy beauty
While there are still plenty of unboxing videos and tutorials demo-ing the newest blush palette or CBD-infused mascara, there is a rising number of “no-buy beauty” posts gaining traction on social media. Instead of showcasing the latest launches, influencers are encouraging us to cut back on non-essential beauty purchases and take a more mindful approach.

When beauty blogger Serein Wu shared her no-buy video with her nearly 124k subscribers on YouTube in January, it was met with over 400 supportive comments. “I’ve always loved beauty, but it got to a point where it became excessive and more about how much I had versus the quality of each product,” says Wu. “Part of this was the increasing launch frequency of brands and part of it was being in the beauty community of always wanting more. It’s about quality over quantity, clean, ethically sourced ingredients and realistic quantities that I can use up. There’s satisfaction in hitting pan [reaching the end of the product] or finishing my favourite beauty oil.”

Another YouTuber, Hannah Louise Poston, completed her no-buy year in 2018 and revealed that she’d managed to bring her monthly skincare spending down from $220 to $49 by culling extras, including essences and cream masks. The video detailing how her no-buy year changed her skincare routine has been viewed over 28k times since December.

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Vogue investigates the rise of #NoBuy beauty. Image credit: Getty Images

The Attenborough effect on beauty
It’s not just financial benefits driving this movement. With the help of David Attenborough’s on Netflix and Swedish teen Greta Thunberg’s tireless campaigning, the impact of our actions on the environment is starting to make people rethink their consumption.

“Beauty is naturally a throwaway industry,” says Lisa Payne, senior beauty editor at trend intelligence company Stylus. But, she says, attitudes are starting to change. “[In the past,] if we didn’t like a shower gel or face cream, we didn’t think about recycling that product or finding a different use for it, we’d simply buy something else. Now this wastefulness is so much more obvious through the lens of sustainability.”

In January, the industry insider Instagram account Estée Laundry hosted a #shopmystash challenge to encourage its followers to use up their existing products and use the hashtag to share their efforts. “The idea is to use less, buy less and use up what you already own by shopping your own beauty stash,” the post stated. The challenge was so successful that Payne predicts it could eventually become as popular as Veganuary.  

Likewise, beauty blog Temptalia asked its readers how important it was to finish a product, which was met with comments including: “For me finishing up a product means I get all my money’s worth and I’m not generating more waste. And I’m not cluttering my life with more things I don’t need.”

The ‘skin fasting’ trend
Another approach making waves across social media is the idea of ‘skin fasting’, aka using no skincare products at all for a day or even a week, with the aim of improving the complexion (as well as cutting back on product consumption). It’s an approach championed by Japanese skincare brand Mirai Clinical. “By applying excessive amount of moisturiser on a daily basis, skin can become too lazy to produce its own natural oils and moisture,” says the brand’s founder Koko Hayashi. “Skipping moisturiser completely once a week, or reducing the amount, helps to wake up your skin’s natural ability to hydrate and balance from within.”

The technique has appeared on several threads in Reddit’s Skincare Addiction and Asian Beauty forums with people sharing their experiences of cutting out not just moisturiser, but most of their products in a bid to improve their skin. And, for those who regularly battle with skin flare-ups, there might be something in this. “Overuse of products may lead to skin irritation and taking a break can allow your skin to recover,” says Joshua Zeichner, director of cosmetic and clinical research at the department of dermatology at Mount Sinai Hospital.

Vogue investigates the rise of #NoBuy beauty. Image credit: Getty Images

The skincare expert’s approach
The majority of skin experts, including aesthetic clinician Dr David Jack and dermatologist Dr Stefanie Williams, say that cleansing your skin twice a day – using an antioxidant serum and SPF during the day; and a retinol or vitamin C-based treatment in the evening – are fundamental steps we should all be following.

For those who want a little more guidance, it’s worth seeking out the advice of skincare consultancy Lion/Ne, which uses the diagnostic tool OBSERV to scan your skin for underlying conditions and then recommends specific products and in-salon services depending on your budget and lifestyle.

While #NoBuy and skin fasting posts may not generate as many likes or followers as the contouring trend, the influence is definitely positive; inspiring change whether it’s dramatically reducing the amount of products you use or simply finishing what’s already in your makeup bag before replacing. Let the move towards long-term, sustainable solutions in beauty continue.

The President of the United States is erratic, illiterate, and doesn’t want to know what he doesn’t know. The President has alienated former allies, befriended or courted murderous dictators, and has repeatedly brought the country to the brink of nuclear confrontation. The President lies constantly, knows that he is lying, and demands that Administration officials lie for him, and often they do. The President has waged war on the institutions of government, overseeing the gutting of the State Department and the destruction of other federal agencies by their own leaders, and effectively shut off media access to the Pentagon, the State Department, and the White House. The President has acted to thwart oversight of the Administration by other branches of government. The President has never made a secret of despising the government itself: he has called it a “swamp” and gleefully shut it down for thirty-five days, during a temper tantrum. The President has not only failed to divest himself of his businesses but has installed his children in and near the White House, openly using his office for personal financial gain. The President has debased political culture and language, using his bully pulpit to spew lies, hate, and personal insults, and to serve fast-food burgers.

These are some of the known facts. The Trump Presidency has been a two-and-a-half-year-long high crime against common decency, good sense, human values, the national interest, and the law. The question is: What constitutes good opposition politics in this situation?

The prevailing wisdom in the Democratic Party seems to be that good opposition politics is a very slow walk to impeachment, as performed by House Speaker Nancy Pelosi. She has said that she is opposed to impeachment because it is “divisive,” and because Trump is “just not worth it,” and has reportedly said, behind closed doors, that impeachment is what Trump wants, because he expects to be exonerated by the Senate. Pelosi, the wisdom has it, is building a case for impeachment both in congressional inquiries and in her public feud with Trump: she provokes him in some way—most recently, by saying that he is “engaged in a coverup,” or by hoping aloud that someone close to Trump would stage “an intervention for the good of the country”—and he responds by performing Trump. “In each case,” as Politico put it, “Trump handed Pelosi a huge gift, a priceless moment that helped unify the Democratic Caucus behind her at a crucial time.”

Trump’s performance is repetitive. None of what he has done in his battle of insults with Pelosi is surprising or new: not storming out of a meeting with her and the Senate Democratic leader, Chuck Schumer, on Wednesday (at least the third such walkout in six months); not the scuttling of an anticipated legislative deal with the Democrats (he does this every time); not his counterfactual assertions that he doesn’t “do coverups” and is a “very stable genius” (he has said this before); not the ugly spectacle of his meltdown; not the vulgar sexism of his insults. All of it is just more Trump.

Still, the premise of the argument that Trump is digging his own grave by doing more Trump is that the amount of Trump we have observed since January, 2017, is not yet enough to take action. Pelosi’s “coverup” comment, which set Trump off on Wednesday, implies that something remaining to be uncovered can make a difference to our understanding of this Presidency—that the known facts are not enough to make Trump’s continued Presidency inconceivable. Similarly, the idea that continued congressional hearings on Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s findings are necessary to build a case for impeachment suggests that a hundred and eighty-two pages documenting the President’s efforts to obstruct the investigation are not enough. The purpose of these congressional hearings is not to systematize the evidence—that can be done in the course of impeachment proceedings—but to give human faces and voices to the Mueller report, and to goad Trump into obstructing oversight in plain view. The pragmatics are creating political momentum that might make it more difficult for Senate Republicans to resist impeachment. But the logic is that the public must be shown how unfit Trump is to be President. As though the public hasn’t seen enough—as though, indeed, what the public has seen so far is a Presidency that we can live with.

Worse, Pelosi’s tactics, apparently designed to expose Trump’s unfitness, affirm the Trumpian style of politics: vulgar, cruel, and value-free. Pelosi has become Trump’s personal troll. She played the part during the State of the Union address, when she applauded Trump the way one might applaud a lying, cheating, attention-hogging teen-ager: arms straight, head cocked, her entire being projecting insincerity. She played the part after she taunted the President following his tantrum, suggesting that he suffered from a “lack of confidence,” and again, on Thursday, with her “intervention” comments. Most of the mainstream media have followed with horse-race-style coverage, calling each step of the feud for Pelosi.

In a world where trolling is politics, Pelosi is winning. Politico praises her for being “so good at infuriating Trump.” CNN delights in Trump “taking Nancy Pelosi’s bait.” The Trumpification of American politics is being perpetrated by bipartisan consensus. Pelosi, and an apparent majority of Democratic Washington, seem to think this is preferable to an attempt at impeachment that is likely to be thwarted by Senate Republicans. Failure, in other words, is unacceptable, but this—the flagrant dysfunction, the trivialization of all that used to be politics, the spectacle of daily national shame—is acceptable. Trump will be gone someday, but the possibilities that Trumpism has created will remain.

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The Case to Impeach Trump for Bigotry

May 27, 2019 | News | No Comments

On May 16th, Representative Al Green, as he has many times since 2017, stood on the House floor to implore his colleagues to initiate impeachment hearings against President Donald Trump, this time with a copy of the Mueller report in hand and an American-flag tie on his collar.

“Since [the report’s] release, we have had many persons, many of whom are members of this august body, say that they have concluded that the President has committed impeachable acts,” Green said. “Some have gone so far as to say he should be impeached. I’m one of them. We also have hundreds of lawyers, many of whom are prosecutors and former prosecutors, say that if anyone else committed the offenses outlined in this document, the Mueller report, that person would be arrested and prosecuted.”

“Hence,” he continued, “one can logically conclude that since this document addresses acts by the President, and since the President is not being prosecuted—since the House of Representatives has not moved to impeach the President—one can conclude that the President is, indeed now for some twenty-nine days, above the law.”

Although most Democratic leaders and most House Democrats continue to resist calls for impeachment, more and more prominent Democrats, out of frustration with the Administration’s refusal to coöperate with the House’s investigators, are inching away from the Party line—either in support of impeachment on its own merits or in support of beginning impeachment hearings as a legal strategy to sustain subpoena requests.

In both cases, the Mueller report’s description of ten actions by President Trump that may have constituted obstruction of justice is central to their argument. But there are other arguments for impeaching Trump—ones that Democrats, even those most critical of the President’s conduct in office, are curiously reluctant to make.

“I think the strongest case is his bigotry and policy,” Green told me in a recent conversation. “We shouldn’t allow a bigot to continue to hold the highest office in the land. We hear people daily on television who call him a racist, a bigot, who say he’s unfit—people in his own party have said he’s unfit to be the President. And the people of this country gave Democrats an overwhelming majority.”

“I just don’t see how we can have this overwhelming majority understand that he is a bigot—that he has infused his bigotry into policy—and not at some point decide that there ought to be a vote to impeach him for the bigotry and policy,” Green continued. “And, by the way, you don’t need to conduct hearings on this, because the President does it in plain view! It’s out there!”

In two impeachment resolutions—in December, 2017, and January, 2018—Green gave evidence: Trump’s efforts to block immigration and travel from Muslim-majority countries, his ban on transgender people serving in the military, his remarks about “very fine people” among the white-nationalist demonstrators in Charlottesville, and his complaint about immigrants coming from “shithole countries.” “In all of this,” Green’s January resolution closes, “the aforementioned Donald John Trump has, by his statements, brought the high office of President of the United States in contempt, ridicule, disgrace and disrepute, has sown discord among the people of the United States, has demonstrated that he is unfit to be President, and has betrayed his trust as President of the United States to the manifest injury of the people of the United States, and has committed a high misdemeanor in office.”

Green’s preferred rationale for impeachment—bigotry—is grounded in the history of the process. The first Presidential impeachment, Andrew Johnson’s, in 1868, centered on Johnson’s violation of a law called the Tenure of Office Act. But the actual impetus for the impeachment effort, as Brenda Wineapple notes in a new book on the episode, “The Impeachers,” was Johnson’s leniency toward Southerners intent on preserving white supremacy and thwarting Reconstruction.

“There were people who wanted that man impeached because they really thought he was hindering and betraying the cause of the war,” Wineapple told me. “They were outraged because he was restoring the country to what it was, and they had a vision of the future—what it could be.”

That moral conflict was sublimated into a fight over the Tenure of Office Act, which Republican majorities in Congress had passed, over Johnson’s veto, in an effort to prevent Johnson from firing the Secretary of War, Edwin Stanton, who was then implementing Reconstruction and supported aggressive measures. Johnson ultimately fired Stanton in early 1868, and most of the articles of impeachment are directly related to this dismissal. But the procedural case that emerged against Johnson was preceded by broader indictments of his conduct.

“One of the so-called Radical Republicans called for Johnson’s impeachment early in 1867, and the actual vote on impeachment didn’t happen for almost a year,” Wineapple said. “So impeachment had been in the minds of several of the Radical Republicans early on precisely because of the way they interpreted the Constitution and the conditions for impeachment. And they interpreted it broadly—the abuse of power. He had obstructed Congress. But there was nothing that was an actual legal misdemeanor or what could be called a high crime or high misdemeanor.”

That changed once Johnson finally dismissed Stanton. But, as Green noted in our conversation, the eleven articles of impeachment passed by the House against Johnson went beyond his violation of the Tenure of Office Act. The tenth quoted at length from speeches Johnson that had made in a raucous tour to shore up his Presidency, including one in which he accused Republicans of having provoked the New Orleans Massacre of 1866, in which forty-four African-Americans were killed by white Democrats. “Every drop of blood that was shed is upon their skins, and they are responsible for it,” Johnson said. With such comments, the tenth article charged that Johnson, “unmindful of the high duties of his high office and the dignity and proprieties thereof,” had attempted “to bring into disgrace, ridicule, hatred, contempt and reproach, the Congress of the United States.”

Johnson was not removed from office. It is highly unlikely that a sufficient number of Senate Republicans would ever vote to remove Trump. The Democrats have pursued an intensely legalistic approach to confronting the Trump Administration, in a quixotic hope that enough damning objective evidence might be found to force Republican voters and Republicans in Congress to acknowledge the President’s wrongdoing. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said as much in March: “Impeachment is so divisive to the country that, unless there’s something so compelling and overwhelming and bipartisan, I don’t think we should go down that path.”

But the fact that an impeachment absent Republican support would be divisive and lead to Trump’s acquittal does not mean that impeachment would be futile. The ultimate judges of the evidence presented in a trial would be the American people, not the President’s apologists, who would be forced, during an election season, to defend conduct that the majority of the public might find indefensible. We can see impeachment in the way that many Democrats have been framing it—as a legal process analogous to a trial in the criminal-justice system, where the outcomes are respected because the process is considered impartial—or we can see it, instead, for what it really is: a quasi-legal but ultimately political, and perhaps moral, exercise.

Additionally, the fear that impeachment may weary voters and cause a backlash that might ultimately help Trump does not seem to be terribly well founded. Two months ago, before the release of the Barr letter, before the release of the Mueller report, and before triumphant hoots of vindication on the collusion charge from the President and his allies, Trump’s average approval rating in polls compiled by FiveThirtyEight was at just over forty-two per cent. It is now at forty-one per cent. If it was true that constant coverage of Democratic investigations and claims of exoneration from the President would bolster his standing in an impeachment process, one might expect those things to have boosted his numbers somewhat already. They have not.

Politics aside, there is also for Democrats the possibly naïve and certainly quaint question of whether impeaching Trump—a President potentially implicated in obstruction of justice by a special counsel’s investigation, regularly accused of racism and bigotry, and characterized even by conservatives as unfit for the Presidency in various other ways—is the right thing to do, and if it’s worthwhile, even if it seems politically unpopular. That’s a question that historians of our political moment and the generations ahead are sure to take an interest in, even if the Democratic Party does not.

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