Watching impeachment from afar, same divide but little persuasion

US President Trump delivers remarks at an Evangelicals for Trump Coalition Launch at the King Jesus International Ministry in Miami January 3, 2020. — Reuters pic
US President Trump delivers remarks at an Evangelicals for Trump Coalition Launch at the King Jesus International Ministry in Miami January 3, 2020. — Reuters pic

NEW YORK, Jan 24 — At his nearly century-old diner in the western Ohio town of Defiance, third-generation owner Karl Kissner has turned on Fox News for live coverage of President Donald Trump’s impeachment trial.

For his many customers who aren’t interested, the other TV sets at Kissner’s are on The Weather Channel and the Food Network.

A Trump supporter who says he doesn’t push his politics on patrons, Kissner says he hears “snide” comments about impeachment — but, usually, nothing at all.

“The majority of what I’m seeing here is that people are ignoring it. Or they’re looking up at it, saying, ‘Oh, that’s on again,’ and moving on with their conversations,” he said.

As the US election season opens, a team of AFP journalists is taking the political pulse of the country by driving from Washington to Iowa, which on February 3 holds the nation’s first contest to select presidential nominees.

From a cluttered barber shop in Pennsylvania steel country to a cosy winery off Lake Erie, television sets are bringing the impeachment saga live — but, much like in Washington, few minds appeared to change.

Democrats applauded lawmakers’ determination to punish Trump for pressing Ukraine to dig up dirt on his domestic rival Joe Biden, while Republicans, like Trump, accused Democrats of subverting voters’ will and spoke at times in conspiratorial tones.

A CNN poll published Monday found that 51 per cent of Americans wanted the Senate to remove Trump from office. But separate polling has shown more lukewarm views in critical swing states — and many people did not seem to be paying attention.

“The impeachment process is above my head. There are so many different steps,” autobody shop owner Alvin Ross said at a diner in Charleroi, Pennsylvania, a jigsaw puzzle of Elvis framed on the wall.

But Ross said he was open to learning more about impeachment and is personally repelled by Trump.

An African American, Ross says that Trump’s rhetoric has worsened racial tensions.

“This is the guy who says he knows more than the generals,” he said. “I can go to McDonald’s and apply for a job and they’ll ask, do you have any experience? He can run the whole United States with no experience.”

Seeing plots

Sitting a table away, 72-year-old Tim Bailey sees dark forces behind impeachment. A retired steel mill worker, the onetime Democrat said he left the party when it elected Barack Obama president, citing the party’s support for “socialism” and comparatively open borders.

An avid viewer of Fox News, a favourite among Republicans, Bailey complained that other sources did not give the full picture.

House Speaker “Nancy Pelosi held everything up for three weeks. I think it’s because they want to keep the Democrat candidates away from Iowa so they can put Biden in,” he said, referring to the four Democratic contenders who as senators must stay in Washington for the trial.

“If anybody should be impeached, it’s Pelosi and Schumer,” he said, referring to Democratic Senate leader Chuck Schumer.

Terry McGill, 67, a Republican chatting between giving Uber rides in his pick-up truck in Pittsburgh, said that impeachment has “absolutely bolstered my opinion” of Trump.

“The Democrats started this fight,” he said. “There’s already been a divide and they’ve further separated the country.”

Boosting Trump base?

Tracy Ball, 51, an advertising copy writer in Pittsburgh, called Trump’s behaviour a national embarrassment and voiced support for holding him accountable.

But she acknowledged she was not sure of the ultimate effects of the Democrats’ effort against Trump, the first president to be impeached before seeking re-election.

“I’ll be honest with you, when Trump won I thought all bets are off, like the rules I had grown up thinking were in place,” she said.

“It may actually galvanise his voting group and make them more apt to vote for him,” she said, adding with a laugh: “They’re going to love the underdog, and I would hardly call Trump an underdog, but he does play the victim really good.”

“I just wish I had a little more faith in the system right now,” she said.

Kissner, the Defiance diner owner, said he wished there could be more civility.

“The beauty of this country is that I can get on my soapbox and scream at the top of my lungs, and you can do the same right back to me,” he said.

“The problem is that we should be able to get off that soapbox, shake hands and walk away.” — AFP

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