EVANSVILLE — It was the perfect town hall meeting audience for politically polarized 2019 — noisy when audience members didn't like what 8th District Rep. Larry Bucshon, R-Newburgh, said and noisy when they did.
Outside the Southern Indiana Career and Technical Center, homemade signs bespoke the tenor of the evening. "Larry Bucshon is a PROUD member of Trump's lying, divisive, unqualified Republican team!" screamed one. Another offered a photo of President Donald Trump and the words, "TYRANT RACIST UNSCRUPULOUS MORON POMPOUS."
Inside, it was a little nicer. A little.
An audience of about 150 people laughed derisively at some of Bucshon's remarks, interrupted him freely, shouted rejoinders and fed him questions hot with their own fierce opinions.
Others — on the other side, apparently — broke into applause when he said Congress can't impeach Trump just because his political opponents don't like him.
It wasn't a time or place for nuance.
Bucshon was reminded of that whenever Trump's name came up — which was often in a crowd that poured scorn on the president.
"Nothing," Bucshon said in response to one man who wanted to know what could persuade him to support Trump's impeachment.
"If there was a high crime or misdemeanor, per the Constitution, that got bipartisan support, to show that the president committed crimes that would warrant impeachment, then I would go there — but right now that hasn't happened," Bucshon said.
Members of the audience continued to buzz about Trump. Citing "all this controversy about" Trump, Bucshon's questioner asked why the president shouldn't be brought before Congress.
"Because you can't impeach a president because you don't like him," Bucshon said.
Bucshon and his audience also mixed it up over gun control.
The Democratic-controlled U.S. House has advanced expanded background check legislation, but the Republican Senate hasn't acted on it. Bucshon mentioned the recent mass shootings in Dayton and El Paso, saying the problem isn't guns — it's guns in the hands of mentally unstable people.
"The things that are being proposed right now by some of the gun control people wouldn’t have stopped either one of those shooters. Both of them bought guns legally; they passed the background checks," he said.
Suppose a tough gun ban could be enacted, the congressman ventured.
"Are you going to confiscate every weapon that’s currently in every household in America that is that type of weapon?” he demanded.
“That’s what they did in Australia!" one man called out.
“I understand that people want to do that, but you’re violating the Constitution," Bucshon said.
Bucshon triggered loud disagreement when he said, "We all want to stop crazy people from shooting people."
“It’s not crazy people!” one man shouted.
“It is crazy people," Bucshon said.
Dayton shooter Connor Betts made a "hit list" of people he wanted to kill and a "rape list" of girls he wanted to sexually assault, Bucshon said. El Paso shooter Patrick Crusius is a white supremacist. Jared Lee Loughner, the man who shot Rep. Gabby Giffords and 18 others outside a Tucson-area supermarket in 2011, was diagnosed with schizophrenia.
Bucshon then pointed to Maurice Hill, the suspected gunman who recently rained bullets on Philadelphia police while barricaded indoors.
"What kind of gun did he use? Do you know? He had an AR-15. Where did he get it? He’s a criminal!" Bucshon said. "He didn’t have to get a background check. He didn’t have to go to a gun shop."
One person asked Bucshon a question describing the current "bleak" times.
The congressman resisted that notion, saying the question likely reflected instead the questioner's disagreements with those in power. He pointed to turbulent 1968 — a genuine time of turmoil in America, he said.
“I’m optimistic. I don’t think it’s a bleak period at all," Bucshon said, citing a relatively healthy economy. "Of course there’s political disagreement."
If his audience wanted to see real turmoil, Bucshon said, they should look to the days when Abraham Lincoln was in the White House. It was a time of armed conflict — civil war.
“Trump is no Lincoln," one woman called out to loud applause.
And that's the kind of night it was.