SOUTHERN INDIANA — Tuesday marked the beginning of just the third presidential impeachment trial in the history of the United States.
Last month, the Democrat-controlled United States House of Representatives approved two articles of impeachment against President Donald Trump, with the charges being abuse of power and obstruction of Congress. The move was prompted by a phone call between Trump and Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky last summer, during which Trump is accused of pressuring the latter to announce an investigation into potential 2020 election opponent, former Vice President Joe Biden.
This put Trump alongside Andrew Johnson and Bill Clinton as the only American presidents to officially be impeached. The Senate — which, unlike the House, is controlled by Republicans — will now decide whether or not to convict Trump of the charges brought against him.
Despite the historic nature of the proceedings, many in Southern Indiana seem relatively unfazed by the ongoing battle in Washington, D.C. Sources interviewed by the News and Tribune on Tuesday largely indicated that they would not watch or listen to live coverage of the trial.
“I will probably catch the highlights from sources that I trust," Will Simpson said. "I’m not going to watch minute-to-minute, because I don’t have time. I wish I could, but I probably don’t have time.”
While many said they won't be able to watch due to juggling the responsibilities of everyday life, others noted additional reasons.
To Clarksville shop owner Terry Holland, the entire process is illegitimate. Because of that, he won't be tuning in, either by radio or television.
"I think it’s a disgrace," he said. "It’s something that I don’t even want to see. The president did nothing wrong, in my opinion. I think it’s a Democratic thing, so I’m not going to watch it.”
Indiana University Southeast political science professor Joe Wert, who specializes in the presidency and public opinion, said that while he doesn't know the official viewership totals of the Clinton impeachment proceedings, he doesn't believe Trump's will command as much public attention.
He attributed this to a multitude of advancements that have been made since the late 1990s. Many can skip live viewings in favor of receiving updates on their phones through news aggregators and social media apps like Twitter.
“If I don’t watch it, I can tune in some place on the internet and catch up on what I missed yesterday," Wert said. "News viewership and readership is down for that very reason. I think that’s only going to exacerbate the situation.”
The "situation" referred to by Wert is the potential for citizens to consume news that isn't always objective. It isn't uncommon to come across individuals who already have their minds made up on the matter, but Wert said that doesn't mean they won't find outlets to listen to what's happening.
Connie Lopp of Greenville didn't give a firm answer on her stance regarding Trump's behavior while in office. Many in Lopp's family are dead-set in their opinions, but she considers herself to just be "there."
Lopp said that while Trump's done some things that "a lot of people don't think was right," she doesn't believe she is in a position to make a judgment at this point. To make a more informed decision, she said she would need more information, but noted that she doesn't always believe what is reported by news outlets.
"I don’t know everything [Trump] knows to where I could make the decisions that he’s made," Lopp said. "You read these articles, and they’re supposed to be factual, but are they? It depends on who’s writing them. I don’t pay any attention to them. The stuff on TV, it depends on which station you’re listening to."
Sellersburg resident Dave Harhay has a similar point of view when it comes to how he picks and chooses sources. While he'll "keep up" with the developments of the trial, he said he won't watch the trial at all.
“I’ll keep up on my liberal news blast," he said. "I get the opposite effect when I go to the gym and see Fox News, which I consider to be pure [garbage].”
Wert pointed out a problem with relying on secondhand news sources for information on current events rather than listening or watching the trial.
Though news outlets often try to be objective, "complete objectivity" is a difficult thing to obtain, he added. Each person sees things through the prism of their own life experiences, which can sometimes lead to inherent biases.
"A lot of those secondhand sources are biased one way or the other," Wert said. "Not all of them, certainly, but a lot are. People are much more likely to get biased information out of those sources than if they were to listen to it themselves. Plus, a lot of those secondhand sources are going to tell them what to think, rather than making up their own minds."
Regardless of how individuals choose to stay updated on the impeachment proceedings, a common view is shared among many — the outcome is likely to be insignificant in the grand scheme of things.
A two-thirds vote by the Senate is needed to convict. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell previously indicated that he would work in full cooperation with the White House during the trial, adding that his stance will mirror that of the president's team.
This has led many to believe that conviction is unlikely.
"I think it’s a forgone conclusion," Simpson said. "McConnell said he’s not interested in impartiality. He said that before it even started, which sort of contradicts the oath he took before the trial. It’s going to be pretty partisan. I think you might even see some Democrats vote against removal."
As far as how the trial will affect Trump's 2020 re-election bid, opinions are split. Among those who believe it could open the door for Democrats are Harhay and IUS student Omar Hassan.
“His reputation kind of goes low because of this," Hassan said. "That may help Democrats win in 2020. It depends on who they nominate."
On the opposite end of the spectrum is fellow student Hamse Abdulahi. From Abdulahi's perspective, Democrats should be focusing more on the 2020 election.
Time would be better spent looking toward the future, he said, rather than "wasting time" by pushing for a conviction that ultimately won't pan out with a Republican majority in the Senate.
“[Trump's] base is very strong," Abdulahi said. "I don’t think this is going to do anything other than make more people vote for him, rather than hurt him. I think this is publicity for him. There’s no such thing as bad publicity. His base has already made up their mind, and they’re very loyal. This is just going to help him more."