A Shared Sense of Alarm: Here’s What Americans Said About Two Impeachments

It has been just over a year since former President Donald J. Trump first faced impeachment charges in the Senate, but it feels like a decade.

Almost a half-million Americans died of the coronavirus as the pandemic also ravaged the economy. Protests erupted across the country over police violence and racial inequality. Record-breaking wildfires consumed the West. Mr. Trump lost in a presidential race that further revealed the depth of America’s divisions and culminated in the deadly assault on the Capitol that led to his second impeachment.

In some ways, it seems as if nothing has changed. The Senate’s decision is likely to hinge on the same partisan fault lines as a year ago, when Mr. Trump was acquitted. Voters have mostly retreated to familiar corners: Democrats demanding that Mr. Trump be held accountable; Republicans mostly dismissing the charges as mere politics.

But interviews with more than two dozen voters, most of whom initially responded to a Survey Monkey poll and whom The New York Times reached out to during the first impeachment trial, made it clear that this impeachment feels very different from the last one. It reflects a final verdict of the Trump era, not a judgment on a presidency with a year to go. It is animated by all the pain and frustration and sense of loss of the past year. Unlike Mr. Trump’s perfect or imperfect phone call to Ukraine, the charges and stakes this time are as visceral as the video footage of the mob that ransacked the Capitol.

The interviews with voters underlined the ways the past year and its cascade of crises have raised the nation’s emotional temperature. The purpose of the trial may be to litigate Mr. Trump’s role in last month’s attack on the Capitol. Yet for many, it has morphed into something much closer to the bone.

And for all the partisan division, there was one point of unity: a shared sense of urgency and alarm, as if the nation and the integrity of its democracy had been jeopardized in a way few people can remember.

We asked people to characterize their view of the impeachment in a single word, and then to expand on their thoughts. Quotations were edited for brevity and clarity.

ImageFormer President Donald J. Trump speaking at a rally on Jan. 6. Rioters stormed the Capitol later that day.
Credit…Pete Marovich for The New York Times

Impeachment, in a word

Oscar Gomez, 51, is a consultant on business and racial equity strategy in San Francisco who describes himself as “left of center.” He believes that the likelihood of Mr. Trump’s conviction is slim, but that it did not minimize the importance of the trial.

“You’re accountable for your actions and words up until your last day of employment. In my assessment, there is direct connection between his words that day and the violence that followed.”

Jerry Iannacci, 53, is an independent and an art teacher living in a Philadelphia suburb.

“There’s no way to not go through with it. Is it going to divide the country? I don’t know that the gap can be any wider than it is now. If one side decided that armed insurrection was the way to go, what’s worse? They commandeer tanks next time? They find a few ex-Air Force pilots who can fly a plane and they buy a surplus F-16? I don’t know. I’m not sure what the next worse thing would be.”

Cherece Mendieta, 47, is a conservative in Houston who said her husband has been furloughed twice because of the pandemic. She wishes Congress would focus on the virus and the economy.

“This man, they’ve done nothing but harass him. They’re still terrified of him, and they feel like the only way to get rid of him for good is to have another impeachment. And what are they impeaching him for? Don’t they need proof? They’re impeaching a man for fighting for what he believes in. Did he tell them, ‘Go storm the Capitol; go threaten their lives’? No, he didn’t. It’s ridiculous. And, oh my God, if you started digging up dirt on the liberals, on Democrats, come on.”


Credit…Alyssa Schukar for The New York Times

Bill Marcy is a former law enforcement officer who traveled to Washington on Jan. 6 to hear Mr. Trump speak, but he said he was not part of the crowd that went to the Capitol. He blamed the administration of the election and what he saw as abuses of voting by mail for the crowd’s anger, not Mr. Trump.

“There’s no responsibility Donald Trump has for what happened. You know, I guess the line they’re trying to remove him on is that you should “fight like hell.” Yes, we should all fight like hell, to make sure our elections are honest. People are angry. I was angry. I plan to waste zero time on this fiasco. I do not plan to give any of the networks the benefit of saying that they had an audience.”

Jimmy Welch, 54, is a Republican from Louisville, Ky., who voted for Mr. Trump in 2016 but whose support waned during Mr. Trump’s time in office.

“At my job, I couldn’t come in and spread a bunch of lies and get people riled up and have a strike without repercussions. Two of my good friends are die-hard Republicans, and one of them sent me a text saying, ‘What Black Lives Matter did when they tore up buildings was wrong, and what they did at the Capitol was wrong.’ I responded to his text and said: ‘One second, though, what was done at the Capitol was because of a lie the president perpetrated. Black Lives Matter was a movement, it started within the people. This was started by the president of the United States.’”

Desiré Hardison, 38, is a Democrat from New York City who said she believed that Mr. Trump should be convicted but doubted it would happen.

“It’s a joke, it’s a carnival game. It doesn’t go anywhere, like walking on a treadmill. Like a merry-go-round, you’re just sitting there and you’re watching the horses going up and down. What’s really happening? Nothing.”

“I won’t follow the impeachment because I don’t really have that much faith in government anymore. Being a person of color, I’ve witnessed police brutality and discrimination and being threatened, and so I’m not going to put that much effort into following this. I have my fingers crossed, but I wouldn’t be surprised if it fell through the cracks.”


Credit…Erin Schaff/The New York Times

Martha Roland, 68, is a Democratic-leaning voter from Illinois who sees an urgent need to try to convict Mr. Trump.

“Desperately, we have to get him. He has to pay for this. The last one, wasn’t it a phone call to Ukraine, or whatever? The Democrats, they didn’t get the whole picture the last time. They were kind of vague and I think that’s why it failed. But this time, I’m sorry, he is totally guilty, and you have to do something to stop the man from running again because we’re going to end up going into the same thing, only worse.”

William Dawson, 69, is a Republican and a behavior analyst from Torrance, Calif. He contends that the Black Lives Matter protests that escalated across the country last year did not receive the same level of scrutiny.

“He’s not even in office. You’re going to impeach somebody who’s already gone? I believe that constitutionally, that’s a problem. And I believe it’s unfair.”

“They’re putting all the blame on Trump. Most Trump people I know would never do that; they respect law and order. That’s the unfairness of it.”

Ragan Fletcher, 21, is a Republican and a student at Belmont University in Nashville.

“I think that he just has his First Amendment rights to free speech and I don’t think there are grounds to impeach him on that. People have agency with their choices. There were plenty of people at the protest who didn’t invade the Capitol. The first impeachment, I was in D.C. when it was happening and that kind of motivated me to keep up with it. This one, I’m less motivated, I think, maybe because he’s already out of office, but also because I don’t agree with why they’re impeaching him.”


Credit…Brandon Bell for The New York Times

Angela Peebles, 54, is a Republican in Oregon.

“I probably watched half of the first impeachment. I will be watching zero of this one, because I am so fed up with Congress that it almost makes me physically ill right now.”

Jonathan Swenson, 39, lives in Brigham City, Utah, and is a conductor and brakeman for Union Pacific Railroad. He is a registered Republican in order to vote in his state’s Republican primaries. But he otherwise leans more Libertarian and sometimes votes for Democrats, including President Biden.

“When you encourage people to march on Washington and then don’t say a thing when they start beating up cops and pounding their way into the Capitol, I think that’s borderline treason. He should absolutely be impeached. I don’t think he should have ever held public office in the first place, and I don’t think he should ever be allowed to hold public office again.”

Sheila Woods, 53, is a middle school special education teacher and an independent in Chesapeake, Va.

“I do feel he should be impeached. Trump was in office at the time that the Capitol riot happened. He encouraged it, he tweeted about it. He told the Proud Boys to stand back and stand by. When people lose their lives and you hold that type of influence from the highest office in the land, then you should be held responsible. I did feel that he should have been impeached last time as well. I knew when they didn’t convict him that he would just do something else. And that’s exactly what happened. If the president breaks the law, you hold them accountable. Nobody should be above the law, not even him.”


Credit…Doug Mills/The New York Times

Terry Morrison, 84, is a retiree and an evangelical Christian in Wisconsin, and a former Republican who drifted toward the Democratic Party during the Reagan administration.

“Some on the right have come to understand Mr. Trump and his followers, from my perspective, more correctly than they did a year ago. Many of those were treating it as simply left-right politics. Now, I think more on the right see this as a moral illness threatening the very fiber of the United States, and that it needs to be exposed.”

Patti Martin, 45, lives in California and claims no party, saying she finds Democrats and Republicans equally abhorrent. She voted for Mr. Trump.

“I think it’s a waste of time and money. I think there’s a lot more going on — like the pandemic, for one, job loss, for two. And I think we need to focus our energies on being more positive and how we can get people back to work so they don’t lose their livelihoods. I know somebody said the president had incited it, and I’m just like, ‘Please, I don’t believe that at all.’ At the end of the day, people are going to do what they’re going to do. These are grown people. They have to be responsible.”

William Hogan, 36, is an independent voter in Atlanta and a marketing director for a long-term care pharmacy company. He figures Congress has more important matters to focus on than impeaching and trying a president who has already left office.

“I’m glad that he’s no longer president, but to me this feels like a waste of time. I certainly think he has some significant responsibility for what happened. But this impeachment is more kind of showmanship to me, and I think that’s a shame because there’s a lot that needs to get done. But it is what it is, and since they are going through with it, I wouldn’t mind seeing him convicted.”

Sam Riddle, 50, is an operations manager for a construction equipment company and a Trump voter from Charleston, W.Va. He said he believed that Mr. Trump was not to blame for the insurrection, and that he was more interested in following President Biden’s trade and stimulus policies than impeachment.

“I did not spend a lot of time on that first one, and I’ll spend even less time than that on the second one. It’s not a concern to me. I want to see the news as to seeing what Biden’s plans are now that he is the sitting president. Now, let’s press forward. Let’s try to save our country.”

Methodology: We obtained a list of more than 1,000 people last year who had responded to a SurveyMonkey online survey and said they were voters and were willing to be interviewed by a reporter. We reached out last year to several hundred of those voters — covering a wide range of ages, races and ethnicities, political leanings and home states. This article includes interviews conducted this month with some of the people from that list plus three who had been interviewed on impeachment for a different article. The interviews do not constitute a scientific sampling of opinion.

Susan C. Beachy contributed research.

And for all the partisan division, there was one point of unity: a shared sense of urgency and alarm, as if the nation and the integrity of its democracy had been jeopardized in a way few people can remember.

We asked people to characterize their view of the impeachment in a single word, and then to expand on their thoughts. Quotations were edited for brevity and clarity.

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