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America’s Lost Einsteins

Posted: 04 Dec 2017 02:00 AM PST

Consider two American children, one rich and one poor, both brilliant. The rich one is much more likely to become an inventor, creating products that help improve America's quality of life. The poor child probably will not.

That's the conclusion of a new study by the Equality of Opportunity project, a team of researchers led by the Stanford economist Raj Chetty. Chetty and his team look at who becomes inventors in the United States, a career path that can contribute to vast improvements in Americans' standard of living. They find that children from families in the the top 1 percent of income distribution are 10 times as likely to have filed for a patent as those from below-median income families, and that white children are three times as likely to have filed a patent as black children. This means, they say, that there could be millions of "lost Einsteins"—individuals who might have become inventors and changed the course of American life, had they grown up in different neighborhoods. "There are very large gaps in innovation by income, race, and gender," Chetty told me. "These gaps don't seem to be about differences in ability to innovate—they seem directly related to environment."

The discrepancy in who gets patents is not the result of innate abilities, Chetty and his team, Alex Bell of Harvard, Xavier Jaravel of the London School of Economics, Neviana Petkova of the U.S. Treasury Department, and John Van Reener of MIT, conclude. Children from many different backgrounds excel in math and science tests in third grade, for instance. But it's the wealthy children who do well in math and science that end up getting patents. Why? Because they have more exposure to innovation in their childhood, the researchers say. This exposure comes mostly from interacting with people who are themselves inventors. If young kids know people who are inventors, or hear conversations at the dinner table about research and innovation, they're more likely to become interested in pursuing careers in that field, Chetty told me. "Opportunity broadly, and exposure to innovation in particular, are really the keys to increasing innovation," he said. Chetty, for instance, grew up in a family of academics, and overheard conversations about science and making discoveries, which, he says, influenced his decision to pursue a career in academia.

Inventors Are More Likely to Come From High-Income Families

Just one out of 1,000 children from families in the 30th percentile of income are likely to become inventors. By contrast, eight of 1,000 children from families in the 100th percentile of income are. (Steven Johnson / The Atlantic)

Aaron Hertzmann, who is now a principal scientist at Adobe Systems, has eight patents. He grew up in Palo Alto, where he had a computer before he was 10 years old. He had a lot of exposure to inventors as a child—his father was a "tinkerer," Hertzmann told me, and his stepfather was an academic in the field of computer science. "He exposed me to approaching math as something to explore, rather than it just being a homework assignment," Hertzmann said, about his stepfather. Hertzmann and his mother would tag along to his stepfather's conferences in places like Greece, meeting other academics and hearing them talk about their work. From that, the idea bloomed in Hertzmann's mind that academia, and specifically math and science, were areas where he could have an impact. When he graduated from college, his stepfather guided him along the process of applying to study for a Ph.D. Hertzmann, now 43, has a Ph.D. in computer science, and develops new ideas and algorithms at the intersection of art and computer science.

Indeed, exposure to certain specific fields makes children more likely to pursue a career, and a patent, in those fields, the researchers found. This is how they know that exposure, in addition to neighborhoods, is important to innovation: It would be unlikely that growing up in a good neighborhood would inspire many children to patent in the same small field. People who grew up in Minneapolis, where there are many medical-device manufacturers, were especially likely to get patents in medical devices, for instance. Among people living in Boston as adults, those who grew up in Silicon Valley were especially likely to patent in computers. Children whose parents have patents in a specific field—say, antennas—are also likely to patent in exactly the same field as their parents did.

Women who grew up in an area where women held a higher share of patents in a certain field were more likely to themselves get patents in that area when they grew up. Strikingly, it was especially important for children to see people who looked like them as innovators for them to pursue the same career path—girls in an area with a lot of male innovators wouldn't necessarily envision themselves in the same career, while boys would. If girls were as exposed to female inventors as boys are to male inventors, the gender gap between male and female inventors would fall by half, the researchers estimate. (They find that 82 percent of 40-year-old inventors today are male.)

These findings have big implications for the state of the U.S. economy, which has seen innovation decline in recent decades. Innovation is often measured by what's known as "total factor productivity," which essentially tracks advances that have been made in using existing resources to increase output. Prior to 1973, total factor productivity increased at an annual rate of 1.9 percent—but since then, that growth rate has fallen to 0.7 percent, according to the Brookings Institution. Innovation is central to economic growth, Chetty says. About half of U.S. annual GDP growth is attributed to innovation. Innovation, says Chetty, is what allows people to live richer, healthier, and more productive lives.

Much of the past work out of the Equality of Opportunity project has been motivated by ideas about justice, and the idea that everyone, regardless of where they are raised, should have a fair shot at the American Dream, Chetty told me. But these results indicate that equality of opportunity is important for another reason too: It makes the economy stronger. "Opportunity might be vital for economic growth even if you don't care about inequality or fairness concerns," Chetty said. "If you give kids from lower-income families better training and better opportunities, maybe they would end up contributing more to the economy and that would help everyone essentially." Chetty and his team estimate that if women, minorities, and children from low and middle-income families invented at the same rate as white men from high-income families, there would be four times as many inventors in America as there are today.

Chetty and his team came up with these results by linking patent applications in the U.S. between 1996 and 2014 to federal income tax returns to create a dataset of 1.2 million inventors. (The study uses patents as a way to measure an individual's contribution to innovation.) They tracked inventors' lives from birth to adulthood to determine who becomes an inventor. They then linked data on math test scores from 3rd to 8th grade from children who attended New York City public schools to see if the differences in who got a patent could be related to innate ability (they aren't). They then showed that children who grew up in commuting zones with higher patent rates are "significantly" more likely to become inventors than children who did not. They also showed that children from both low-income and high-income families who attend universities like M.I.T. go on to patent at relatively similar rates, suggesting that it's factors in a child's earlier life that determine whether they go on to patent.

This follows on earlier research from the Equality of Opportunity project that shows that growing up in an impoverished area can hurt a child's chances of achieving many of the pieces of the American Dream. Living in certain neighborhoods makes it less likely that a child will attend college, that they'll earn more than their parents did, and that they'll postpone having children until they marry.

This paper's results suggest that policies that increase exposure to innovation childhood could go along way in stimulating economic growth. Internships or mentorship programs could link children interested in math and science with innovators, for example, which might make them more likely to pursue careers in that field. Integration could also help—if children have exposure to more types of people, the people they think of as their peer group changes, and they might be more likely to pursue a career that is dominated by people who don't look like them. That will help them succeed individually, and it could have a positive effect on the economy as a whole.

Jared Kushner Responds (Very Briefly) to Flynn's Plea Deal

Posted: 03 Dec 2017 03:30 PM PST

When Jared Kushner, Donald Trump's son-in-law and all-purpose aide, made a rare public appearance on Sunday in Washington, D.C., it didn't take long for the investigations engulfing the White House to come up.

Two days earlier, Trump's former national-security adviser, Michael Flynn, had pleaded guilty to making false statements to federal investigators about his conversations with former Russian Ambassador Sergey Kislyak during the presidential transition, including one in which he urged Russia to delay or vote against a UN Security Council resolution condemning Israeli settlements in the West Bank and East Jerusalem. The plea-deal documents indicated that "a very senior member of the Presidential Transition Team" had instructed Flynn to contact officials from several countries, including Russia, in an attempt to defeat the resolution. Journalists subsequently reported that this senior transition official was Jared Kushner.

"You and your team were taking steps to try and get the United Nations Security Council to not go along with what ended up being [an] abstention by the U.S.," said the Israeli-American billionaire Haim Saban shortly after Kushner took the stage at the eponymous Saban Forum, an annual gathering of U.S. and Israeli leaders organized by the Brookings Institution. "As far as I know there was nothing illegal there. But I think that this crowd, and myself, want to thank you for making that effort." It was a stunning way to open the discussion—not with a pointed question of a man at the center of a churning news cycle, but with pointed praise.

Kushner nodded, smiled tightly, and seemed to mouth "thank you" as the applause rolled in. He said nothing else on the matter. Notably, he didn't refute reports of his involvement in Flynn's outreach.

That there was "nothing illegal" here isn't a universally held view; some point to potential violations of the obscure, nearly-never-enforced Logan Act, which prohibits unauthorized private U.S. citizens—which Flynn and Kushner were back in December 2016 when the UN resolution came up for a vote—from negotiating with foreign governments. But more remarkable than Saban's observation about the law was the subtle statement that he and Kushner made about the long-held, seemingly unshakeable political norm that the United States has one president at a time. The message from their brief exchange on the Flynn news was that if the cause is worthy enough, there's no problem with having two presidents at once.

In this case, the incoming Trump administration had opposed the outgoing Obama administration's decision to abstain from (rather than veto) the UN resolution—a last-ditch effort by Barack Obama to register his disapproval of Israel's policy of permitting Jewish settlements on land that could one day be incorporated into a Palestinian state. Israeli officials reportedly lobbied Trump to undermine Obama's plan and the president-elect appeared to oblige, tweeting that the United States should veto the resolution and speaking by phone with Egyptian President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi, whose government had introduced the resolution. Now we know that Flynn, and perhaps Kushner as well, were also engaged in the campaign to counter Obama at the United Nations. (Also opposed to Obama's action was Saban, who donated millions to Hillary Clinton's campaign and once described Trump as a "conman" who would be "disastrous for Israel," but who nevertheless argued that Obama was chipping away at America's "long-standing support for Israel" by not fighting the "biased" resolution.)

The Trump transition team's gambit ultimately failed. The United States abstained from the UN vote and every other country on the Security Council, including Russia, backed the resolution. But in so publicly and vigorously seeking to thwart the president he would succeed, Trump defied a standard of conduct that, while far from inviolate, had served as a guide for the presidents-in-waiting who preceded him.

This tradition informed President-elect Bill Clinton's reflection, just a day after his defeat of President George H.W. Bush in 1992, on continuity in American foreign policy. "During the transition that is now beginning, I urge America's friends and foes alike to recognize, as I do, that America has only one president at a time, that America's foreign policy remains solely in his hands, that even as America's administrations change, America's fundamental interests do not, that the greatest gesture of goodwill any nation can make toward me is to continue their full cooperation during this period with our one president, George Bush, and that the greatest mistake any adversary could make would be to doubt America's resolve during this period of transition," Clinton said.

The tradition was also invoked by President-elect George W. Bush in his dismissal of a question about Clinton's plan for Israeli-Palestinian peace in 2000. "We have one president, and we'll have one president, and the current president is President Clinton. And our nation must speak with one voice, and therefore, his is the voice that needs to speak." It resonated again in President-elect Barack Obama's refusal to comment on talks to end the 2008-2009 Gaza War. "I will continue to insist that when it comes to foreign affairs, it is particularly important to adhere to the principle of one president at a time, because there are delicate negotiations taking place right now, and we can't have two voices coming out of the United States when you have so much at stake."

In his conversation with Saban on Sunday, Kushner offered few details about the Israeli-Palestinian peace initiative he's leading. But in accepting Saban's thanks, he was accepting gratitude for departing from the vision that had animated Clinton, Bush, and Obama's foreign policies—one in which the institution of the presidency trumps the individual president, where America's interests abroad take precedence over policy differences at home.

Looking for the Linguistic Smoking-Gun in a Trump Tweet

Posted: 03 Dec 2017 09:55 AM PST

President Donald Trump's behavior on Twitter routinely drives entire news cycles. This weekend, he showed that a single word within a single presidential tweet can be explosive.

Trump raised alarm bells in his published response to the news that his former national security adviser, Michael Flynn, pleaded guilty to lying to the FBI.

The tweet published to Trump's account clearly implied that he already knew that Flynn had deceived the Feds when he fired him back in February: "I had to fire General Flynn because he lied to the Vice President and the FBI. He has pled guilty to those lies. It is a shame because his actions during the transition were lawful. There was nothing to hide!"

That unleashed a frenzy of speculation about whether Trump had just admitted to obstructing justice, since it seems he must have known that Flynn had committed a felony when he was pressuring then-FBI director James Comey to ease up on the Flynn case.

But then came word that maybe Trump didn't write the tweet after all. The Washington Post reported that "Trump's lawyer John Dowd drafted the president's tweet, according to two people familiar with the twitter message." The Associated Press also identified Dowd as the one who "crafted" the tweet, citing "one person familiar with the situation," though Dowd himself declined to make a comment to the AP.

Attributing the tweet to Dowd set off a new round of incredulous chatter. Would the president's lawyer really compose a tweet like that on his client's behalf, especially one that seemed so incriminating? One widely shared response, from a person who tweets from the account @nycsouthpaw, focused on a single word in the tweet as grounds for skepticism: "We're supposed to believe John Dowd wrote 'pled' instead of 'pleaded'?"

Others argued that Dowd could very well have used "pled" as the past-tense of "plead." Harvard Law School professor Jonathan Zittrain noted, "I've seen lawyers write each. It's not like, you know, 'hung' and 'hanged.'" Indeed, both "pleaded" and "pled" are both considered acceptable by American usage guides—though, in many newsrooms, "pled" is considered a rookie mistake, which helps explain why some journalists seized on it.

"Pled" actually dates back to the 16th century, and though it never gained much traction in British English, it has been gaining in popularity in American English over the past few decades. Some prefer "pled" because they think "pleaded" sounds wrong, based on analogous past-tense forms like "bleed"/"bled" and "feed"/"fed." Plenty of legal types don't seem mind "pled," at least not in the United States. In fact, when the blog Above the Law polled its readers in 2011, 57 percent of the 1,311 respondents preferred "pled" to "pleaded."

But what of Dowd himself?

I searched through the LexisNexis news database to try to find his preference for forming the past tense of "plead," and I discovered an example from January 2010, when Dowd was representing the billionaire hedge-fund manager Raj Rajaratnam, who was standing trial for insider trading. As quoted in The Wall Street Journal, Dowd said of Rajaratnam, "He's pled not guilty and we intend to try his case and demonstrate that he's innocent." (Rajaratnam was later found guilty and is currently serving an 11-year prison sentence.)

So Dowd, too, is on record as a "pled" user. That single word does not betray some non-lawyerly voice—Trump's or anyone else's—so we can't point to it as evidence for who really wrote that tweet. It would be a tidy solution to isolate the use of "pled" as a kind of "tell" disproving the attribution of the tweet to Dowd, but it is in fact exceedingly difficult to be able to identify such a linguistic smoking gun.

One skeptic on Twitter wrote, "A forensic linguist could rule out Dowd in 5 minutes. Once that happens, Trump has no backpedal." Actual forensic linguists would be hard-pressed to rule Dowd in or out on the basis of a single tweet, however. The field of authorship analysis requires significant amounts of textual data in order to be reliable. First, one would need to compile past texts firmly attributed to the potential authors—in this case, Trump and Dowd. That could at least establish idiosyncratic patterns of style and usage, but for a low-frequency word like "pled," even that approach may prove fruitless. (For what it's worth, Trump had never previously used "pled" in a tweet, according to the Trump Twitter Archive. Trump's only use of "pleaded" is from a news article he quoted.)

Authorship analysis has had some notable success stories, but not involving something as slender as a tweet. In 2013, I wrote in The Wall Street Journal about how forensic analysts helped determine that "Harry Potter" author J.K. Rowling had written a crime novel, "The Cuckoo's Calling," under the pen name Robert Galbraith. I asked one of the experts, Patrick Juola of Duquesne University, to detail his approach in a guest post for Language Log, a blog about linguistics that I contribute to. When a commenter remarked that it would be interesting to analyze the anonymous Twitter tip that had set off the investigation, Juola replied, "it would indeed be interesting, but authorial analysis of tweets is HARD. Not enough data, you see."

That sort of challenge has been taken up by some forensic linguists, such as Tim Grant of Aston University, who has been working on techniques to analyze tweets and other short-form messages. But such an analysis would be even trickier in this case, since Dowd—if he is indeed the true author of the controversial tweet—may have been attempting to mimic the Twitter voice of Trump. That could explain the exclamation point at the end, for instance—a classic Trumpian touch. Or Dowd could have "drafted" the tweet with Trump subsequently making revisions or at least adding some finishing touches. Then we'd be dealing with an even murkier co-authorship situation. It looks like we'll simply have to wait for further illumination of the story behind the tweet's composition: no single word or punctuation mark is going to give the game away.

How To Build an Orchestra From Broken Instruments

Posted: 03 Dec 2017 06:00 AM PST

Orchestras began tuning to the oboe, in part, because its sound was more penetrating in a performance setting than gut strings. There were also fewer oboes than violins, and in the earliest orchestras, maybe just one or two, making it the right instrument to sort out a dispute over pitch in the violin section.

At a symphony-orchestra performance in Philadelphia this weekend, there may not be many strings to tune. And possibly not a single oboe up to the task. Few of the 400 or so brass, woodwind, percussion, and string players involved in the performance will be handling instruments even close to working order.

In fact, to prepare for Symphony for a Broken Orchestra, a new composition debuting at the 23rd Street Armory in Philadelphia on Sunday, many of the city's best professional musicians had to relearn how to play their instruments from scratch. Performing side by side with students, the pros will be playing the disused and discarded instruments—trumpets missing valves, cellos missing strings, clarinets missing mouthpieces—that Philadelphia's public schools have had to make do with for years.

This rag-tag orchestra is the work of Temple Contemporary, an adjunct of the Tyler School of Art that puts on socially relevant contemporary art projects across the city. The performances on Sunday are only one prong of the program: Temple Contemporary has launched a campaign to rescue every broken-down student instrument in Philadelphia and restore them to their schools.

"All of the schools across the district had been storing instruments in cupboards or basements instruments that over time had been broken but the district had no money to fix," says Robert Blackson, director of Temple Contemporary. "The teachers had all hoped that one day, their ship would come in, the budget would be released and they could start getting the money together to repair those instruments, but it just hadn't come."

Blackson first started thinking about the problem, and the performance, after Philadelphia closed 23 public schools in 2013. He got a tour of one school where administrators were consolidating all the leftover things being cleared out of the others, including a room filled with broken instruments—a heaping, almost sculptural pile of art potential. Blackson started working with Frank Machos, the arts director of the School District of Philadelphia, to compile a list of every neglected horn, woodwind, stringed instrument, and piece of percussion in the school system. Minus the ones that were utterly unsalvageable, the spreadsheet numbered more than 1,000 objects: trombones with bent slides, saxophones stripped of cork, violas missing tuning pegs.

The drop-off center for Symphony for a Broken Orchestra at Temple Contemporary. (Haley Adair/Symphony for a Broken Orchestra/Temple Contemporary)

"There's very few things like flugelhorns or bassoons or oboes or bass clarinets," Blackson says of his stockpile, which came under his stewardship in September 2016. "I think that's just how kids' heads work. There's signature instruments we all recognize"—namely violins and clarinets. "The other ones, there aren't as many of them."

This fall, Temple Contemporary started an online effort to ask people to adopt a Philadelphia public-school instrument. Each instrument gets its own profile page, designed to tug at the heartstrings of any former band geek. (Flute #1027: "This flute comes from Moffet Elementary. It leaks and needs a new case before it can be played again.") Donors can make contributions from $50 to $200 toward the rehabilitation of the misfit horn that calls to them (and see their names printed on tags for the instrument's case). With charitable support and a grant from the Barra Foundation, Temple Contemporary will send the instruments to three music-repair shops around Pennsylvania. Another grant from the Pew Center for Arts & Heritage will pay for the performance.

"I'm a musician because of the public school system in Los Angeles," says David Lang, the Yale School of Music professor who composed the original piece for Symphony for a Broken Orchestra. "I'm completely a product of the public schools. So when [Blackson] told me he had access to these 1,000 instruments, my first thought was that each one of those instruments was an opportunity to change the life of a student that wasn't going to happen."

The adoption site features snippets of audio recording of each instrument being played by a professional, which gives some hint of the calamity to come in Symphony for a Broken Orchestra. Clarinet #727, for example, is really only the lower half of a woodwind; it's missing so many parts that it cannot be played. The recording features someone clicking its damaged pads and bent keys. Lang, who is also the co-founder and the co–artistic director of the new music ensemble Bang on a Can, says that he wrote Symphony with a mind to the fact that some sections would need to interpret their parts to the best of their ability.  

When the group assembles under the conductor Jayce Ogren on Sunday, the students will have a leg up. The youngest orchestra members will be playing the instruments in the best condition, while professional Philadelphia musicians will be stuck with the Violin #240s and Alto Sax #225s of the group. Symphony is a chance for students to learn about new music, a mentorship opportunity in noise. It's also a moment for musicians of all stripes to come together and share in the lifelong frustration that is dealing with gear.

In Philadelphia and elsewhere, private or nonprofit organizations are stepping forward to try to fill the gulf of public funding for arts education. Project 440—named after the 440 Hz pitch to which an orchestra tunes—is devoted to boosting early music participation in underrepresented communities in Philadelphia. Orchestras look nothing like the cities where they play: Fewer than 5 percent of symphony-orchestra ensemble players are African American or Latino. Project 440 joined up with nine other area arts organizations to form the Philadelphia Music Alliance for Youth, whose goal is to shepherd a class of 75 young musicians, providing resources and instruction from 4th through 11th grade, in the hopes of building a more diverse next generation of classical musicians.

Symphony for a Broken Orchestra aims to eventually return flutes and cellos to their proud service in John Philips Sousa marching-band routines and Star Wars orchestral medleys. But for the debut performance on Sunday, splintered strings and woodwinds will serve a higher calling. The piece repurchases the dreams that these instruments represent for children, whether it's performing Mozart with a chamber ensemble or wailing on a tenor sax. Making new art is the best redemption imaginable for a broken instrument.

"One way to look at [broken instruments] is they've had their way to play as Western music destroyed," Lang says. "It doesn't mean these instruments are completely incapable of making sound. Or even making beautiful sound."

The Odds of Impeachment Are Dropping

Posted: 03 Dec 2017 05:27 AM PST

Now that Michael Flynn has pleaded guilty to lying to the F.B.I., and agreed to dish on his former boss, some Trump-watchers are suggesting that impeachment may be around the corner. "It's time to start talking about impeachment," announced a Saturday column on CNN.com. The Flynn deal, declared former Deputy Assistant Attorney General Harry Litman in Friday's New York Times, "portends the likelihood of impeachable charges being brought against the president of the United States."

That may be true. But bringing impeachment charges against Trump, and actually forcing him from office, are two vastly different things. And while the former may be more likely today than it was half a year ago, the latter is actually less likely. Since Robert Mueller became special counsel in May, the chances of the House of Representatives passing articles of impeachment—and the Senate ratifying them—have probably gone down.

That's because impeachment is less a legal process than a political one. Passing articles of impeachment requires a majority of the House. Were such a vote held today—even if every Democrat voted yes—it would still require 22 Republicans. If Democrats take the House next fall, they could then pass articles of impeachment on their own. But ratifying those articles would require two-thirds of the Senate, which would probably require at least 15 Republican votes.

That kind of mass Republican defection has grown harder, not easier, to imagine. It's grown harder because the last six months have demonstrated that GOP voters will stick with Trump despite his lunacy, and punish those Republican politicians who do not.

Among Republicans, Trump's approval rating has held remarkably steady. The week Mueller was named, according to Gallup, Trump's GOP support stood at 84 percent. In the days after Donald Trump Jr. was revealed to have written, "I love it" in response to a Russian offer of dirt on Hillary Clinton, it reached 87 percent. In Gallup's last poll, taken in late November, it was 81 percent. Trump's approval rating among Republicans has not dipped below 79 percent since he took office. None of the revelations from Mueller's investigation—nor any of the other outrageous things Trump has done—has significantly undermined his support among the GOP rank and file.

            The GOP senators who have challenged Trump, by contrast, have seen their support among Republican voters crash. In July, Arizona Senator Jeff Flake's brave and honorable book was excerpted in Politico as "My Party Is in Denial About Donald Trump." Trump retaliated, of course. And by October, a Morning Consult poll found that Arizona Republicans disapproved of Flake by 13 points. That month, he declined to run for reelection. The other GOP senator to most frontally challenge Trump has been Tennessee's Bob Corker, who in a series of interviews in October, accused him of "debasing" the presidency and warned that he could lead America into World War III. The result: A similar collapse of support. As The Washington Post's Aaron Blake has noted, Tennessee Republicans approved of Corker in February by 40 points. By the end of October, they disapproved of him by 12 points. Not surprisingly, Corker isn't running for reelection either.

Could Mueller or some enterprising journalist uncover revelations so epic that they shake Trump's hold on the GOP, and give Republican senators cover to support his removal? It's unlikely. After all, the vast majority of Alabama Republicans still support Roy Moore. Most conservatives consume pro-Trump media, which will downplay or distort virtually anything Mueller or the mainstream press discovers. And the more aggressively Democrats push for Trump's removal, the easier it will be for Breitbart and Sean Hannity to rally Republicans against a "left-wing coup."

Democrats did something similar during the battle over Bill Clinton's impeachment. By September 1998, more than 100 newspapers—including USA Today, the Chicago Tribune and the Philadelphia Inquirer—had called on him to step down. That month, CNN reported that Democratic "lawmakers are privately telling top White House aides that the president should consider resigning."

But Clinton survived, largely because Democratic voters stuck by him. If anything, the Republican-led impeachment effort boosted his popularity among his party's base. When Newsweek first broke the news of Clinton's relationship with Monica Lewinsky in January 1998, according to Gallup, his approval rating among Democrats was 86 percent. After he admitted to lying about the affair in August, it hit 89 percent. By the time the Senate voted on impeachment in February 1999, it hit 91 percent.

The last decade has shown that you can get big things through Congress with the support of only one party. In 2009, Democrats passed a stimulus bill and Obamacare with no help from the GOP. Last week on tax cuts, Republicans did the reverse. But removing a president requires bipartisanship. And in this ultra-partisan age, that means removing a president is virtually impossible, even when he's Donald Trump.