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Wednesday 16 October 2019

America's great divide is widening

Left and right are drawing battle lines over impeaching Trump, writes Nick Allen in Gettysburg

The reenactment in July of the US civil war battle at Gettysburg. The organisation behind the annual reenactments says it doesn’t plan on hosting an event in summer 2020
The reenactment in July of the US civil war battle at Gettysburg. The organisation behind the annual reenactments says it doesn’t plan on hosting an event in summer 2020

Nick Allen

When Donald Trump invoked the spectre of civil war in the US last week should he be impeached by Democrats, he faced outrage from across the political divide.

But in Gettysburg, the site of more than 50,000 casualties in one of the most pivotal confrontations of the actual civil war, most people stand with the president.

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Two conflicting interpretations of impeachment have taken hold across America. Democrats believe Trump committed treason by pressuring Ukraine and China to dig dirt on Joe Biden.

But Republicans are equally convinced that Biden is a corrupt creature of the "swamp", who should be investigated.

There is no neutral ground, and both sides are becoming ever more entrenched, their two narratives playing out separately on rival television channels CNN and Fox News.

Gettysburg, a town of nearly 8,000 people, its outskirts dotted with cannon and gravestones, lies in Adams County, an area a little bit smaller than Leitrim, covered with rolling cornfields, stables and apple orchards.

The county, which is in the key electoral state of Pennsylvania, voted for Trump in 2016 by a massive margin of 37 percentage points.

At the office of the Adams County Republican committee, near the Gettysburg battlefield, 'Keep America Great 2020' yard signs are already flying out of the door.

Sitting next to a life-size cut-out of his hero from the White House, Walt Tuchalski (63) laughed as he said: "Go ahead, impeach President Trump - we'll just re-elect him next year anyway!"

He added: "There in some way is a civil war with left and right already, right now. It's as bipolar as you could ever see it. It used to be you could talk politics with friends and they'd still have coffee with you. That's changed."

Down the road at the Democrat committee, a sign depicting Uncle Sam hangs on the wall. It says 'Only you can prevent a second term'.

"Most of our membership is going 'Go, Nancy, go'," says Peter Vogel (67), in reference to Nancy Pelosi, the Democrat leading the impeachment inquiry.

He said Trump's raising the possibility of a civil war in the US was "deplorable" and "scare tactics of the cheapest kind".

In a tweet about civil war, Trump quoted comments made by Robert Jeffress, a Texas megachurch pastor, on Fox News. The pastor said: "If the Democrats are successful in removing the president from office, it will cause a civil war-like fracture in this nation from which our country will never heal."

After Trump took up the baton from the Texan, #civilwar2 and #civilwarsignup started trending on Twitter.

The Oath Keepers, a far-right militia movement, responded: "We ARE on the verge of a HOT civil war. Like in 1859. All he has to do is call us up. We WILL answer the call."

Increasingly, Trump's more extreme supporters appear to interpret the Second Amendment right to bear arms and maintain a "well-regulated militia", as protection not against the tyranny of a president, but the tyranny of Congress.

In a shop selling toy soldiers, close to the spot where Abraham Lincoln delivered the Gettysburg Address in 1863, one supporter of Trump said the idea of a civil war was not far-fetched.

The man, who said he owned "lots" of guns, argued the Founding Fathers meant for the people to have access to the same weapons as the Government.

"American gun owners are the largest militia in the world, an unofficial army," he said.

At a Gettysburg restaurant, the owner had another way of dealing with the divided community.

Ruth Dunlap (60), owner of Dunlap's Steak and Seafood Diner, used to have two televisions, one tuned to CNN, the other to Fox News. Republicans and Democrats both got wound up.

"I just got tired of hearing the comments," she said. "So I just said, 'You know what, I'm turning them off'. Now we have sports and the Weather Channel, which is much better."

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