I want Mueller to take down Trump. My head wants Trump taken down any way possible, but my heart specifically wants Mueller to do it. He’s a wonk. He’s a wonk who is described (by anyone other than the most vocal House Republicans) as scrupulously based in the data, cautious enough to only act when his case is unassailable, and impartial to the point that he will fire members of his own team for the crime of admitting they dislike Trump in a private text, lest Mueller inadvertently feed into Trump’s unfounded accusations of a witch hunt against him. (Trump keeps using that word – I do not not think it means what he thinks it means.)
I’m a wonk. I’m a data nerd now, but as a kid I was a would-be historian. What is history if not the raw data for psychologists and sociologists the same as statistics is the raw data for epidemiology or economics? I think I developed a reverence for the scientific method partially as a way of holding on to sanity in a world of gaslighting and injustice. Abusers try to deny reality, and they know how to make their victims – and the authorities who might be able to cause consequences for them – believe them. But, looking into the history of women’s suffrage or the Civil Rights Movement, looking into public health statistics, looking into the academic achievement gap in America’s schools, looking into how many Americans believe the words that come out of Trump’s $7i7hole about women, minorities, the poor, the disabled or anyone else who isn’t him, I could/can reason out why abusers use gaslighting to ensure their victims are too ashamed to speak out. I could/can begin to release my own shame. It isn’t my fault horrible things happened – it’s the fault of systemic power imbalances that disenfranchise Americans, abusers who turn a blind eye to the basic humanity of others, and bigots in positions of authority like Jeff Sessions who reinforce those imbalances rather than put the weight of law on the side of lasting change. Through a principled method for determining the truth, I could hope there was a way to hold on to it amidst lies.
The scientific method sounds nice on paper – and it worked internally for me to hold onto facts amidst falsehoods. It doesn’t sound as nice in a thirty-second soundbite on Fox News. It doesn’t play to “the base” and get out the vote. It doesn’t always work in hearings to change things for the better, whether they are televised or not. I was a would-be wonk who approached trying to get justice for abuses by patiently reading the law in my state, and cataloging the laws the abusers were breaking, in addition to the bones. I was the girl who tried to gather testimony from multiple victims and spoke in official meetings with regulatory agencies – not alone. I came prepared. I faced my own equivalent of Jeff Sessions or the Republican Senate that will have to try Trump if it ever comes to impeachment court. I came bearing truth , and I left without justice. As Trump would say, the facts didn’t matter. In the process of documenting the abuses that touched my family personally, I found evidence of worse elsewhere. I didn’t manage to change those either – and I later learned of even more tragic consequences for those others in those worse places later.
I came to believe that while data helped me understand the reality that my story, though horrible, was only one of many just like it across the country – and thus the problem was so much more important than just how it affected us – those same numbers didn’t convince others. I have lost count of how many similar stories of abuse I have read from states across the country over the years. I ceased seeing law, or history or sociology as the answer. I started believing PR and behavioral economics were the only hope. If the truth wasn’t what people wanted to hear, we had to create nudges that aligned in wording with policy makers’ unjust core biases while pointing them to default to moral actions in spite of those unjust morals. If you can’t beat ’em, join ’em. If you can’t change an abuser without resorting to psychological manipulation – oh, well, they’d do the same to you.
I was lucky enough to hear a presentation by some of the masters of using the power of narratives and communications as a force for good in government during graduate school. I was also lucky that they brought a for-profit communications firm to talk to a bunch of would-be academics who thought the science we believed in mattered to anyone outside our ivory tower. The corporate PR guy shocked the room by saying that academics think it’s a cardinal sin to use PR to sell their findings – because their findings reveal the truth and PR is only for the lies – but that they needed PR even more because of it. He told a bunch of scientists that they should watch Fox News and adopt their successful strategies, because the side of right needed far more help to gain traction than anything Fox News would ever broadcast. This sat really poorly with a room full of scientists – especially the ones from disciplines that were doing important work on climate change, or orphan diseases or education – but it immediately made sense to me. I’d lived it. I’d told the truth – and it had been too inconvenient and unappealing in its implications compared to the abusers’ fictions.
I am not ruling the world, or even sitting on a city council, so obviously my conversion to the Church of Science-Spinology wasn’t the silver bullet. I agree we should put a PR spin on the truth to get it accepted. We have a moral imperative to do so because it is actually the truth. I just can’t easily be the face who does that, myself. I am a) socially awkward and very ADHD and b) feel sucker-punched every time I detect spin – even if it’s spin that makes something I believe in more palatable and even if I’m the one trying to spin the data. I’m a Mueller-like wonk of a data analyst because, quite frankly, I trigger myself when I am too much around the kind of manipulative b.s. in any capacity that reminds me of my own story. PTSD is a b17ch that way, preventing me from doing the things I believe would make the world better successfully because it keeps telling me I’m still the same powerless girl trying to change a system and losing. PTSD is the ultimate in self-sabotage. ADHD is a contender, but PTSD is the title holder. I could get away with just being too loud and/or interrupting – doing both while sounding anxious because I’m triggered is a bridge too far. But, trying to spin the truth myself feels to my nervous system like a slippery slope to gaslighting, and gaslighting is a type of abuse, and therefore spin is a trigger. Paradoxically I think my dream job would be to be the chief numbers girl for a government agency. I’d produce the kind of scrupulously fair numbers that didn’t trigger me. Then I’d hand them off to the Progressive wing of Congress and hope they’d know how to get their act together enough to supply the necessary spin to make those beautiful facts into the kind of ugly fiction that will actually be enshrined in law.
Yes, I know the Democrats are actually not doing that at all and have been pretty useless and self-sabotaging this past year, but I did say this would be my dream job. Part of the dream part of the job is that I’d both be in the position to produce those facts and figures regularly reported in the paper at all – proclaiming the truth for those with the eyes to see it in raw form – and the other part would be that there’d be some Progressives out there who knew how to spin those raw facts for the rest who don’t have the eyes to see. If I’m going to dream, I might as well dream big, right?
Except, Mueller is a wonk and he might win. He’s not a Comey career politician – emphasis on the politician over the career. He’s not an Obama or even a Bernie Sanders, and he’s not a charismatic spy putting together a salacious dossier. He’s just a wonk. He isn’t using any spin. He isn’t even saying anything. He’s just gathering the raw news, not the nudges or the narratives. And he supposedly has a chance. He may, of course, lose. He would still have to get through a hostile Republican Senate to actually impeach and convict. Someone might still have to make some back room deals to bring it on home – they had to even in the Civil Rights era I looked to for inspiration as a kid historian – and Fox News might still poison hearts and minds against him. Even if he does win, only Trump would be gone. Pence and McConnell and, probably worst of all, Paul Ryan would still be there. Maybe ousting Trump won’t happen – and maybe it won’t really help cure what ails us as a country even if it does. But maybe a wonk armed only with facts will be the one to oust him. That, more than anything, might give me hope things could ever actually change for the better. Maybe in 2018 the data could oust the hater – and if that could happen maybe my dream wonky data job could actually both exist and actually matter. That would be a pretty cool dream, even if I will most likely never hold my dream job itself.