Bill Clinton acquittal: Echoes of a sex scandal 20 years on

A collage of Monica Lewinsky, Bill Clinton and Donald Trump Image copyright Getty Images

The paradox of the Bill Clinton impeachment saga was that it made it easier for Donald Trump to become president and harder for his wife, Hillary. Twenty years after his acquittal, it's clearer to see how that seismic event shaped American politics and culture today.

In a quarter century of covering US politics, I only have ever got round to framing two newspaper front pages. The first was when President Bill Clinton was impeached in December 1998. The second was when he was acquitted at the conclusion of his Senate trial the following February.

Washington in the late-1990s was my first foreign posting. The Monica Lewinsky scandal, as we inaccurately labelled it, was my first big American story. The picture framing was partly a vanity project to mark this personal milestone. But this also felt like a once-in-a-lifetime story.

Clinton was the first US president to be impeached since 1868, when Andrew Johnson also managed to avoid conviction in the Senate after being indicted by the House. Evidently, more seasoned Washington colleagues shared this view. As I came to discover over the following months, the same framed black and white newsprint, with the same banner headlines "Clinton Impeached" followed by "Clinton Acquitted", also adorned their study and toilet walls.

Image copyright New York Times

Veterans of the impeachment saga soon found themselves reporting on an epic tumble of events. The 2000 presidential election, with its disputed Florida recount. The attacks of September 11th. The Iraq war and its troubled aftermath. The financial crash, and the Great Recession that followed. The election of America's first black president, who handed over power to the country's first reality TV star president. Once-in-a-lifetime stories seemed to come along every few years.

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George HW Bush funeral: A legacy repackaged for Trump era

George HW Bush in 2011 Image copyright Getty Images
Image caption George HW Bush in 2011

Americans have not just been mourning the passing of a president, but also the vanishing of a bygone politics.

For George Herbert Walker Bush was the last president of America's greatest generation: a war hero who bemoaned the end of the patriotic bipartisanship that was such a feature of the early post-war years; a moderate who was genuine when he vowed in 1988 to make his country kinder and gentler; a pragmatist who viewed with suspicion the rise of ideological purists in the Republican Party who fetishised tax cuts and demonised government.

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At Thanksgiving, discordant Trump heads squabbling American family

Nancy Pelosi, Donald Trump and Mitch McConnell.
Image caption Mocked up picture of Pelosi, Trump and McConnell

The Thanksgiving holidays will provide little respite from rhetoric in a highly polarised US.

In this week of Thanksgiving, a holiday observed by most Americans regardless of creed, ethnicity, gender, age, sexual orientation or politics, it seems untimely to talk of national discord and divisiveness.

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Is this the most successful month of the Trump presidency?

US President Donald Trump raises his fist as he walks on the South Lawn before boarding Marine One at the White House, 13 October 2018 Image copyright Getty Images

These days there seems to be even more of a swagger as Donald Trump strides across the South Lawn to board his green-liveried helicopter, Marine One.

Those campaign-style rallies, which have become such a marked feature of his presidency, have even more of a celebratory charge.

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Donald Trump and a world of disorder

Trump at G20 in 2017 Image copyright Getty Images
Image caption Trump has often cut an isolated figure on the world stage

At a moment when America has been focussed myopically on the highest court in the land, the Trump administration stands accused of being a bystander to lawlessness around the world.

The forced disappearance of the Interpol chief, Meng Hongwei, who it turns out is being held by the Chinese authorities.

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Nikki Haley: Aggressive envoy who shook up United Nations

Nikki Haley Image copyright Getty Images

Through the revolving door of the Trump administration goes another high-level departure: the UN ambassador Nikki Haley, by far the most high-profile woman in the cabinet, and an internationalist who's done much to protect the United Nations from Donald Trump's anti-globalist wrecking ball.

At a meeting in the Oval Office, they both went out of their way to stress this was an amicable separation. Donald Trump lavished her with what for him is high praise, by saying she'd brought more "glamour" to the role.

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Brett Kavanaugh deploys the Trump and Clinton playbook

Composite of Donald Trump, Brett Kavanaugh and Bill Clinton Image copyright BBC/Getty

In a Washington that is ever more tribal and in a country that is ever more polarised, the question of who do you believe has now become secondary to the question of whose side are you on.

Almost everything comes to be viewed through the prism of politics, whether it is the harrowing testimony of Christine Blasey Ford or the combative rebuttal of Brett Kavanaugh, the Supreme Court nominee she accused of sexually assaulting her.

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Will Trump bring 'America First' to United Nations?

View of United Nations Image copyright Getty Images
Image caption The New York neighbourhood known as Turtle Bay is slowly being sequestered from the rest of Manhattan ahead of the UN General Assembly

Patrol boats are darting up and down the East River. The NYPD coffee and donut truck will soon be parked on 42nd Street.

The New York neighbourhood known as Turtle Bay is slowly being sequestered from the rest of Manhattan, the temporary border marked by concrete bollards, metal railings and a small army of police officers.

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Resurgent anti-Trump 'resistance' defines a divided America

Illustration of Donald Trump with Meghan McCain, Bob Woodward, Colin Kaepernick and Barack Obama Image copyright BBC/Getty Images

September is emerging as a month of defiance, a milestone moment in the Trump presidency when the forces of 'the resistance' are asserting themselves more strongly.

The Labor Day holiday usually ushers in a change in the political seasons. This year, however, it has been the confluence of separate but interlocking events.

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Why the Woodward effect damages Trump

Bob Woodward Image copyright Getty Images

The publication of Fear: Trump in the White House pits America's commander in chief against Washington's chronicler in chief. The credibility contest is key.

I wonder how many journalists have arrived in Washington over the years dreaming of becoming the next Bob Woodward. Hoping that they'll be invited to descend into some subterranean car park, where a high-ranking contact, another "Deep Throat", mutters cryptic, and not-so cryptic instructions: "follow the money". Perhaps they've imagined being played in a movie by a Robert Redford or his female equivalent. Perhaps they have fantasised about bringing down a president.

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