It seems increasingly clear that this impeachment thing is going to happen. I’ll confess, I’m terrified about the whole idea.
That’s not to say that I don’t believe Mr. Trump has committed impeachable offenses. After he was elected, I believed his refusal to comply with the Foreign Bribery Clause and the allegations surrounding Russia were sufficient grounds for an elector not to vote for him. His behavior since coming into office — again, the Foreign Bribery Clause, the obstruction charges, and now the careless burning of a foreign source by giving the Russians confidential material — I also believe easily meets the impeachment standard of our Constitution.
No, what concerns me is not the law. It is “the People.”
Despite his astonishing incompetence, the overwhelming majority of Republicans stand with him. And in a recent poll of Trump voters, only 2% would change their vote to be against him.
Most on my side literally cannot understand how these polls could be true. But I believe that we must accept them, and then, as citizens, we need to reckon this radical disconnect between us. How can one side be so certain, and the other side so certain in the opposite way?
There are clues to an answer in the nature of media today. Those who love Trump still — yes, those who persist—watch media that supports the choice to persist. The world according to Fox is not the world according to PBS, or NBC, and we live in a world in which huge swaths of us occupy these never-the-twain-shall-meet bubbles. This isolation is complemented no doubt by social media. Just because we’re not in an election, don’t think for an instant that Facebook feeds are any less “fake.”
But a more difficult part of the story comes from cognitive psychology. Partisanship motivates reasoning, and motivated reasoners can see the same facts in radically different ways. Give a conservative more science about global warming, and s/he will be even more convinced that global warming science is fake. And not because s/he’s stupid. Indeed, the most terrifying truth about motivated reasoning is that the more intelligent you are, the more capable you are at bending the facts to fit your story.
We are all vulnerable to this bias. The argument of some on my side that only the Right is trapped by motivated reasoning has been debunked. Humans see what humans need to see, to stay connected with their tribe. And the problem is, first, that our tribes have never since the Civil War been so far apart, and second, that there is a business model in pushing us even further apart.
So what is a citizen to do? As a constitutional lawyer, I believe the evidence supports the impeachment of Trump. But as a citizen, I think we who believe that have a duty to convince those who don’t. And until we succeed in that work, we should not push. Or better, that our push as citizens—distinct from the work of congressmen and others inside the system—should be the hard work in convincing our own type. Not type, as in Republican, or Democrat. But type, as in ordinary citizen.
That’s why I support so strongly the work of many to hold town halls across America on this issue. Even better would be a series of representative town halls — imagine 300 people, randomly selected and representative, meeting over a weekend with both the pro and anti impeachment arguments fairly and completely represented.
Yet independently of those public events, there should be a private duty on all of us. Yes, Trump is impeachable. But before you press that idea publicly, find 5 who disagree with you, and convince them you are right.
I get how impossibly hard that seems. But democracy is the practice of learning to live with—and persuade—people who are different from you, with decency and respect, and without the threat of force. That—not the chanting of thousands on the public square—is “what democracy looks like.” And that is what we need to see more of now.