Brett Smith considers himself more politically attuned than the average Republican. But when the House took on the somber task of impeaching President Trump this week, the 25-year-old played a Conan O’Brien podcast on his cellphone as he worked his shift washing dishes at a deli in this small town of Newnan, about 40 miles southwest of Atlanta.
“You know, it’s going to be party-line stuff,” he said, rolling his eyes. “I’ll catch up when I get home.”
It was only the third time in history that a U.S. president was charged with high crimes and misdemeanors, but in this town in Georgia, and in many rural and suburban counties that are the bedrock of Trump’s base, the event barely registered. Even as the House voted and Trump fulminated, small-town life here went on: Folks finished up work chores, dashed to the post office to send Christmas cards and donned gaudy holiday sweaters.
No doubt, as elsewhere in America, some residents were watching Fox at home or transfixed by their Facebook feeds. But on the ground here, the day passed as any other. The intense attention to the televised vote — and the mixture of disgust and despair as expressed by liberal-leaning voters in big cities and the coasts — found no ready equivalent here. Most people seemed, if anything, to be avoiding the spectacle. Enthusiasm for Trump seemed as strong as ever.
Republicans make up the majority in this historic rural railroad town , that was once home to a thriving cotton industry and is now a fast-growing bedroom exurb of Atlanta. In 2016, about 69% of Coweta County residents voted for Trump and 27% voted for Hillary Clinton.
Still, impeachment was not entirely forgotten. Even if voters here were not following the political showdown closely, there was no small amount of frustration at the idea of Democratic lawmakers daring to try to remove Trump from office.
A moderate Republican who recently worked as a staffer for a Georgia congressman, Smith did not vote for Trump in 2016. But after reading the transcript of Trump’s July call to Ukraine’s President Volodymyr Zelensky and listening to live feeds of the impeachment hearing on his phone, he concluded impeachment was a mistake.
Smith acknowledged that he had not read the articles of impeachment passed by the House but said he thought the call seemed “pretty normal” and that Democrats were rushing to judgment without a whole lot to go on. The second charge, of obstruction of Congress, he felt, was even more dodgy.
“Who doesn’t obstruct Congress?” he scoffed as he finished up his shift at the deli, the Redneck Gourmet. “So give me a break on that one.”
“It’s like the kid that cried wolf, you know?” he added. “We keep hearing, ‘This is the big one. This is the big one.’ And then life just goes on — and he’s still there and he still tweets and it’s fine. Then they move on to the next big bombshell.”
Across Newnan, a rapidly growing town of about 40,000 residents, many residents questioned what the two-month Democratic-led inquiry had provided.
“It’s a bunch of hoo-ha,” said Cynthia Shell, 53, a hospice nurse who lives in the nearby town of Senoia. An independent voter who voted for Trump in 2016, she plans to vote for him again in 2020 because she credits him with a strong economy. “The Democrats go on and on. People are getting tired of it.”
Some said that Trump’s actions were little different from those of other presidents, or said there was little evidence Trump committed an actual crime. Others suggested that if the House didn’t like the way Trump balked at complying with their inquiry, they should go to the courts instead of trying to remove him from office.
Still others spoke in dark terms about what the impeachment meant for democracy, voicing fears that Democrats were preoccupied with ousting Trump from power and undermining the 2016 election result.
“They want the people who live in Los Angeles, New York, Chicago, to control the rest of the people in the country,” a retired 82-year-old mail delivery man, Jimmy Davenport, said as he strolled across the town’s historic courthouse square, past boutique stores selling everything from gingerbread popsicles and ballet slippers to shotguns and ammunition.
“They think Trump’s going to win the next election, so they’ve got to get him out office,” Davenport said. “If you try to undo the results of an election, you’re not for democracy. That’s the voice of the people speaking.”
Until he voted for Trump in 2016, Davenport was a loyal Democrat.
The first president he ever voted for was John F. Kennedy, in 1960, and he stuck with the Democrats for more than half a century — until he became disillusioned with the party under Barack Obama. After voting to reelect Obama in 2012, he said, he felt that President Obama broke his promises to strengthen Social Security. He said he feared that the party had started treating white people as second-class citizens. In 2015, he quit giving to the party. Hillary Clinton’s branding of Trump voters as “deplorables” only confirmed his suspicions. That Californians appeared to be leading the charge against Trump only fueled his anger.
“The Democrats now are just all about overthrowing the country,” he said. “That representative from — yeah, Adam Schiff — you can look at him and tell he’s a spitting image of a communist in the 1920s. And Nancy Pelosi, I think she lost her mind.”
After reading the articles of impeachment, Davenport said he didn’t think Trump had done anything warranting removal.
“When the president of the United States can’t call another president and asked him some questions, something is wrong,” Davenport said, his voice rising. “He’s committed no crime.”
The Democrats, he felt, were behaving like Bolshevik revolutionaries.
“I think they’re shaking at the roots of the country,” he said as he stood outside the probate courthouse downtown, gazing at a marble statue of a cloaked Confederate soldier holding his musket by the barrel.
“What will happen is you’re going to have a terrible war here,” he said. “I’m afraid a lot of people are going to be killed if people don’t come to their senses. See, the difference between us and other countries is we’ve got guns.”
While some believed Democrats had made a strong case for impeachment, they questioned the wisdom of pursuing Trump’s removal.
“That phone call — ‘if you don’t investigate Joe Biden and his son, America will withhold dollars’ — that’s pretty impeachable to me,” said William Davis, 23, a law student at Mercer University in Macon who was back in Newnan visiting his parents for the holidays, as he sipped black coffee at the Leaf and Bean coffee shop. “If you don’t impeach, you set a precedent for later presidents to keep on doing this and abuse their power.”
Still, Davis worried that the timing was poor. Impeachment, he believed, would only bolster support for Trump in 2020.
Davis, who said he didn’t identify with any party, sighed as he looked out at locals crisscrossing the town square festooned with red bows and green garlands.
“If you were to sit here and ask eight out of 10 Trump supporters, ‘What’s going on in D.C today?’ they wouldn’t have any idea.”
Davis tried to keep up with the news on C-SPAN, Apple News and newspapers such as the Wall Street Journal and the Washington Post, but he said he worried that too many Americans were getting their information from biased news sources.
“I’m not saying Newnan is under-educated,” he said. “A lot of people just jump on the coattails of what other people are saying. They don’t care to dig deeper and form their own opinions.”
He pointed out that his parents both had college degrees.
“It’s not really a lack of education,” he said. “It’s a lack of knowing what’s going on in politics.”
A few Trump supporters said they struggled to make sense of the barrage of starkly different partisan takes across television and social media.
Jody Cascio, 59, a cardiovascular stenographer from Alabama who is living in Newnan temporarily for work, called the Democrats’ case “a bunch of high-school stuff.”
Trump, he said, was surely not the first president to try to influence a foreign power for his own benefit. And wasn’t he trying to be reelected for the good of the country? All Trump wanted to do, he said, was stabilize the economy, make sure Americans had jobs and could decide what they want to do with their own money.
Surely Trump’s actions couldn’t be such a big deal, he wondered aloud, if so many Republicans refused to impeach him?
“If they all agree, and it’s obvious, he should be slapped on the hand.”
But as Cascio noted he hadn’t read the letters of impeachment or Trump’s letter to Pelosi, he confessed that he felt he should take the time to learn more.
“It’s a hard road to follow,” he said. “I’m afraid if I read more into it, maybe I’ll develop a different mindset of why he’s guilty or why he should be left alone.”
Smith, the dishwasher at the Redneck Gourmet, allowed that the situation was ambiguous.
“It’s one of those things where the truth lies somewhere in the fog, you know?” he said.