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My Fellow Citizens,

There's one story you couldn't escape this week—the vote on an impeachment inquiry. There was booing at the World Series game too. Sometimes it's easier than others to get a good measure of public opinion. 

FiveThirtyEight has been tracking changes in public support for impeachment since August. The results have always been close, but "support" only got the top spot in mid-September, after we heard about the Ukraine scandal. 

How many times has someone asked if you're for impeachment in the last three months?

Whether you're looking at public support or the congressional vote, you're mostly looking at measures of support for President Donald Trump. Shifts have happened, but they haven't broken through party lines. That's not saying much either. Public opinion worked that way for Nixon. And that's another indication that we're asking the wrong question.

Today's PSA for the civic-minded comes to us by way of Mesha Gessen and his recent column for The New Yorker. It's not even about impeachment.

Gessen responded to a congressional hearing that also made the news this week, "Mark Zuckerberg Doesn't Know What the First Amendment is For." The headline comes by way of his work as a visiting professor at Amherst College. Every year, he asks students, "What is the First Amendment for?" 

We all know the usual answers—free speech. Gessen shares that he always continues to press his students, asking again, what this most cherished amendment is FOR. Eventually, the students shift their perspective and answer, "the First Amendment is for democracy, for the plurality of opinions in the national conversation." That answer is all it takes to understand Twitter's decision to ban political ads. CEO Jack Dorsey said paid speech isn't free speech. 

This question might provide a useful turn for our discussion of impeachment too. What is impeachment for? That's a question we miss entirely if we're just asking someone if they're for it or against it.

However you answer that question, what is it that you're for?

In his takedown of Zuckerberg's attempt at constitutional interpretation, Gessen says his students will develop a "more complicated view of politics and media" through their work at Amherst. Then they'll enter an adult world that "sticks to an elemental level of discourse." 

The problem, Gessen says, isn't Facebook. They're not an anomaly. Collectively, we stick to bite-sized questions with the shortest route to a familiar answer:
 

"With Facebook and other new media, technology has accelerated and amplified existing processes and problems. Facebook is not an anomaly in the American media system—it is precisely the result of rampant profit-seeking, lazy thinking, and a lack of civic responsibility."


Whether we look at Facebook and its many controversies or the Trump administration and theirs, we have to insist on thinking constitutionally. It's how we promote civic responsibility and challenge lazy answers. 

This work is deeply rooted in the history of democratic people. Another quote that hit me hard this week comes from one of America's favorite historians, Alexis de Tocqueville. Twenty years after publishing his observations of us in Democracy in America, he published one of the first histories of the French Revolution. 

The Old Regime and the Revolution, published in 1856, included this potent warning: 
 

"Rulers who destroy men's freedom commonly begin by trying to retain its forms. ... They cherish the illusion that they can combine the prerogatives of absolute power with the moral authority that comes from popular assent."


Sharing opinions on the impeachment inquiry has all the ghoulish appearances of empty political talk. Let's leave our illusions behind with Halloween. The next time someone asks you about impeachment, make the conversation constitutional. Make sure to ask them what impeachment is FOR. 

Let's keep thinking together too,

Shellee

 

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Questions of Civic Proportions
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(share your responses in our Learning Studio)
 

"The people must know before they can act, and there is no educator to compare with the press."


—Ida B. Wells, Investigative Journalist

 

FOR a safer world.


As though they received our last QCP email, Vox's Explainer recently posted, "Why Turkey is Invading Syria." The 10-minute video will help you get your bearings for considering this week's news about Al-Baghdadi's death. President Trump's sudden withdrawal threatened to compromise the intelligence on Baghdadi's whereabouts. Our intelligence agencies and Kurdish allies had to act faster than they had planned. The New York Times posted: "Al-Baghdadi Raid Was a Victory Built on Factors Trump Derides."

There is also little reason to think this is the end of ISIS. A successor has been named, the organization had already expanded into Africa, and Twitter has been flooded with ISIS propaganda in the days following the news. 

 

FOR a fair marketplace of ideas (and advanced citizenship). 


There's nothing simple about this suggestion that we should all be talking about what the First Amendment is for. Richard Stengel wrote Information Wars and worked for the State Department at the end of Obama's administration. He kicked up quite a debate with his op-ed "Why America Needs a Hate Speech Law." His response to Mark Zuckerberg included:
 
"All speech is not equal. And where truth cannot drive out lies, we must add new guardrails. I'm all for protecting "thought that we hate," but not speech that incites hate. It undermines the very values of a fair marketplace of ideas that the First Amendment is designed to protect."

WaPo columnist David Ignatius argued that Stengel offers "only a limited menu" of possible solutions. Aaron Sorkin and Mark Zuckerberg have now traded quips too. Sorkin points to his negotiations with Facebook when writing the movie "The Social Network," and Zuckerberg responded with a quote from a fictional president. America isn't easy. 

 

For women who "step into this light" and run for Congress.


Glamour Magazine announced that Congresswoman Katie Hill's "Resignation Speech is Required Reading." You may have already heard her comment about the double standard, but the rest of the story is worth knowing and flows naturally from our discussion of the First Amendment.

We owe it to ourselves to have the uncomfortable conversation over what Hill calls "gutter politics." In that article from Glamour, Twitter user Ashley Nicole Black points to a whole list of things we won't be discussing now that Hill has resigned—revenge porn, workplace harassment, bisexuality, and our double standards. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi called it all "cyber-exploitation."

For now, the Center for American Women and Politics does not see a chilling effect on women deciding to run for office. The data is limited though. That same report details how much more harassment female candidates endure when they decide to run for elected office. It reaches them through online platforms where women from marginalized groups are targeted even more. The harassment is, of course, sexualized and racialized too. 

The quote I'm going to remember from Hill's resignation is this:
 
 Yes, I’m stepping down, but I refuse to let this experience scare off other women who dare to take risks, who dare to step into this light, who dare to be powerful. It might feel like they won in the short term, but they can’t in the long term. We cannot let them. The way to overcome this setback is for women to keep showing up, to keep running for office, to keep stepping up as leaders, because the more we show up, the less power they have."

Read an annotated copy of Hill's resignation speech here

 
 
Occasionally we pick up these questions and the topics they present in our Learning Studio. Look for deeper inquiries in this closed online community where the focus is on following the conversation. 

The Learning Studio requires a membership but it's free. 


#CitizensRead Book Club picks up Neal Katyal's new book on impeachment.


When the Mueller Investigation started wrapping up, I wanted to skip all the posturing and spin. I didn't want to read everything by everyone. I wanted to find something that was really smart and get to the heart of the matter. That's when I first found Neal Katyal's work.

Neal Katyal committed himself to live-tweeting his read through the Mueller Report. I never would have made it through the whole thread except that I did my own investigating and learned that this is the same guy who had written the special counsel regulations. I couldn't imagine that there was a more authoritative source than what I was reading. 

NYT's podcast, The Daily, had a deeply informative conversation with Katyal at that time. Now Neal Katyal has a book where he makes the case for impeachment. He says the story starts in 1787 (no surprise there).

You can hear John Legend talking to Neal Katyal about the new book at Vanity Fair's New Establishment Summit. The author explains that he went on TV with his thoughts on the Mueller Investigation, "I thought that if I just could explain everything on TV, everyone would get it." Legend quips, "Now you're going to rely on America to read books." We're here and we're ready to read it. 

You can pre-order Impeach: The Case Against Donald Trump and start reading the day it hits shelves on November 26th.

We'll be following Katyal's writing across the web as we wait for our copy to arrive. Join us in the Learning Studio to discuss those articles and let us know that you're reading Impeach with us at the end of the month.

Learn more about the nature of Katyal's thinking with this recent op-ed in The Washington Post: Trump's defenders need to stop pretending impeachment is a criminal trial.

A short excerpt:

Their argument rests on the idea that Democrats have failed to follow the rules of criminal proceedings in conducting their inquiry. But there’s an issue with that premise: Impeachment proceedings were not designed to follow the same rules as criminal ones. Claiming otherwise — as so many Republicans already have — perpetuates two fundamental misunderstandings of the Constitution.
 
Join the Studio
Oodi by Ninara on Flickr (CC BY 2.0)

Good Work: How Helsinki Built "Book Heaven"


The library opened last December, so it isn't news, exactly. But this week, the city's executive director for culture and leisure described it as a "monument to the Nordic model of civic engagement." Tommi Laitio described the project's purpose as a "citizenship factory." It resists "21st-century anxieties" and provides space "for old and new residents to learn about the world, the city, and each other." 

This building's story gets even better. Oodi, the library, sits across the public square from the Finnish Parliament House. The article from CityLab notes that the two buildings even sit at the same level on that public square.

READ CityLab: How Helsinki Built a "Book Heaven" by David Dudley

At CityLab's recent conference in D.C., Laitio made the case that understanding the building requires understanding the people who built it. Not the architects but the Finnish people the building represents. Laitio didn't open his remarks with high-gloss photos of the well-designed spaces inside the building. He began instead with a reminder of a civil war that killed 36,000 people in 1918:
 
"This progress from one of the poorest countries of Europe to one of the most prosperous has not been an accident. It's based on this idea that when there are so few of us—only 5.5 million people—everyone has to live up to their full potential."

You can see that commitment to living up to their potential in the pictures of the many public spaces the building creates. You can also see it through their circulation numbers. In a city of 650,000 people, Oodi has already hosted 3 million visitors this year.

Reflecting on the trend in the U.S. and U.K. to defund and close libraries, Laitio reminded the audience that libraries have more to tell us about who we are than whether or not we still read books. 

He sees the money invested in Oodi as an investment that restores hope. Those operational costs of €50 per resident have the potential of "restoring people's hope in living together." Laitio thinks that's an investment we should all make:
 
"We're losing out on our democratic potential … Libraries have this incredible promise—that you can build your future here. You can be your best person inside this building."
 
When a space is well-designed to celebrate civic life, the best of who we are has the opportunity to show up.
 
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