On the second floor of the National Constitution Center, past former Presidents Richard Nixon, Andrew Johnson, and Bill Clinton, there’s some empty space where the future of Donald Trump remains unwritten.

Hours before the House of Representatives was set to vote for or against the president’s impeachment, a smattering of visitors to the center seemed to represent the thoughts and feelings of the wider nation. Some thought Trump’s impeachment was a slam dunk. Others thought the process was a sham.

Dorcas Hopkins, a retired teacher from Gloucester County, thought this historic day made a visit to the Constitution Center all the more fitting.

“We’re just blessed to have a democracy, and we’re seeing our democracy play out before our eyes,” Hopkins, of Washington Township, said. “That is what I would have told my students if I were still teaching.”

Dorcas Hopkins of Washington Township, NJ, tells her opinion on the impeachment of Pres. Donald Trump at the Constitution Center in Philadelphia, December 18, 2019. Avi Steinhardt / For the Inquirer
Dorcas Hopkins of Washington Township, NJ, tells her opinion on the impeachment of Pres. Donald Trump at the Constitution Center in Philadelphia, December 18, 2019. Avi Steinhardt / For the Inquirer

Tourists from Brazil said they didn’t know all that much about impeachment. A woman in the gift shop said her union wouldn’t want her to comment, but two men repairing ATMs at the center sided squarely with the president.

“It’s crazy. It shouldn’t be done,” said Brian Burns of Trenton. “It’s just Democrats trying to attack him. Why can’t we all get along? This country would be awesome if we could all get along.”

Burns’s coworker, Andy Godown, summed up his thoughts on impeachment with one word: “Bulls—.”

The center’s first visitors Wednesday were two women from Malvern, both of them saying they are baffled that Trump hadn’t been removed from office long before now. Both women believe today’s vote is dire.

“When you compare this, Watergate is like chump change compared to these articles of impeachment and the things this president has done,” said Stacy Stone, 60. “I’m very concerned that if this doesn’t work and if he wins the election, it will be a direct threat to our democracy. I think this could be the end of the United States as we know it.”

Stone said her son is transgender and she’s “personally horrified” that Trump is in office.

Stacy Stone of Malvern, Pa., tells her opinion about the impeachment of President Donald Trump, while at the Constitution Center in Philadelphia, Dec. 18, 2019. Avi Steinhardt / For the Inquirer
Stacy Stone of Malvern, Pa., tells her opinion about the impeachment of President Donald Trump, while at the Constitution Center in Philadelphia, Dec. 18, 2019. Avi Steinhardt / For the Inquirer

In the Constitution Center’s gift shop, Wendell Gibby of Utah browsed through the books and patriotic merchandise. Trump, he said, has “some warts,” but he doesn’t support his impeachment.

“I think it’s a farce, a hyper-partisan exercise, and I think the Democrats will try anything they can to pin the tail on the donkey, so to speak,” Gibby, 63, said. “It’s been very imbalanced and it’s not going to play well for the Democrats.”

Wendell Gibby visiting from Utah, tells his opinion about the impeachment of President Donald Trump while in the gift shop of the Constitution Center in Philadelphia, Dec. 18, 2019. Avi Steinhardt / For the Inquirer
Wendell Gibby visiting from Utah, tells his opinion about the impeachment of President Donald Trump while in the gift shop of the Constitution Center in Philadelphia, Dec. 18, 2019. Avi Steinhardt / For the Inquirer

‘These discussions are what we were built for’

If Congress votes to impeach, it will be just the third time that’s happened since the nation was formed.

While displays at the Constitution Center discuss Nixon’s pre-impeachment resignation and Clinton’s impeachment in 1999, it has meatier offerings online.

The center’s website is now the fifth-most-visited museum site in the country and the seventh-most-visited in the world, said Jeffrey Rosen, the center’s CEO and president.

Among them, a recent, debate-style episode of its We the People podcast called “Should President Trump Be Impeached?” recorded at an event at the center in early December. (An October podcast titled “What Does the Constitution Say About Impeachment?” goes into even further detail.) One of the podcast guests, University of North Carolina law professor Michael Gerhardt, was invited by Democrats to testify before the House Judiciary Committee this month.

Gerhardt told the audience at the Constitution Center that impeachment is “like nothing else” in our democracy.

“It’s not like a trial. It’s not like a civil proceeding. It’s not like a criminal proceeding,” he said on the podcast. “It’s a special, unique constitutional process.”

Rosen said the live audience voted overwhelmingly to impeach Trump that night.

“These discussions are what we were built for,” Rosen said. “It’s just such an exciting time.”