On November 10th 2016, it was reported that Google searches for “How to impeach a president” had increased by 4,850%. Fast forward a year, and impeachment is still frequently discussed—and still widely misunderstood. And so last week we published Impeachment: A Citizen’s Guide, by Harvard’s Cass Sunstein. An urgent addition to our fall list, the book provides an essential guide to what every American should know, and answers important questions like “who impeaches the President?”, “does impeachment mean the president has to leave office?”, and “is impeachment a criminal proceeding?”
This University Press Week we’re joining our sister presses in considering how our publications can cut through the noise and provide the facts. And, just as discussion of impeachment has swirled on social media, social media can help spread word of an important work of scholarship intended to ensure that the swirl’s better informed. Below, alongside a video of Sunstein produced by the virally-minded Big Think, Sunstein’s editor Thomas LeBien writes of the necessity of publishing Impeachment: A Citizen’s Guide.
For the purposes of this post, you could translate the subtitle of Cass Sunstein’s latest book, Impeachment: A Citizen’s Guide, as follows: Social Media Doesn’t Contribute to Anything—You Do. Probably there is no one better than a university press editor to remind everyone that, in sentences, subjects and objects matter. Just as it does for citizens in a republic, it matters a great deal if you imagine that social media acts on you and not the other way around. Put differently, I am less focused on whether social media has contributed to the success of a university press initiative than I am on whether thousands upon thousands of individuals have used social media to help spread word of important new scholarship. And that has very much been our hope in publishing Impeachment: A Citizen’s Guide.
Here’s a useful irony. Sunstein has done more than his share of scholarly work to focus the world’s attention on nudges, choice architecture, and the dangers of Internet cyber cascades that encourage each of us to live in a news bubble of the like-minded. Here again, the subtitle to Sunstein’s current book is important. Impeachment isn’t a book aimed at just some citizens—for subsets of people who spend time on Twitter and Facebook loathing or lauding a president or political party. It hopes to inform citizens collectively. It was with this hope in mind that Sunstein wrote the book without so much as mentioning the current president. It was with this hope in mind that Sunstein did not write a book pitched at impeaching someone, but rather wrote a book pitched at guiding American citizens through the Constitutional impeachment mechanism and how it works.
This means, when it comes to social media, that this book should serve as a useful guide for anyone, on any point of the opinion spectrum, thinking about whether and how (and how not) to impeach a president. And therein lies the most vaunted hope. Commercial publishers have become ever more skilled at using social media to toss chum to the like-minded. University press publishers, guided by their non-profit mission, aim to allow readers to use social media for a different purpose. Impeachment: A Citizen’s Guide came to be because there was a crying need for authoritative expertise on impeachment. If, as some of Sunstein’s prior scholarship suggests, social media is a vast echo chamber of divisive opinion, then it matters—especially for those of us working to disseminate scholarly insights—that some of those opinions are better informed.
Head on over to the blogs of Johns Hopkins University Press, Athabasca University Press, and Beacon Press for a few more thoughts on social media and scholarship, or check out a list of everything offered up on the 2017 University Press Week Blog Tour.