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That’s the tipping point you see in the rear view mirror



We’ve long awaited “the tipping point,” that mythical moment when the American public’s attitude toward Trump shifts strongly against him, forcing Republicans in Congress to stop protecting him.

Well, the tipping point already happened. We just didn’t realize it at the time. Let me explain.

The concept of a “tipping point” is, of course, borrowed from Malcolm Gladwell’s 2000 book. He defined a tipping point as the moment of critical mass, the threshold, the boiling point.” It’s a concept that’s easy to grasp. We know from the development of the atom bomb that a “critical mass” is when a certain quantity of uranium-235 or plutonium is joined to a similar mass. It reaches the tipping point: the uncontrolled fission chain reaction of a nuclear explosion. We know from common experience that when water reaches its boiling point of 212 degrees Fahrenheit, it begins to froth and bubble. We know also from experience what a threshold is: a mountain precipice, say, or a starting line: a radical departure from one state to the next. So it is with tipping points.

We tried to apply the concept to Trump Watch. It was postulated that, prior to the tipping point, the great majority of Americans, especially Republicans, were not prepared to demand action against Trump. When the mythical tipping point was reached, virtually overnight the numbers would shift against him. Or so we thought. It turns out that we may as well have waited for a unicorn as for a sudden, dramatic tipping point. While we were looking for it, it happened!

Tipping points aren’t binary: water doesn’t go from “not boiling” to “boiling” like a runner crossing a starting line. Instead, it warms up gradually, over time, and as long as a sufficient heat source is kept up, the water gets closer and closer to the boiling point until, voila! It boils.

Exactly how and when pre-tipping point becomes tipping point has been the speculation of philosophers for centuries. Xeno of Elea (c. 450 B.C.) started the ball rolling by observing a series of paradoxes that seemed to suggest something illogical: that a runner could never reach his destination, because when he got to the halfway point, he would to traverse half of that, and then half of that, and on and on. Because you can halve something forever and never reach zero, Xeno’s paradox states the runner will never reach his destination.

More than a thousand years later the English empiricist, David Hume, similarly suggested the paradox that you could never prove that the 8-ball moved because the cue ball struck it, because you could never “see” the exact connection between them. More centuries later this concept of ambiguity was reinforced by quantum theory, especially Heisenberg’s “uncertainty principle.” All these things testify against the notion of a clearly defined “tipping point,” but Gladwell’s theory quickly entered the lexicon, and Donald Trump’s election cemented it into our thought processes.

But take a look at the most recent polls. Trump’s approvals are below 40%, a disastrous level especially coming less than two months before the election. Quinnipiac found that 55% of people think Trump is unfit to serve as president. Sixty five percent think him “not level headed.” An ABC/Washington Post poll additionally found that 53% “strongly disapprove” of Trump while nearly half favor impeachment.

Nearly half favor impeachment! Think about that. Is there any doubt that number is going to continue to climb? Not in my mind and not, I suspect, in yours.

So it looks as if “the tipping point” has been reached. But we reached it so slowly, so subtly, that we didn’t even realize it until after the moment passed. Tipping points, of course, are more easily recognized in retrospect than when they’re actually gathering momentum. And sometimes, in trying to analyze events retrospectively—why Carter lost and Reagan won is a good example—even the experts can’t agree on the precise cause, or when it occurred. We know that Reagan won, we know that the American people lost confidence in Carter, but we can’t say with precision exactly when or why it happened. Only that it did.

That’s the case now. History will record that, gradually, over time, event by event, tweet by tweet, the American people grew disgusted with Donald Trump, until…what? Until they turned against him. Now, people will probably say “the election of 2018” was Trump’s tipping point. But the election won’t really be the tipping point; it will turn out the way it will because the tipping point had already been reached. It took a while, but the American people—most of them, anyway, except for the neo-fascists at Breitbart and Fox “News”—finally saw through the imposter, the con man, the pathological liar, the threat in the White House, and loathed what they saw. So, buh-bye, tipping point. The next point? Impeachment.

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