OP-ED: Numb as we might be to Trump, we must still watch the second impeachment trial

David Zurawik
The Baltimore Sun (TNS)
Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., returns to the chamber for the second impeachment trial of former President Donald Trump, at the Capitol in Washington, Tuesday, Feb. 9, 2021. Trump was charged by the House with incitement of insurrection for his role in agitating a violent mob of his supporters that laid siege to the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6, sending members of Congress into hiding as the Electoral College met to validate President Joe Biden's victory. (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite)

“Do not be numb to this, we are seeing history unfold,” John Berman, co-anchor of CNN’s “New Day,” told viewers Monday in follow-up to a report on the second impeachment trial of Donald Trump this week.

Berman is right, and “numb” is the proper word. In the last four years, many Americans have become numb to the evil and once unimaginable damage this man has done to our democracy and to families who have lost children at the southern border through his policies or loved ones to COVID-19 through his inaction and indifference.

The Republican politicians who shamelessly promulgated his lies, racism, misogyny, greed and hate now urge us to “turn the page” and focus on “healing the nation.” Judging from my mail, many of his followers who wrote letters to newspapers praising him and denouncing any criticism are suddenly silent. They don’t want to talk about their fearless leader any more, and it is a fair guess they surely don’t want to revisit the mob violence at the U.S. Capitol he instigated on Jan. 6 that will be on full display at the trial this week.

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Even friends and colleagues who have long been disgusted by Trump tell me they don’t want to watch. They say they have had more than enough of the Trump nightmare and thank goodness he is now in Mar-a-Lago instead of the White House.

But we must not just turn the page and move on. We must watch, process, reflect and remember what happened on Jan. 6, just as we remember the horrors of fascism in Europe in the 1930s and 1940s and the evils of slavery in the 17th, 18th and 19th American centuries with museums, monuments, books, films and other forms of lasting media. Otherwise, we will surely replay it with someone else down the road of history.

Media companies cannot make us watch the impeachment trial this week. But to the credit of cable channels like C-SPAN, MSNBC and CNN, they will be doing everything they can to make it easy for us to watch and stream live or revisit coverage with video replays in the evening.

C-SPAN, of course, is the go-to place for wall-to-wall coverage without commentary. Don’t tell me all mainstream media has a liberal bias until you have watched C-SPAN on an event like this.

Daily coverage of the impeachment trial begins at 1 p.m. ET on C-SPAN2, C-SPAN Radio and C-SPAN2 will also air highlights from the impeachment trial at 9 p.m. each night.

CNN and MSNBC were also in high gear starting at noon Tuesday. They have been the bedrock of video resistance to Trump’s disinformation and lies. CNN in particular has distinguished itself journalistically in not backing down under all sorts of pressure from Trump the last four years.

Who knows how Fox News will handle coverage. Frankly, I don’t care anymore. Fox has been a journalistic disgrace during the Trump administration, and it is now looking like a ratings also ran as CNN moves up to No. 1, a shift I flagged a month ago.

This trial can help us comprehend deep truths about ourselves and our nation.

Many of us have grown up with and embraced a vision of American identity as it is portrayed by Jimmy Stewart in the film “Mr. Smith Goes to Washington” by director Frank Capra. That version of who we are characterizes Americans as fundamentally decent, fair and democratic down to our genes.

But with democracy, you also get the mob, the ugly, ignorant, menacing and deadly mob. That is also American, though, we try to act like it isn’t. If you watch the videos of the assault on the Capitol, which Democrats promise will be shown, you will see the ugly American faces of the mob. You will hear their voices, too, when one man says as if talking on the phone to Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi, “We’re coming for you, (expletive).”

We need to acknowledge that disgusting, misogynistic, racist, violent part of American identity and the way it can be ignited by a dangerous demagogue like Trump.

In 2019, on a segment of CNN’s “Reliable Sources, I said in reference to the white supremacists and neo-Nazis who marched with torches in Charlottesville, Virginia, that Trump had “opened the gates of hell” on the underbelly of American life. We need the closer look at those hellish American faces this trial will offer in its video presentations. And then we need to ask if that is what we want for the America of our children.

— David Zurawik is The Baltimore Sun’s media critic.