So, this is it, eh? Old man Trump finally did himself in, tied his own rope, stepped in his own shit, buttered his own bagel. We’ve heard from congressional Democrats for three long years that we must wait for public opinion to shift before any impeachment proceedings may begin, because God forbid the opposition party be made a laughing stock again by our failson-walrus-mobster president. The daily intelligence failures, the public money flooding into Trump businesses, the hush money to mistresses, the irrational lies, the erratic defecation on international treaties, the toddlers in cages, the public sacrifices to Ba’al — none of these peccadillos were enough. Things are different now, though.
The tiny riptide of public opinion is swirling, it would seem, after it turns out that — surprise! — the president has (still) been scheming with foreign governments to get dirt on whomever the Oval Office demon box that screeches out “Fox & Friends” declared his political rivals to be back in July and in August and whatever the other months are. Not only has he admitted it, but subsequently admitted being too stupid to realize that he admitted it and then purposely doubled down, as is his wont, after someone on his team said, “Wait, this is actually cool — keep doing it.”
You and I could surely agree that the public must be shockedisayshocked by this turn of events. There is, however, an important caveat: You and I, Midwestern(ish) readers of alt-weeklies, don’t know anything about anything.
A true story illustrates this point: Candidates and people who volunteer for them, typically have computer-generated lists of people they think are 1) registered to vote and 2) likely to vote and 3) likely to vote a certain way. These lists allow you to knock on their door to ensure that 1) they vote 2) for your candidate. In most places, these lists comprise a depressingly small percentage of the overall population; just a few good citizens on each street, civic angels dancing on the pinhead of democracy.
Occasionally, a door knocker will take the road not traveled and knock an unlisted door, either because they’re interested in what off-the-grid, politically unidentifiable types might think about progressive income taxation or because they fucked up and read their list wrong. When this happens, it’s as though an unseen, extra dimension uncompactifies itself, revealing the Bizarro world upon which you unwittingly landed the Event Horizon; a parallel universe is unveiled, wherein you understand language but not custom, form but not function, particle but not wave.
Central Indiana. The suburbs. I am running for a House of Representatives seat. I knock. A woman in her 30s answers the door. I ask if she intends to vote. “No, we don’t know anything about the candidates.”
“OK, are you registered?”
“Yes, we’re registered and everything.”
“Great. Well, I’m a candidate so I can tell you about at least one. Do you usually vote Democrat or Republican?”
She puts her head just inside the door. “Honey, are we Democratics or Pub— Republicans?”
A long pause; one that gives me sufficient time to regret this whole side quest and everything I’ve become. “Uhhhh,” she resumes “Well, I don’t like uhhhhhh, whatshername, uhhhh?”
I hazard an educated guess, one informed by many, many previous conversations. “Hillary Clinton?”
“Yeah! We don’t like her.”
To my knowledge, no one is working too seriously on a list of doors belonging to people who are unlikely to vote, let alone people who are so politically disengaged as to not have watched a single minute of news for the last five years, so what lies beyond all those doors will remain mostly a mystery.
Municipal elections are coming up (and some statewide seats for you goofy Kentucky folks). A cursory glance at the universe in which we live and its basic physical properties might cause you to surmise that if you drive through a neighborhood and see more yard signs for a certain candidate — like, a lot more — that candidate is going to win. One candidate has a bajillion followers on Twitter, and the other has flyers up at Mom & Pop’s Ice Cream Shop, and, so naturally, one could gauge popular support based on these observable realities. But, no — this, too, is all bullshit.
We got pretty good at polls or so we thought, until CERN physicists merged our world into BerenstAin Bears Earth sometime in early 2016, and now those don’t mean squat, either. None of these things that seem reasonable to the casual observer actually provide any kind of stable barometer for elections or public opinion overall or anything meaningful. Whatever you think people are paying attention to, and especially whatever your social-media-constructed world suggests that people are paying attention to, you’ve got it wrong. Your world is you and perhaps 100 friends. Maybe a few enemies, too, but not enough for you to get the full picture.
The rest of the world is unknown, untamed, unconquered. A virgin frontier, where it is impossible to know what lurks over the next hill. A deep, dark jungle full of insects the size of yip dogs. Sure, the rational folks you talk to think Trump is a brain-dead scumbag who should be impeached, convicted, tarred, feathered and blasted into the farthest reaches of outer space. But what do the people who don’t listen to 30 hours of NPR every week think? You won’t ever know. That information exists in a curled-up dimension that you are not meant to see.
This isn’t a “getting inside the Trump voter’s head” piece. This is a piece that says: “You ain’t gonna get in their heads or anyone else’s.” It might be OK — admirable, even — to chuck the whole mindset that suggests you should be trying to understand them. There may be no way to appraise what the general public knows or thinks or cares about, and this may just be a maddening part of existing in a group of more than, say, 150 humans or so.
Is public opinion really shifting, then, as to whether the most openly corrupt and patently unfit president of the United States should be impeached? I don’t know and neither do you, because we can’t know. And so Congress is left with an uncomfortable version of reality; one in which it may have to proceed with impeaching him just because it is the only right, decent, sane thing to do. •
Dan Canon is a civil rights lawyer and law professor. “Midwesticism”is his short-documentary series about Midwesterners who are making the world a better place. Watch it at: patreon.com/dancanon.