As impeachment trial enters second week, some Americans are changing the channel

"It’s like watching someone sitting in front of all their friends and asking them if they should send you to jail, and you know they are going to say no,” said Lakisha Banales of Las Vegas.
Image: House impeachment manager Rep. Adam Schiff speaks at the Senate impeachment trial of President Donald Trump on a television screen in New York Jan. 22, 2020.
For many Americans, President Donald Trump's impeachment proceedings have been riveting, but some say their interest has faded.Spencer Platt / Getty Images

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By Anita Hassan

PHOENIX — Sarah Edwards woke up early Saturday, thinking less about President Donald Trump’s impeachment trial and more about getting her golden retriever puppy, Ralphie, to the dog park downtown.

It was not that Edwards, 40, who was born and raised in Phoenix, did not understand the event’s historical significance or its importance — her curiosity in the proceedings grew when a formal inquiry was announced and was piqued again last month when the House voted to pass two articles of impeachment against Trump. But she was exhausted after reading the news coverage about Trump’s all-but-imminent acquittal by the Republican-controlled Senate. The facts seemed blurred, and her interest began to fade.

Rather than follow every detail, she decided to pay attention to just the major developments.

“Sometimes, that just makes for a better day,” said Edwards, who works in the health insurance industry, adding that her interest in the trial has diminished because she feels like Trump has gotten away with so many egregious acts during his presidency and the outcome will be no different this time.

“I’ve just lost so much hope,” she said.

Personal attorney to President Donald Trump, Jay Sekulow, speaks during the impeachment trial in the Senate on Jan. 25.Senate TV via AP

The Senate’s trial into the charges against Trump began on Jan. 21, marking it only the third time in American history that a president has been impeached.

While the trial has been live on TV and the internet and made the front pages of newspapers across the country, the public’s interest has waxed and waned. Like Edwards, some people say they believe the outcome of the trial has been predetermined, causing their interest to fade. Others have remained engaged, following every detail, while some have pulled away completely.

Sachin Kamdar, CEO of Parse.ly, a web analytics firm that tracks internet traffic for many news websites, said that while the public has shown interest in the trial, it has not been the dominant topic of the week. Kamdar said coverage of the coronavirus outbreak had outpaced trial coverage.

Benedict Nicholson, managing editor of Newswhip, a company that tracks how people engage with stories across social networks, said its data showed that weekly engagement to web content about impeachment peaked at around 80 million the week of Dec. 16, when the House voted to impeach Trump. Last week, when the Senate trial began, it showed about 22 million social media engagements for impeachment-related coverage through Thursday.

Nicholson noted that the trial proceedings did not start until Tuesday and focused more on rules and processes, which could explain the much lower engagement numbers.

“I think it's fair to say that although it's not been as big a week in terms of engagement as some of the House proceedings, people are very much still paying attention to what is going on,” he said, adding that the numbers are still growing.

Eric Forman, 43, an IT engineer in Phoenix, was one of those who paid close attention when the House hearings began, watching C-SPAN for at least two to three hours every day, along with reading stories online each evening. But his interest waned last week when the Senate approved a trial rules resolution by Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., that left the question of whether the chamber would subpoena witnesses and documents for later in the trial. Recent polls have shown that many Americans would like to hear from witnesses.

When the decision was postponed, that’s the moment Forman said he knew Trump would be acquitted.

“That’s like presenting the evidence of your case after the judge has already hit the gavel,” he said, adding that he stopped keeping up with the proceedings as much as he had before. “They are having a trial without having a trial, and it’s a sham.”

Nancy Flynn, 51, of Las Vegas, said she followed the impeachment trial closely until last week when she lost interest after listening to arguments by House Manager Rep. Adam Schiff, D-Calif. She said she did not find the lead impeachment prosecutor credible. But she intended to start paying attention again as Trump’s defense team presents its case, and senators begin questioning both sides.

“I think they are going after him because they don’t like him,” Flynn, who owns a small marketing business, said of the Democrats.

She said she believes Trump will be acquitted of the charges that he used his presidential power to pressure Ukraine to investigate his Democratic political rivals. “They are really setting a dangerous precedent,” she said.

While some have lingering curiosity about the trial’s developments, others say they are not keeping up with it at all because nothing will sway them from their views.

Nathan Beck, 40, of Los Angeles, said he has no interest in watching the trial and will vote for Trump no matter what because “when Trump speaks, it’s from the heart, unlike the other people.”

House impeachment manager Rep. Adam Schiff, D-Calif., speaks during the impeachment trial against President Donald Trump on Jan. 23.Senate TV via AP

Natasha Watson, a Philadelphia resident who was visiting Detroit to participate in an equity, diversity and inclusion workshop last week, said watching the impeachment process has left her "disheartened and annoyed."

"I really don't really have faith that it's going to make a difference at all," she said, predicting that Senate Republicans would unanimously vote to keep Trump in office. "I have no doubt in my mind that he will be our next president and we will suffer for it."

Cody Quinn, 37, who works for a car dealership in Las Vegas, said he has not paid any attention to the impeachment proceedings because he feels it’s out of his hands and watching the trial would only bring him frustration.

“We vote and we’ve done our job,” Quinn said, adding that he does not believe lawmakers have brought forth any evidence that shows Trump committed a crime. “Now it’s up to the politicians we voted for.”

Others have little interest in continuing to watch the proceedings because they feel their time would be better spent paying attention to the upcoming presidential election.

“It’s like watching someone sitting in front of all their friends and asking them if they should send you to jail, and you know they are going to say no,” said Lakisha Banales, 42, a phlebotomist at a blood bank in Las Vegas. “Let’s move on and all come together to get someone into office who doesn’t cause so much division.”

Patrick Monahan, 26, a law student from Grosse Pointe Shores, Michigan, said he also believes lawmakers have been voting along party lines.

“I think the most important thing is probably just getting through with this,” said Monahan, who watched "probably three quarters" of the House hearing and is watching some of the Senate proceedings. “We just need to move on with this and start getting ready for 2020.”

Many are still committed to keeping up with details of the impeachment trial, regardless of outcome. Ronald Simms, 36, of Beverly Hills, California, said he understands that people are not watching because they feel the trial’s end has been predetermined, but he thinks it is important for Americans to pay attention.

“This is a historic moment and it’s finally happening and it’s important and everybody should be watching,” he said. “If anything, people need to be informed of what their government is doing, what their president is doing. What the president does is news.”

Mark Nimmons, 53, a lifelong Democrat who lives in the Detroit suburb of Southfield, Michigan, and works as a robot programmer for Ford Motor Co.,says he has watched "quite a lot" of the process in both the House and the Senate.

"I really do believe that this is the biggest threat to our democracy or democracy, period, that this country has ever had,” he said. “We really and truly need our democracy to pass this test.”

Anita Hassan reported from Phoenix, Erin Einhorn from Detroit, Alicia Victoria Lozano from Los Angeles, and Jason Abbruzzese from New York.

Jason Abbruzzese, Erin Einhorn and Alicia Victoria Lozano contributed.