Donald Trump inherited a fortune, built an empire and has spent his life grabbing for more, transforming scandal and bankruptcy into opportunity, playing on his own strengths and America's weaknesses in a half-century spree that won him the presidency, but on Wednesday he could do nothing but stew and thrash and watch as the nation that gave him everything tried to take something back.
"Can you believe that I will be impeached today by the Radical Left, Do Nothing Democrats, AND I DID NOTHING WRONG!" Trump posted on Twitter at 7:34 a.m. Wednesday, as America was awakening to the rude arrival of winter. He ended the tweet with a request for religious intercession: "Say a PRAYER!"
It was crisp and cloudless in Washington after days of gloomy rain. On one end of Pennsylvania Avenue, Congress began performing its constitutional role with thick solemnity. On the other end, the president was ensconced in the White House, windows decked with red-ribboned wreaths. White Christmas lights twinkled. The televisions were on. Hysterical punctuation and capital letters were the logs on the fire of his persecution.
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"SUCH ATROCIOUS LIES BY THE RADICAL LEFT, DO NOTHING DEMOCRATS," he tweeted at 12:44 p.m., as Rep. Ted Lieu, D-Calif., stood at a lectern in the Capitol and accused Trump of using the government for his personal gain. "THIS IS AN ASSAULT ON AMERICA, AND AN ASSAULT ON THE REPUBLICAN PARTY!!!!"
There was some precedent for Trump's animosity. Andrew Johnson, the first US president to be impeached, once referred to congressmen as a "common gang of cormorants and bloodsuckers." But Bill Clinton, on the day of his impeachment in 1998, was statesman-like; in the Rose Garden, after the votes were counted, he apologised for his personal failings but denounced "the poisonous venom of excessive partisanship."
Trump, the heir to this predicament, announced that Nancy Pelosi would "go down in history as worst Speaker," then retweeted celebrity lawyer Alan Dershowitz six times.
There was nothing on his schedule except for a morning intelligence briefing and an evening rally in Battle Creek, Michigan. Public tours circulated through the White House, as if it was any other day. A tourist named Teresa Carter entered with a mixture of sadness for the present and hope for the future.
"It is the people's house and, for me, 'people' means family," said Carter, a grandmother from Williamsburg, Virginia. "And this administration has torn my family apart. Politics became more important than heritage."
The previous night, hundreds of pro-impeachment rallies were staged around the country, from Sacramento to Boston to Lexington, Kentucky.
"He is destroying our democracy," said Andi Drimmer, a retired computer analyst, at a rally in Gaithersburg, Maryland. "If he gets reelected, I don't know if we can recover from it."
Democrats in Congress were also dire in the arguments. The republic, they said, was on the brink. Trump, meanwhile, seemed to waffle between frenzy and nonchalance. In a letter to Pelosi, he claimed that he'd been more mistreated in this metaphorical "witch hunt" than the women who were tortured and hanged, in 17th-century Massachusetts, during an actual witch hunt.
But his mood was good Wednesday, according to his counsellor Kellyanne Conway, who showed up in the White House briefing room and pointed to the economy, to trade deals, to the confirmation of federal judges, to polls that showed eroding enthusiasm for impeachment. As the House debated articles of impeachment, Gallup announced that Trump's approval rating had ticked up six percentage points since the process began in September. Trump was like the Roadrunner, Conway said, always out-maneuvering Democrats as they blundered off cliffs or found themselves under falling anvils.
"It's a terrible day," she said, but not for the president.
Trump's helicopter landed on the South Lawn of the White House at 4:19 p.m., as a frigid twilight descended on Washington. Trump was in the Oval Office, finishing up a meeting. Visible from outside, through the windows, was his adviser Stephen Miller, the force behind his hardline immigration policies. Ivanka Trump was in there, too, at one point. Unidentified staffers appeared to be sharing what looked like large pieces of posterboard. At one point, for an instant, a poster became fully visible, through the window, from across the Rose Garden. Its imagery was unmistakable.
The 2016 election map.
Trump's security blanket.
Enlarged to the size of a desktop.
A red mask over a blue plurality.
A bit of sorcery to ward off what was happening in the House of Representatives.
A member of Trump's staff carried an armful of what appeared to be posters onto Marine One, tailed by a military aide with the nuclear football.
He landed in Battle Creek, the cereal capital of the United States, at 6:35 p.m. It is a manufacturing town, home to Post and Kellogg, in a classic Trump county that swung away from the Democrats in 2016. Trump took the stage at Kellogg Arena just after 8 p.m. as the song "God Bless the U.S.A." blared.
"We did nothing wrong," he told the crowd of 6,000. "We did nothing wrong."
Meanwhile, the House had begun voting to impeach him. The threshold was 216 "yea" votes.
"I had a beautiful life," Trump said of his time before the presidency, as the yea votes reached 125. "What the hell did I do this for?"
Trump mentioned Pelosi's name as the votes hit 149, and the crowd boomed with boos.
As the votes hit 160, protesters unveiled a large, long sign: "DON THE CON, YOU'RE FIRED!"
As the votes hit 180, Trump disparaged security for handling a protester too gently.
As the "yea" votes neared 216, Trump was rhapsodising on the stealth capabilities of the F-35 aircraft and the attractiveness of their pilots.
"They're better-looking than Tom Cruise," Trump said as he was officially impeached by the House of Representatives.
The remainder of his speech was a bumper-car pileup of grievances, digressions, false boasts and casual calumny. He groused about toilets. He insinuated that the late Michigan congressman John Dingell was in hell. He chided NBC for not giving him favorable coverage as payback for the success of his TV show "The Apprentice." About former FBI director James Comey, Trump said: "Did I do a great job when I fired his ass?"
At 8:58 p.m. he was alerted to his own impeachment, by what looked like a staffer holding up a sign. He dismissed the historic moment as "lite," thin, no big deal, the opposite of those dark days of Watergate. He was still having fun, he said, and wasn't worried about his impending Senate trial. Life, after all, had taught him that he always ends up on top.
But Trump cautioned his supporters that anything could happen before next year's election. Then he made a statement that was both embellished and weirdly true.
"In the life of Trump," he said, "10 months is an eternity."