News & Politics

6 Ways DC Has Changed Since Trump’s Last Impeachment Trial

There were corny drink specials and publicity stunts the last time we did this.

Photograph by Evy Mages

Donald Trump’s last impeachment trial began in the US Senate on January 21, 2020, which doesn’t quite feel like 386 days ago, does it? Since then, Trump lost his job, a global pandemic shut down much of Washington life (and life in general), and a big hunk of this town is now a security zone thanks to the January 6 attack on the Capitol from a pro-Trump mob. When we look back at coverage of Trump’s 2020 impeachment trial, it’s almost as if it took place in a different city—maybe a different universe. Here are some of the ways DC has changed. It almost makes us miss those Subpoena Coladas.

1. The US Capitol wasn’t surrounded by high fences, razor wire, and National Guard troops

After a summer and fall when the White House became a militarized island in the middle of DC, the riot by Trump fans on January 6 showed that just like with 9/11, intelligence failures always lead to physical barriers in Washington. The US Capitol Police would like to keep fences up for good. DC’s mayor and nonvoting representative in Congress want the security barriers gone.

2. The Daily Show thought senators might experience shame

The Comedy Central show hired a truck to drive around DC playing video clips of Trump insulting the senators who would serve as jurors at his trial. It was a wildly successful stunt (for Washingtonian, that is: The article did great!).

3. We reveled in the Senate’s delightful quirks

Milk! Fidget spinners! Marco Rubio’s quill pen. How much more fun the chamber seemed before eight of its members voted to overturn a free and fair election.

4. There was a chance you could attend.

The offices of Tim Kaine, Ben Cardin, and Christ Van Hollen all had passes available to members of the public. (Even Eleanor Holmes Norton’s office managed to score some passes for constituents, though Paul Strauss did not.) This year, if you possess the infrastructure, you can move from your laptop to your TV.

5. Corny drink specials aren’t really a thing this time

“Working remotely” used to mean going to a bar. Now if you want a “Subpoena Colada,” an “Insane in the Ukraine,” or an “I Got 99 Problems But Impeachment Ain’t One” cocktail, you’ll probably have to make it yourself.

6. Related: No drink specials for journalists

Union Pub’s first early morning watch party for the House’s impeachment hearing mostly drew journalists, so it pivoted to a vanilla vodka, Irish cream liquor, and coffee liquor cocktail offered at $5 for members of the press.

5. We were actually surprised there weren’t protesters

Absent any movement in the streets, Benjamin Wofford and Nathan Diller wrote for Washingtonian last January, impeachment could become an “imperfect opportunity that won’t come again.” That’s right, we wanted people to come to Washington to protest. After Trump fans rallied here in November, December, and especially January, there’s probably a lot less local interest in seeing big protests right now.

6. Even less chance of a Gilbert-and-Sullivan-inspired robe

During Trump’s first impeachment, John Roberts declined to decorate his robes with fancy gold stripes the way William Rehnquist, inspired by a production of Gilbert and Sullivan’s Iolanthedid for Bill Clinton’s 1995 trial. This second trial could have been a chance for a do-over, but Roberts won’t preside, yielding the chair to US Senator Patrick Leahy of Vermont instead. A slightly psychedelic tie is probably as wild as things are gonna get.

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Senior editor

Andrew Beaujon joined Washingtonian in late 2014. He was previously with the Poynter Institute, TBD.com, and Washington City Paper. His book A Bigger Field Awaits Us: The Scottish Soccer Team That Fought the Great War was published in 2018. He lives in Del Ray.