By Paige Johnson Tan
Tan is a professor, department of political science, Radford University
After the impeachment vote in the House, U.S. Rep. Morgan Griffith of Virginia’s 9th district posted a statement on Facebook articulating his position on impeachment and the reasons for his stance. Griffith voted “no” on impeachment because he could find no high crime or misdemeanor that the President might have committed. As to obstruction of Congress, the tussle between the President and Congress was normal and happens “in many administrations,” Griffith said. The Congressman thought Democrats had abused their power through the impeachment, committing an affront to the “millions of Americans who voted for President Trump” and also to the Constitution.
Griffith’s statement was not surprising. He has been an ardent supporter of President Trump. What was interesting about the Facebook post was the hundreds of comments it attracted, giving us a close-up view of opinions on impeachment. I took a deep dive into those comments. I’ll say that I was saddened by the view I got of our irreconcilable selves.
In response to Griffith’s statement, a local professor retorted that Congress was just trying to hold Trump accountable for his abuse of power. Another commenter observed the impeachment process revealed “what the GOP will excuse and even defend, just to stay in power.” Another commenter cited “you and your party [having] done more to damage the Constitution in the last 3 years than anyone in the previous 228 combined.” Several commenters pointed out different variations of the argument that Trump had always been corrupt and was just continuing his standard operating procedures. Don’t forget the big settlements he had to pay out as a result of his university and charity, a couple of posters reminded us.
There was name calling, too. From the anti-Trump side, one supporter of the President was derided as “poor little sheepie.” The person targeted as sheepie was “ok boomer’ed” by another contributor from the pro-impeachment side.
On the President’s side, he and his supporters have asserted that impeachment is helping politically. At one campaign rally, he sighed happily: “Have you seen my poll numbers in the last four weeks?” We can see the engagement of the President’s supporters through the Facebook comments. “Thank you for standing for what’s right Congressman Griffith . . . I’ll vote for you and Trump next round.” Many, many other posters chimed in with “Trump 2020s.” Add a few flag emojis.
There were insults by the pro-Trump side, too. Two commenters observed that a pro-impeachment commenter was “a liar” and surely “not a Christian.” Democrats were often characterized as “lying” or “liars.” “They should be tried for treason,” asserted another contributor.
The pro-Trump commenters used many of the standard criticisms of the left like a flashing snowflake meme or another commenter calling a pro-impeachment foe a “communist socialist.” A sampling of other talking points includes: spying on the Trump campaign, Hillary’s e-mails, fake news, Benghazi, Vince Foster, “lefty . . . hates America,” and “brainwashed by libtard professors . . . figures.”
It was hard to argue about facts since neither side seemed to agree on what these were. One commenter said that three million of Hillary Clinton’s votes were “since proven to be illegal.” An attempt to check that with Politifact and a story referring to that claim as a “Pants on Fire” untruth was batted down because the site was “biased and found not to always tell the truth.” President Trump had clearly abused his power, or there was absolutely no evidence that he had done so. Never the twain shall meet.
This little venture down the rabbit hole of the views of many in our local area disheartened me. We all have to find a way to broaden our information horizons (I listen to podcasts from left and right), listen with our hearts and our heads (understand the real pain people feel), and treat each other with more kindness (stop the name calling), even when we strongly disagree. Don’t tell someone that if they don’t agree with you, they should move, as one commenter on the Griffith post did. While being more open and kind, continue to fight for what you believe in, volunteer to support candidates of your choice, and by all means vote.
One poster said “[y]ou and your party members will be judged by history.” This was said by someone against Trump, but it could have come from either side. Indeed, history will judge us all. At this important moment when our country was so polarized, what did we do? Did we act to create a better world or just scream into the ether?