/Politics and Pierogi

Politics and Pierogi

“We’ve actually been talking about how eating here tonight is kind of festive,” Jacob, a community manager who recently moved to New York from Chicago, tells me while standing on the corner of Second Avenue and East 9th Street on the first Saturday night in October. In Washington, lawmakers are digesting reports that Trump will stonewall the impeachment inquiry until a full House vote. Jacob and his sister, meanwhile, are waiting for a table at Veselka, New York’s iconic Ukrainian diner, which serves pierogi, borscht, and pancakes of both the refined-white-flour and potato varieties all day, every day. “Are we celebrating? Are we eating in shame?,” Jacob asks. He’s not sure.

Jacob’s friend Frank is staying abreast of the news: “You know what? It’s not a lot. Trump literally used his office, called up the Ukrainian president, and said, ‘Hey, can you do this for me? Investigate my political rival.’ It’s as simple as that.” An hour later, the hostess, Kayla, tells me about her years-long obsession with Ukraine, which has included learning Russian. “I think it’s really cool that people are paying attention to Ukraine again,” she says. “It’s been a country struggling on its own since 2014. Their economy plummeted, and they were left hanging with all these empty promises from other countries.” She says the restaurant has been slammed for her entire shift. “It’s always insane here, especially in the wintertime, but today has been really crazy.”

Sitting at the counter inside, I strike up a conversation with a purple-haired woman to my right wearing a cleaver-shaped necklace stamped FEMINIST.
(It’s a good litmus test on first dates, she says.) “I’m more interested in looking ahead toward the primaries,” she tells me over a double order of fried pierogi. “If Trump gets impeached, we’re still stuck with Pence.”

“I think it’s crazy, and I’m just blown away by how Republicans are nonchalantly blowing [Trump’s behavior] off,” Michael, a 26-year-old drawn to Ukrainian cuisine by the sudden cold snap, says outside the restaurant. “But then I’m also onboard with the conspiracy theory that the world ended in 2012 and we’re all projected into an alternate universe.” His mood darkens as he and his friend Christina continue talking about the chaos that is American democracy.

“A lot of people would say impeachment is more trouble than it’s worth.
At the end of the day, what is it going to prove — the fact that you can do it?,” Morgan, another patron on the sidewalk, tells me. “If you like him, you like him, and if he’s impeached, you’re just gonna be like, ‘The damn liberals!’ ” I ask a group of NYU students if they think the Ukraine news subliminally led them here. “Alcohol brought me here, basically,” says Caleb, a film student. “It just feels like there’s no precedent for this president.” Bethany, who is studying journalism, adds, “It could happen, it could not happen … we’re just going to eat some pierogi in the meantime.”

*This article appears in the October 14, 2019, issue of New York Magazine. Subscribe Now!