Senators Will Get to Ignore Trump’s Tweets for Six Hours a Day

A mandatory digital cleanse, courtesy of 19th century impeachment trial rules.

Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) checks his phone.Alex Wong/Getty

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The Associated Press reports that the US Senate is about to launch a weeks-long experiment in which its members will be forced to put away their smartphones and maintain “silence, on pain of imprisonment.” This mandatory unplugging, based on a 19th-century senatorial tradition, is meant to improve senators’ focus and sense of decorum. Tweeting, Googling, sneaking in poker games, and checking the news will not be permitted for up to six hours a day. The digital cleanse could last between six and eight weeks, according to Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas).

This occasion for this self-imposed isolation, of course, is President Donald Trump’s impeachment trial, where senators will be reminded daily that talking or cellphone use are not allowed in the chamber. 

“It’s going to be a new experience for a lot of my colleagues to not be able to talk and not be able to consult our email or text messages,” Sen. John Cornyn (R-Texas) told the AP. “But we’ll live through it, it’ll be all right.” Sen. Ben Cardin (D-Md.) joked, “There will be some withdrawal symptoms. We might have to take some tranquilizers.”

As journalist, I can empathize with the pain of being cut off from my electronic limb. While it is not known how many Americans suffer from Internet Addiction Disorder, the condition has been linked to “depression, anxiety, hostility, interpersonal sensitivity, and psychoticism,” according to Current Psychiatry Reviews. Studies show that excessive screen time for adolescents (often held up as benchmarks of politicians’ maturity) may lead to difficulty making friends, less emotional stability, and inability to finish tasks.

The AP documented several senators who seemed unprepared for the return to an analog workplace. Thursday, Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) “stole a few moments on her cellphone,” before being distracted by an aide who “motioned to her that it was time to escort Chief Justice John Roberts into the chamber.” During the day’s session, Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) reportedly “clapped his hands quietly as if he was ready to get moving.” Sanders said he would have rather been campaigning in Iowa (where he would surely have had internet access). “But I swore a constitutional oath as a United States senator to do my job and I’m here to do my job.”

While senators may gripe about feeling disconnected during the workday, I, for one, envy their chance to tune out the president’s latest tweets as his impeachment trial proceeds. 

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REAL QUICK, REAL URGENT

Minority rule, corruption, disinformation, attacks on those who dare tell the truth: There is a direct line from what's happening in Russia and Ukraine to what's happening here at home. And that's what MoJo's Monika Bauerlein writes about in "Their Fight Is Our Fight" to unpack the information war we find ourselves in and share a few examples to show why the power of independent, reader-supported journalism is such a threat to authoritarians.

Corrupt leaders the world over can (and will) try to shut down the truth, but when the truth has millions of people on its side, you can't keep it down for good. And there's no more powerful or urgent argument for your support of Mother Jones' journalism right now than that. We need to raise about $450,000 to hit our online fundraising budget in these next few months, so please read more from Monika and pitch in if you can.

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