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One Town Hall, Two Town Hall, Red Town Hall, Blue Town Hall

A taxonomy of the town halls

The List of Significant United States Town Hall Meetings on Wikipedia is short, easily surpassed in length by the List of Animals With Fraudulent Diplomas, the List of Notable Trees, and the List of Inventors Killed by Their Own Inventions. It is by no means definitive; it fails to tally any constituent meetings that took place before 2009, when the tea party transmogrified town halls from forums during which participants could ask their friendly local representatives questions into a battle maneuver deployed against unfaithful elected officials. After 2009, the list jumps to the first ever Twitter town hall, held by President Obama in 2011, and then to the flammable town halls currently taking place across the country. That's it. Still, it’s a useful, if truncated, history of how we got here: yelling on the internet smushed between bookends of people screaming about health care.

Wikipedia lists in general, however, are most useful when they approach specificity — skimming through a list of all types of trees is simply not as rewarding as learning intimate details about those few with fan clubs. It is possible for us to create a more thorough taxonomy of town halls, especially as we continue to pregame for the 2018 election. In fact, it is necessary — how else are we going to appreciate these strange gatherings of American humanity, the political version of noon at Times Square? Below, we have done Wikipedia a favor and described these important subspecies of town halls in greater depth.

Significant Town Halls Featuring an Inanimate Object

Without conflict, town halls may as well not exist. They function mainly as a one-act play in which the audience, rather than the person onstage, is expected to do most of the performing. If you can't tell who the audience thinks the villain is by the end of the play, the actor has failed at their job.

Constituents rarely complain about the infrequency of town halls in their district unless they have something specific that they would like to gripe about — which is why elected officials get away with not holding them most of the time. Most representatives realize this, and are most loath to hold a town hall at the exact moment voters would most like to sit in a giant, echoing space where the word "SHAME" can reverberate into posterity, or at least until the next election cycle.

In a town hall stalemate, constituents sometimes resort to drastic measures, the most dramatic of which is just holding one themselves. In these situations, an understudy for their timid member of Congress becomes necessary. There are many options; the only requirement is that said stand-in must double as contemporary art by also providing commentary on the political process.

There is the classic "empty suit and tie perched on a coat rack, below a wig most likely worn by a grandma in a '90s sitcom, and next to a giant milk carton with your missing representative's face on it."

In a pinch, an empty suit alone works wonders.

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There is the empty chair (get into a monologue next to it at your own peril).

You can dress up your representative like a character in a beloved children's book.

Choosing to let an empty chair practice your electoral defense instead of explaining oneself is not recommended by any leading campaign experts.

Significant Town Halls Featuring a Daring Escape

A not-inconsiderable number of elected officials decide halfway through their town hall that an empty chair would do a better job defending them than they can.

After this realization, they have a number of options.

They can sneak out a back door and hope no one is watching.

Actually, if that doesn't work, they're probably out of options.

Significant Town Halls Involving Insults and Legendary Comebacks

Nearly all town halls feature insults aimed at the representative, although they usually trend toward one-syllable bursts that can achieve exit volume. (The phrase "Do your job" is a current favorite.) Sometimes, both representatives and the constituents who currently hate them get a bit more creative.

There are those who make fun of grammar.

Otherwise, there is "Shut your hole" ...

... or explaining why your representative is a failure and then signing off with "if you can answer any of that, I'll sit down and shut up like Elizabeth Warren."

If all else fails, try simply saying, “On what planet do you spend most of your time?”

Significant Town Halls in Which the Best-Laid Plans Go Awry

Elected officials have attempted to develop many innovations to make town halls less like Gladiator and more like an awkward blind date where no one can think of anything to say now that the bread basket has disappeared.

There is the tele-town hall, which first became a thing back in 2009, when Democrats were the ones trying to think of ways to make people stop yelling at them about Obamacare. There is the town hall in a closet-size room that definitely can't fit all the angry people who have things to say, that just so happened to be the only room in the entire district they could find to book. There is also the "'non-verbal town hall,' reminiscent of a scene from the movie Love Actually."

And, there is the town hall that has been pruned of anyone who doesn't support you, which is what Iowa representative Rod Blum tried to do earlier this week when he prescreened everyone coming to make sure they live in his district.

Earlier in the day, he walked out of an interview after being asked questions about why he accepted donations from outside his district but made town hall attendees show their IDs.

Apparently, his constituents were wondering the same thing.

Significant Town Halls That Instead Function As Sleepovers Where the Attendees Gossip About People Who Aren’t There

Sometimes, American voters gather to target a villain who is outside the town hall, which tends to make the experience of direct democracy far more enjoyable for all inside the room. In 2009, plenty of Republican representatives held meetings to listen to voters complain about President Obama and their Democratic coworkers — and maybe gloat a little bit about how they were so much more courageous than those not holding town halls.

Now Democrats are happy to return the favor and similarly convene. Some are going even further and "adopting" the districts of representatives who voted for the new health care bill in the House without holding their own forums.

Significant Town Halls Involving Tums

There is actually only one of these.

Significant Town Halls Where Politicians Bring Up Nazis to Make a Point

Again, there is only one of these (at least so far), but in case you were wondering, Representative Tom Garrett explained to his constituents this week that "America has overcome amazing challenges that Donald Trump, as frightening as he is to some people, [is] small potatoes compared to Nazi Germany." When people unsurprisingly started booing, he asked, “So he’s worse?”

No one said that every moment in democracy was going to be constructive.