Not since the dark days of the Civil War and its aftermath has Washington seen a day quite like Wednesday.
In a Capitol bristling with heavily armed soldiers and newly installed metal detectors, with the physical wreckage of last week’s siege cleaned up but the emotional and political wreckage still on display, the president of the United States was impeached for trying to topple American democracy.
Somehow, it felt like the preordained coda of a presidency that repeatedly pressed all limits and frayed the bonds of the body politic. With less than a week to go, President Trump’s term is climaxing in violence and recrimination at a time when the country has fractured deeply and lost a sense of itself. Notions of truth and reality have been atomized. Faith in the system has eroded. Anger is the one common ground.
As if it were not enough that Mr. Trump became the only president impeached twice or that lawmakers were trying to remove him with days left in his term, Washington devolved into a miasma of suspicion and conflict. A Democratic member of Congress accused Republican colleagues of helping the mob last week scout the building in advance. Some Republican members sidestepped magnetometers intended to keep guns off the House floor or kept going even after setting them off.
“I wish I could give you a wise analogy, but I honestly don’t think anything quite like this has happened before,” said Geoffrey C. Ward, one of the nation’s most venerable historians. “If you’d told me that a president of the United States would have encouraged a delusional mob to march on our Capitol howling for blood, I would have said you were deluded.”
But to the extent that the United States is in need of repair, it is a project that may be overwhelming for any president without a broader consensus across party lines. Mr. Trump may be impeached but he will almost surely finish out the last week of his term and he does not plan to slink away in shame or ignominy as other one-term losers have done, potentially making him a residual force in American life, even if a diminished one.