The geometry of impeachment in the nation’s capitalRoundup
tags: Washington DC, impeachment, urban planning, city design
Amir Alexander teaches history at the University of California, Los Angeles, and is the author of "Proof!: How the World Became Geometrical."
On Capitol Hill, the House of Representatives is preparing to pass articles of impeachment, charging the president with abuse of power and obstruction of Congress. At the White House, the president’s aides call the impeachment a sham and argue that it is congressional leaders who are guilty of abuse. Neither side is likely to prevail in this standoff: The White House is powerless to prevent an impeachment, while the congressional Democrats are powerless to remove the president without the support of the Senate. Yet neither side will concede an inch.
The impasse dominates the news cycle, boils over on Twitter, pits blue states against red and spills onto the international scene. Yet in reality, the confrontation is taking place in a remarkably confined space. The White House and Capitol Hill are exactly one and a half miles apart, connected by Pennsylvania Avenue. The tug of war that is shaking the nation and the world is taking place between opposite ends of a single boulevard that runs through the heart of Washington.
The pattern doesn’t end there: You can draw one line from the middle of the Capitol building through the Mall, and another line southward from the White House through the Ellipse, and the two lines will intersect at an exact right angle. The poles of impeachment are also two corners of a precise right triangle.
This might seem like an odd bit of D.C. trivia, which might dazzle a mathematically inclined tourist but few others. In fact, the opposite is true: The geometric design was put there to represent our constitutional order, in which coequal branches of government are ranged against each other in an inherent tension, resulting in ultimate stability.
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