Michelle Erickson sat at the lunch counter of Little Oscar’s Restaurant, crumbling crackers into a cup of chili. The nearby TV, tuned to the impeachment debate in Washington, was too quiet to hear. But the 48-year-old dance instructor didn’t need to listen: After weeks of wall-to-wall coverage, her mind was made up.
“It’s a circus,” Erickson said. “It is all a big way to make Trump look as bad as possible right up to the election, to try to damage his electability.”
Soon after, Dori Lindsay settled into a nearby booth and ordered a plate of chicken fingers. She, too, had watched hours of testimony and news coverage. The retired U.S. history teacher had arrived at an opposite conclusion.
“This is one of the most trying times in our history,” she said. “I definitely believe that this process is necessary and important and I am for the impeachment.”
The scene at the popular lunch spot in the tiny Dakota County town of Hampton mirrored the nation’s deep divide on a day when the U.S. House voted to impeach a president for only the third time in its history.
While lawmakers in Washington argued over the two articles of impeachment against President Donald Trump, everyday Americans were forced to confront what both sides agreed is a constitutional crisis. And for many, the certainty of their convictions was accompanied by unease over the knowledge that their views are seen as illegitimate, even un-American by the other half of the country.
Ultimately, the final verdict is likely to be rendered in next year’s election by suburban swing districts like the one that’s home to Little Oscar’s.
The diner, nestled on an access road off Route 52, is in the heart of the Second Congressional District, a battleground Trump carried narrowly in 2016. The district, which freshman Rep. Angie Craig flipped for Democrats in the 2018 midterms, is expected to be targeted by both parties next year.
Patrons dining on pork chop specials and red jello topped with whipped cream offered dueling outlooks on topics ranging from the merits of the case against the president to the impact the battle will have on the race for the White House.
Dana Tomason, a truck driver from northwestern Iowa, is sick of hearing about impeachment. He believes the push from Democrats is helping the president, especially among swing voters.
“If people are on the fence and they actually look at what’s happening they realize how unfair it is and how it’s a bunch of nonsense,” he said. “They’ve never let him govern.”
“Amen!” Erickson called from across the room.
Lindsay’s response? Bring it on. The Lake City resident expects to see a repeat of the “huge wave” of anti-Trump voters that helped Democrats across the country flip districts like the one that covers Dakota County. In the meantime, she’s glad to watch the impeachment process play out.
“They keep saying let’s let the people decide. We will decide,” she said. “But it was also the job of Congress to do what it’s doing right now. They have to. Otherwise, the presidency is undermined.”
Ken Krupich, who met Lindsay for lunch, agrees that Trump has “made a travesty of the office of the presidency.” But Krupich, a Democrat who lives outside of Hastings, isn’t sure how the broader electorate will react.
“For plain, ordinary people, I don’t know,” he said, cutting into a plate of French toast. “I just don’t know.”
Both sides of the debate expressed frustration with the extent to which impeachment has divided the country.
“It’s ridiculous,” said Erickson, who lives in Rushford, part of a southern Minnesota congressional district expected to be hotly contested in 2020. “Nobody listens to each other on either side. They just grandstand and spew at each other.”
Lindsay has seen a similar dynamic play out among friends and neighbors. She joked that lunch with Krupich was only possible because they agree.
“You have to be extremely careful what you talk about and who you talk about it with,” she said.
Twenty miles north, at a community and fitness center in Eagan, Chris Glass echoed those laments.
Fresh off a pickleball match, Glass blasted the proceedings as they played out nearby on TVs, saying Democrats are doing everything they can to remove the president. “It was the Russians to begin with, and now it’s this,” she said, referring to the Mueller report on Russian interference in the 2016 election. “It’s just to get him out.”
The Eagan resident considers herself an open-minded, friendly person — she asked her husband to make magnetized name tags to encourage conversation among regulars at the pickleball court — but she’s lost friends since the 2016 election over her support for Trump. Impeachment has made things even worse.
“All of a sudden, I’m a bad guy because I’m a Republican, I voted for Trump, I went to the rally … that was it. I was disowned,” she said. “It’s a civil war. This house is Republican, this is Democrat. Isn’t it sad?”
“It should be reason, not emotion,” offered Dean Marshall, a fellow Eagan retiree chatting with Glass after the match. But reaching that level is difficult, he added, citing “the rabid left.” Glass nodded in agreement.
Anna Yarbrough sat on a wooden bleacher a few feet away. The 29-year-old Eagan resident, who voted for Hillary Clinton in 2016, said she’s neutral on impeachment because she hasn’t done enough research. But she shared the concerns about the tenor of the national debate.
“I may not follow the stuff, but the reality is people should be able to have a conversation,” she said. “People are always going to have their own opinions. … It’s just a part of life and that’s fine. That shouldn’t affect what kind of person you are.”