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

Facts matter: Sign up for the free Mother Jones Daily newsletter. Support our nonprofit reporting. Subscribe to our print magazine.

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. 

THE TRUTH...

is the first thing despots go after. An unwavering commitment to it is probably what draws you to Mother Jones' journalism. And as we're seeing in the US and the world around, authoritarians seek to poison the discourse and the way we relate to each other because they can't stand people coming together around a shared sense of the truth—it's a huge threat to them.

Which is also a pretty great way to describe Mother Jones' mission: People coming together around the truth to hold power accountable.

And right now, we need to raise about $400,000 from our online readers over the next two months to hit our annual goal and make good on that mission. Read more about the information war we find ourselves in and how people-powered, independent reporting can and must rise to the challenge—and please support our team's truth-telling journalism with a donation if you can right now.

payment methods

THE TRUTH...

is the first thing despots go after. An unwavering commitment to it is probably what draws you to Mother Jones' journalism. And as we're seeing in the US and the world around, authoritarians seek to poison the discourse and the way we relate to each other because they can't stand people coming together around a shared sense of the truth—it's a huge threat to them.

Which is also a pretty great way to describe Mother Jones' mission: People coming together around the truth to hold power accountable.

And right now, we need to raise about $400,000 from our online readers over the next two months to hit our annual goal and make good on that mission. Read more about the information war we find ourselves in and how people-powered, independent reporting can and must rise to the challenge—and please support our team's truth-telling journalism with a donation if you can right now.

payment methods

We Recommend

Latest

Sign up for our free newsletter

Subscribe to the Mother Jones Daily to have our top stories delivered directly to your inbox.

Get our award-winning magazine

Save big on a full year of investigations, ideas, and insights.

Subscribe

Support our journalism

Help Mother Jones' reporters dig deep with a tax-deductible donation.

Donate