While politicians and pundits natter about President Donald Trump’s impeachment trial, everyday Americans mostly seem to have a sideways view of the historic mess, using a lot of words that begin with “dis.”
From a California taco truck known as Kiko’s Place to the Cocoa Cinnamon coffee shop in North Carolina, grassroots perspectives reflect all political stripes — but with a singular sense of disdain for what’s going on in the nation’s capital.
“I really think it’s just sad,” said James McAllister, a 34-year-old doctor from Washington state, enjoying a morning beverage at Meshuggah Shack, a neighborhood hangout in San Diego. “I’m so disappointed in how hyper-partisan politics have become, in general, and I have to say I blame the Republicans more.”
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“I don’t even like the whole party system anymore,” agreed Roni Peterson, sipping coffee at the Lodge Tavern on Chicago’s Near North Side. “It’s like a civil war and it shouldn’t be. The whole idea of a democracy is to have different opinions and work together, not fight. Now it’s like backwards magnets, and it’s getting worse.”
“I don’t like that people are looking for reasons to get rid of our president,” said Michael Mendoza, a gas company worker awaiting tacos in San Diego’s Mission Valley. “It’s mainly the media. … Trump can be outright rude, but that’s who we voted on as president. We all knew that coming into it.”
While the opinions diverge, regular Americans exude a sense that they are mere spectators to a political game, rather than players. And many of those spectators are not watching closely — if at all.
Morgan Evans, a freshman studying economics at the University of San Diego, said she shunned politics and watched “Umbrella Academy” on Netflix rather than keep up with the impeachment.
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“I’m not that well informed,” Evans said, explaining that politics can lead to arguments — especially in a family where the parents are “very Republican” and the daughter leans left on social issues.
So, when something like the impeachment comes up, Evans said, “I kind of leave the room. My mom watches on the computer and I’m like, ‘OK, I’m out …’”
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In Chicago, dozens of restaurants and bars throughout the downtown Loop and River North neighborhoods had TV channels turned to football and soccer highlights, but only one was detected showing the Senate trial. Several bartenders said they weren’t allowed to tune in channels broadcasting the proceedings.
“It’s disappointing that more bars aren’t showing it because it is an historic event,” said Eirik Anderson, wearing a gray Tulane sweatshirt at Elephant & Castle pub, which was showing ESPN and NBCSN.
Between glasses of Pinot Grigio and root beer, Anderson said he tracks headlines on his phone throughout the day and watches highlight reels at night.
“I don’t know if it’s burnout or apathy but, nowadays, people have less of an attention span. It gets kind of drawn out,” he said. “People have gotten numb to it. I think there’s also a foregone conclusion that the Republican Senate is not going to convict, so that might contribute to the apathy.”
A few blocks away, China Doll Wings was showing the trial on its only TV screen. Customers getting takeout occasionally glanced at the screen. The one patron sitting at the cluster of tables appeared to be taking a nap.
In San Francisco’s financial district, Matt Miller, a traveling notary, munched on salad at The Plant Café Organic as he listened to the case against the president.
While Democrats offered “a pretty convincing argument,’’ Miller sees a “zero percent” chance that Trump will be found guilty.
“The Republicans are going to play the partisan card and (Chief) Justice (John) Roberts is going to follow their lead,” he said. “That’s the unfortunate part about this. I think the end result of this is that our system of checks and balances is destroyed.”
He added, “When any one party has all the power, then corruption will always follow. I’m a big fan of divided government because I think it’s the most fair.’’
In Durham, North Carolina, at the Cocoa Cinnamon, Rebecca Bossen, a 42-year-old theater artist, said she needs to disengage sometimes from the constant coverage.
“I feel like there is a clear and deliberate effort to prevent witnesses from speaking,” she said. “To prevent truth from being placed before the American people. I don’t have fatigue over the whole process, I just wish it were an effective process that would do the job that impeachment was meant to do.”
At a Mexican restaurant in San Diego’s Pacific Beach, the television featured video of waves and surfers — an ambiance matching dozens of surfboards lining the walls and ceiling. Outside, the sky was mostly clear and the temperature 60 degrees, though you’d swear it was warmer.
Inside, Michael Jenner, a retired ceramic tile setter who favors the bean and cheese burrito, said he’ll likely catch up on impeachment developments later by listening to NPR.
“I think he (Trump) was trying to push Ukraine around and use his power on them to get his way, like he’s always done all his life,” said Jenner, 74.
At Pioneer Park in San Diego, Meagan McKenna, 40, laughed as her daughter and another toddler exchange a kiss beneath the slide. “Now that’s how our politics should be,” she said.
McKenna admitted to barely keeping up with impeachment news, catching just enough TV snippets to confirm her sentiments about Trump.
“What’s that quote? ‘If you hire a clown, you get a circus.’ And that’s what’s happened,” she said. “I mean, he’s inciting a war (with Iran) now.”
McKenna said the United States once stood for integrity, but that ended with the beginning of the Trump administration.
“If he gets impeached,” she added, “there is feeling of vindication for the American people because: a) We made a mistake, and b) We can recover.”
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At eateries, libraries, parks and other venues, some people waved off interview requests, saying, “I don’t follow politics.”
But others were eager to voice their opinions. Kayla Sadler, 32, of North Carolina, said work keeps her from constantly watching what’s going on.
“I was optimistic and very excited about it with the start of it,” she said. “As it’s kind of gone through, I find myself turning off the radio in the middle of it just because I feel like it’s not going in any sort of direction that’s going to be bipartisan at all.”
Here are some other observations from around the nation:
- Jay DeLange, having brunch with his father in San Francisco after watching impeachment news: “He (Trump) should be impeached and, after he’s out of office, face trial in New York for all his financial crimes, and go to jail… At least the (impeachment) process was allowed to happen. My standards are so low, that feels relatively good.’’
- Jose Gonzalez, 27, a law student finishing lunch at the University of San Diego: Gonzalez said he hasn’t watched any of the impeachment coverage because he believes Republicans in the Senate will acquit Trump. “It seems they’ll do what it takes to protect the president,” he said, because doing so will also protect their political futures.
- Nanci Gunning, a management consultant having lunch with two other women at Wayfare Tavern in San Francisco: “People in my circle are disgusted, but they’re still talking about it. People are working and it’s not like we can follow every detail but, yes, we’re watching.’’
- Austin Bolduc, 31, a bartender at Baja Beach Café in Pacific Beach (San Diego), pouring champagne into plastic glasses: “I try to avoid it (politics) as much as possible, because it becomes an argument.” Bolduc added that, in the end, Trump will benefit from the spectacle: “I think he’s going to use it as a rallying cry in the next election.”
- Martin Mendoza, owner of Louie’s Barbershop in the Castro, a predominantly gay district of San Francisco: “My personal opinion? I hope our democracy recovers and goes back to the way it used to be. Some of my customers who are into it agree. They say, ‘Our nation is really strong.’ Hopefully, we can get through this clean.’’
In the end, McAllister, the Tacoma physician, said Trump’s fate is not as important as the decline of U.S. politics to a point “where lying is now OK.”
If we go down that route,” he added. “we’re not far from a very, very dark times.”
Contributing: Jordan Culver, Grace Hauck, Jorge Ortiz and Joel Shannon, USA TODAY.