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The impeachment trial dividing America

Emily Gordine Pennsylvania
February 8, 2021

Donald Trump's impeachment trial is set to begin this week in the US Senate. In rural Pennsylvania, support for the former US president still runs deep.

A Trump banner on a house along the road to Piketown
Trump banners decorate the houses along the road to PiketownImage: Emily Gordine/DW

Thick snow covers the fields along the road to Piketown, Pennsylvania. A frosty atmosphere has gripped the countryside. Months after the federal election, large banners in support of former US President Donald Trump still hang from verandas or cling to the facades of small houses dotted along the road in the small town. Wooden Trump signs are stomped into the snow as if to mark the territory and to say: It's not over.

Piketown is only a 20-minute drive from Harrisburg, Pennsylvania's state capital. Yet, when one crosses into Harrisburg, the political landscape quickly changes from deep red to bright blue. The phenomenon can be found all across the United States: The political divide between blue Democrats and red Republicans is mirrored in the geographical lines that run between urban and rural.

In Piketown and the surrounding area, about 74% of votes went for Trump in November's presidential election. Trump's impeachment following the riots at the US Capitol on January 6 has found little support among the residents of this small village. They remain loyal to their former president.

Impeachment will only 'divide the country further'

Paula Linn grew up in Piketown. Leaning on the wooden veranda of her house, she has a perfect view of the main road as well as the front lawn where her grandchildren play in the snow. She was never much of a political person, but Trump changed that. Like many other Trump supporters, she believes the election was stolen.

Paula Linn stands on her front porch in the snow next to a Trump banner
Paula Linn continues to support Donald Trump and believes the election was stolenImage: Emily Gordine/DW

"It is no lie that some media are covering up the 80,000 people that are about America," she told DW, in reference to the election outcome in Pennsylvania. President Joe Biden officially won the state by some 80,000 votes.

Linn sees the upcoming impeachment trial as a mere political move. "It's just so obvious if people watched the news, that they're just really trying to get him out of there," she said, adding it will only divide the country further. "It's scary, actually, very scary 'cause we are patriots, we don't go down easy, you know. It's very socialist and communist what's going on and many of us have been asleep for too long now, but we're awake."

Asked whether the trial will lead to more violence in the future, she doesn't rule it out. "I hope not but inside I do feel that that's very, very possible," she said. "How do you fight this kind of war with the lies and the media? I do think there will be more bloodshed, I don't know, if things really don't become more appeasable."

Americans divided over impeachment trial

Biden not 'right man' for unity

Just down the road, Paul Rieber is shoveling snow off his driveway. For him, the impeachment trial is "a complete waste of time and a waste of [our] tax money. It's foolishness." He doesn't believe that Biden will bring the country together again, either.

"I just don't think he's the right man for it. He's trying too hard to get rid of everything that Trump put in place instead of maybe making things better," Rieber told DW.

As of February 8, Biden has signed 29 executive orders in his first month in office — a record in American history. Among them are orders to stop the construction of the US-Mexico border wall, overturn the travel ban on people from several majority-Muslim countries, reverse the policy that barred transgender people from joining the military and revoke the permit for the Keystone XL oil pipeline. All are policies that were put in place or were initiated by Donald Trump.

For some, accountability matters

In uptown Harrisburg, views on the former president diverge significantly. Scott Fry has lived here for 50 years, working as the local landscaper. For him, accountability matters.

"You saw what they did at the Capitol, all the lives that were lost — and for what?" he asked. "Because Trump knew he was going to lose? It was wrong, the whole thing was wrong." He thinks coming together as a nation will be difficult, but he is hopeful.

Scott Fry speaks into a DW microphone
Scott Fry wants Trump to be held accountable for the storming on the CapitolImage: Emily Gordine/DW

"It's going to be hard with all the things that have been happening. I hope it gets better and we can all come together and battle this pandemic that we've got going on, to try and keep each other safe," he said.

How will the country come together again?

On a political level, there is much disagreement on what effect the impeachment trial will have and how to bring the country together again. Steve Santarsiero, a Democratic member of the Pennsylvania State Senate, believes the impeachment trial actually won't divide people further.

"People who support him are going to support him whether he is impeached or not," said Santarsiero. In fact, he added, not trying Trump would "normalize that kind of behavior." Bridging the divide in the future will come down to Biden's success in the next six months, he said. "If he can get his stimulus passed and we can get people vaccinated and the pandemic is behind us, then that will open more opportunities for compromise and to get things accomplished."

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But his Republican colleague in the state senate, Doug Mastriano, emphasized the strong connection his voters still have with Trump. Mastriano is an adamant defender of the former president, and even took part in the Trump rally that preceded the storming of the Capitol on January 6. In his view, Trump "gave voice to the forgotten people of America."

As for the impeachment trial, he thinks it's "not going to do anything to heal the nation." Instead, he sees the ball as being in Biden's court. "A great move he could do is to talk with his friends in the Senate and say: 'Stop it, it's too symbolic, it's meaningless, he's out of office,'" he told DW.

The US Constitution stipulates that a conviction of the impeachment charge needs to be passed by a two-thirds majority in the Senate, which means 67 votes. Democrats only make up 50 votes, 51 with the support of Vice President Kamala Harris in the case of a 50-50 split, and they therefore will require 17 Republicans to side with them. Analysts believe it's unlikely that Trump will be convicted, with angry rural voters still acting as a deterring factor for many Republicans.