As Trump’s die-hard supporters cling to unreasonable doubts, the rest of us must ask ourselves, now what?

I’ve related this old joke before, but the time seems right for a retelling.

A man who suspected his wife was having an affair hired a private investigator to follow her around.

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“Here’s what I saw,” the gumshoe reported several days later. “On the night she told you she was out with her girlfriends, she was actually at a dimly lit restaurant having dinner with a man. I tailed them to a bar where they got sloppy drunk and slow danced for about an hour. After that, I followed them to a motel and saw them go into a room together. Then the man pulled the curtains closed and the lights went out.”

The husband shook his head. “Always the element of doubt,” he sighed.

It’s the same blinkered expression we’re hearing these days from stalwart defenders of President Donald Trump.

Did Trump attempt to use the power of his office to coerce leaders of an allied foreign country to dig up dirt on one of his domestic political rivals?

I mean, yes, sure, his administration later cited fears of corruption for putting a hold on nearly $400 million in congressionally approved military aid for Ukraine, even though Trump has otherwise shown little interest in fighting corruption and even though the Defense Department certified in May that Ukraine’s anti-corruption efforts had met U.S. standards for foreign aid.

And yes, sure, that aid was finally released just two days after news broke in September that a whistleblower was raising alarms about White House attempts to pressure Ukraine into launching an investigation.

But that could be an eerie coincidence on top of some misunderstandings.

Always the element of doubt.

And yes, sure, multiple nonpartisan witnesses at the U.S. House impeachment hearings testified that Trump’s minions repeatedly pressured Ukrainian leaders to at least announce that they were investigating possible illegalities related to Joe Biden’s son and the Ukrainian energy company that hired him. Such an announcement was a prerequisite, they said, for Trump to grant a White House meeting with Ukraine’s new president, Volodymyr Zelenskiy.

But it could be that the witnesses were lying or were simply confused when they claimed that Trump’s illicit intentions were widely known in his inner circle. After all, none of those who testified claimed to have heard Trump say directly, “Squeeze the Ukrainians until they agree to help my reelection effort,” so maybe they were just speculating.

Always the element of doubt.

And yes, sure, those who presumably did speak directly to Trump about Ukraine and would be in a position to offer exculpatory testimony — such confidants as former national security adviser John Bolton, White House acting chief of staff Mick Mulvaney, National Security Council lawyer John Eisenberg, Energy Secretary Rick Perry, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and Trump’s personal attorney Rudy Giuliani — are refusing to testify. And Republican members of the House Intelligence Committee have refused to call on these men to appear, and have failed to produce even one witness to swear under oath to Trump’s innocent and salutary intentions.

But that could be … well, I don’t know. It could be that the mystery man in the joke above is the wife’s long-lost brother.

Always the element of doubt.

In the real world, there is no longer any reasonable doubt that Trump abused his power by orchestrating a plot to extort Ukraine for his personal political advantage. History will mock those who are still claiming or hoping otherwise.

He did it. The only real question now is whether this offense, on top of Trump’s other obstructions and transgressions, is grave enough to remove him from office. Is it right — is it even safe — to have a vengeful, dishonest aspiring tyrant leading our country for another 14 months, at minimum?

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I have no doubt of my answer. What’s yours?

Eric Zorn is an op-ed columnist for the Chicago Tribune.

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