Why We Wear White

No matter the outcome of Trump’s impeachment, Americans will keep pushing back against a lawless president.

If someone had told me four years ago that I would be attending Donald Trump’s impeachment trial, I would have rolled my eyes and laughed. On Tuesday, I did just that.

As one of the few Americans admitted into the Senate gallery on day one of the trial, I wore white. While the sobriety of the occasion would seemingly demand dark attire, I felt otherwise. Women have been wearing white throughout Trump’s tenure—a symbolic but powerful act of defiance. I wore white to represent the women—and men—who have spent the last three-and-a-half years pushing back against a cruel and lawless president.

The scene on the Senate floor, however, was less than inspiring. The two tables of House Managers and defense counsel had a constant flurry of activity and motion throughout the afternoon. There were no cell phones, food, or drinks permitted. The Senators sat as a captive audience as the lawyers took turns at the lectern. Some of them, like Amy Klobuchar and Susan Collins, took notes; others, like John Kennedy and Lindsey Graham, slumped in their chairs. Chief Justice John Roberts sat expressionless in his black robe at the front of the room. And, like clockwork, all of the Senators, whom some hoped would break party lines—Mitt Romney, Lisa Murkowski, Cory Gardner, and Susan Collins—voted alongside their colleagues time and again to prevent witnesses and documents from entering into Trump’s impeachment trial. In other words, they participated in the most transparent cover-up in American history.

Women in politics wearing white has long symbolized the suffragette movement, whose adherents chose the ethereal color to reflect their purity of purpose. The choice of attire still sends a strong feminist message: Shirley Chisolm wore white when she became the first African-American woman elected to Congress; Geraldine Ferraro wore white when she delivered her acceptance speech as the first female vice-presidential candidate for a major party ticket; and Hillary Clinton wore white to accept the Democratic nomination at the July 2016 convention.

In recent years, though, women wearing white has taken on an added significance: It has emerged as a reaction to the Trump administration’s retrograde policies on women. That’s why Hillary also wore white to Trump’s inauguration. It’s why Representative Lois Frankel and a large group of Democratic congresswomen wore white to Trump’s 2017 address to Congress; it’s why Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez wore white at her congressional swearing-in ceremony; and it’s why Kamala Harris wore white as Chief Justice John Roberts swore her in last week for the Senate Trial.

Since Trump’s election, millions of women and men have marched and become activists for the first time in their lives. Unprecedented numbers of Democratic women have run for office—and won—at the local, state, and federal levels. Books have already been written and films have been made documenting the historic pace at which women are placing themselves front and center in politics. An entire generation of children is now watching their mothers and grandmothers resist a president who regularly shows disregard for women, immigrants, people of color, and so many others.

The outpouring of activism and the leveling of the political playing field for women are unintended positive consequences resulting from Trump’s election. Indeed, those efforts directly contributed to the 2018 election of record numbers of women to the U.S. Congress and the flipping of the House.

Those gains, nonetheless, pale in comparison to the harm that Trump has inflicted on our nation. Most Americans seem to agree: A recent CNN poll found that 51 percent of the country believes Trump should be removed from office. That said, few Americans believe that the impeachment trial will result in a conviction. Democrats and their electorate recognize that, despite their best efforts, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell is going to get away with conducting a sham trial.

Voters should continue to keep their expectations in check: McConnell’s Republican Senate colleagues voted on day one, in lockstep, along party lines, to prevent a real trial. That show of cohesion, in an otherwise muted Senate gallery, crystallized for all who were watching that this is clearly McConnell’s show.

Roberts has a minor role, limited to the constraints McConnell’s rules have put on him. Donning French cufflinks, he mostly fiddled with his reading glasses throughout the proceedings. For someone used to sophisticated legal discourse, the loud soliloquies of Trump lawyers Jay Sekulow, Pat Cipollone, and Patrick Philbin, replete with faux outrage and their repetitive usage of “stunning” and “ridiculous,” had to have made him cringe on the inside.

On the other hand, House managers Adam Schiff and Zoe Lofgren employed clear, measured, didactic approaches to explaining the fallacy of a trial without witnesses or documents. Schiff struggled at times to curb his sarcasm, but Lofgren performed like a high school civics teacher educating her students.

Senators who are usually incredibly vocal—Bernie Sanders, Elizabeth Warren, Kamala Harris, Amy Klobuchar, and Cory Booker—were silent but for their votes supporting Schumer’s proposed amendment to the rules. Former Republican Senator Jeff Flake spent 30 minutes in the front row of the Senate gallery looking down upon his former Republican colleagues, while Democratic actress-turned-activist Alyssa Milano occupied a prominent front-row seat above the fray.

Otherwise, all the actors took their places. Even though the outcome seems all but certain, that doesn’t mean the impeachment process wasn’t worth it. For those of us who have closely followed this presidency, Trump’s impeachment serves as validation of what most of us have known all along. Trump may have evaded repercussions for his misogynist, racist, criminal, unseemly behavior for the first 73 years of his life, and for the first three-and-a-half years of his presidency, but that doesn’t mean that his criminal behavior and abuses of power should go unchecked. This is much larger than just Trump.

Still, Trump’s legacy will forever include the word “impeached.” He cannot sue to get it removed, he cannot threaten to have it locked up, and he cannot tweet it away. Whether the Senate votes to remove him or not, the millions of Americans who saw him for what he was four years ago, and every long day since, can finally feel some sense of vindication. But their work is far from over.

The white flag of surrender never was an option. Instead, we wear white because we refuse to let pernicious forces take over our government. The Senators who rigged this trial may be ignoring us now, but they will hear us, loud and clear, come November 2020.

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Julie Rodin Zebrak

Julie Rodin Zebrak is the Washington Monthly's director of digital strategy and outreach. She is a veteran attorney with nearly 20 years of experience at the Department of the Treasury and the Department of Justice, and the founder and CEO of Yes Moms Can.