In a momentous week, America confronts a new reckoning with the negligent, destructive legacy of Donald Trump.
The ex-President faces an unprecedented second impeachment trial over a historic insurrection against Congress and an attempt to steal an election that profoundly wounded US democracy. His successor, President Joe Biden, is meanwhile intensifying his national rescue effort from the other crises that Trump left behind, as new viral strains cloud recent good news in the battle against the coronavirus pandemic and with millions of Americans hungry and jobless and out of school.
Nothing is normal about an extreme moment in America's modern story with a political system assailed by extremism, truth under assault and a country desperate to emerge from a once in a 100-year plague.
One year and four days after then-President Trump was first acquitted by a Republican-led Senate of high crimes and misdemeanors, the now Democratic-steered chamber will sit in judgment again Tuesday, over his seditious summoning of a mob that stormed Congress, in a trial that could last up to several weeks.
The proceeding will restore the full glare of Trump's compelling but malevolent influence over Washington three weeks after he left office in disgrace and will challenge Biden's efforts to fully establish his own new presidency.
Trump has refused to personally step back into the spotlight by testifying in his own defense. But the never-before-seen spectacle of an ex-commander-in-chief being held accountable through impeachment for crimes against the Constitution -- even if he's ultimately acquitted as expected -- will be an apt final chapter for a presidency that still threatens to tear the nation apart.
It also seems to mark the culmination of the failure of Trump's Republican Party to answer for a leader whose bond with grassroots supporters granted him complete impunity and exposed a fatal flaw in the checks and balances of the US political system. A majority of GOP senators have signaled they will yet again punt on Trump's offenses and take refuge in a questionable constitutional argument that a President impeached while in office cannot be tried as a private citizen.
Democrats are almost certain to be deprived of the two-thirds majority needed to convict in a presidential impeachment trial and to bar Trump from future federal office. But they plan to lay out a case so damning about the horror inside the Capitol on January 6 that they hope it will forever stain Trump politically and damage the Republicans who defend him.
But the former President's hold on the GOP was underscored last week when it was left to majority House Democrats to strip conspiracy theorist Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene of her committee slots after a series of inflammatory past statements. "The party is his. It doesn't belong to anybody else," the Georgia congresswoman told reporters. The coming days will begin to test whether prolonging the personality cult around the demagogic Trump is a risky long-term bet among the wider, more moderate electorate.
With polls showing increasing public support for Trump's conviction, the trial could also be an important moment in apportioning wider blame for the Trump presidency and shaping the national politics of the coming years.
Democrats can "still win in the court of public opinion. That's why I think the trial remains an important part of our political landscape," said David Gergen, an adviser to four presidents and a CNN political commentator.
"It's a chance for Democrats to make the case once and for all that there was no fraud, that Joe Biden was legitimately elected and the people who tried to steal this election are the ones who assaulted the Capitol," Gergen told CNN's Ana Cabrera.