LA CROSSE, Wis. — Representative Ron Kind stood in front of the crowd gathered at an American Legion post in his district in western Wisconsin and listened. As a Democrat in the House minority, that is about all he can do these days.
He heard from one attendee who recalled the division that led to the Civil War and wondered if something similar was happening today. Another asked about requiring a psychiatrist to be on hand at the White House. A third offered vivid imagery.
“I kind of feel like we’re sitting in the dining room watching a presentation about how the backyard’s going to get reworked,” she said, “and meanwhile, vandals had set the roof on fire.”
Mr. Kind, who has served this district that hugs the Mississippi River since 1997, took it all in.
“Our institutions of democracy, I think, are going to be tested severely in the coming months and the coming years,” the congressman said at a town hall-style meeting on Wednesday, promising that he would do his best to act as a check on President Trump and any “darker impulses” that might need to be countered.
Numerous Republicans who have held such meetings over the past week have faced packed rooms, shouts and jeers. Democrats are drawing crowds, too, as voters brim with concerns about the early days of the Trump presidency and wonder what their lawmakers can do to help.
But as constituents unburden themselves, Democrats must calibrate the extent of their condemnations — given the risk that overzealous denouncements of Mr. Trump could be dismissed as knee-jerk and partisan. “It’s still early,” Mr. Kind said. “It’s only been one month.”
Margaret Wood, a retired teacher and former county board supervisor, acknowledged that Democrats like Mr. Kind can do only so much. “Let’s face it: They’re in the minority,” she said in an interview. “He doesn’t have a lot of power.”
But she gave him credit for something else. “He is not afraid to come and meet with all of us,” she said.
More than 200 people showed up for Mr. Kind’s “listening session.” Over the course of two hours, he efficiently moved through a few dozen questions on a variety of topics, including Russian interference in the election, Mr. Trump’s tax returns and the repeal of the Affordable Care Act.
Those inquiries were similar to what Republicans have heard at their meetings — but at Mr. Kind’s session, they were asked without the anger that Republicans have had to defuse. “We’re going to be respectful today,” he instructed the crowd at the beginning of the gathering. The audience complied, applauding at times but refraining from interrupting.
Unlike some of his Republican peers who have gone before their constituents, Mr. Kind was not a congressman under siege. He encouraged people to come up to him in the grocery store, and he pointed out his mother sitting in the audience, asking her to raise her hand.
“If Ron Johnson had a listening session here, maybe some of the Democrats who show up might not be quite as polite and respectful,” said Tom Wilson, 71, referring to Wisconsin’s recently re-elected Republican senator.
Mr. Kind, who is serving in his 11th term, ran unopposed in November’s election. But Mr. Trump beat Hillary Clinton in his sprawling district, so he must choose his words about the president with more caution than Democrats in deep-blue districts.
The National Republican Congressional Committee included his seat among its three dozen initial targets in the 2018 midterm elections. Mr. Kind might have another idea in mind: He has not ruled out a run for governor in 2018, when Gov. Scott Walker, a Republican, could seek a third term.
At the town hall-style meeting, Mr. Kind was blunt about his current level of influence: Like it or not, Republicans are in the driver’s seat. “They control the agenda,” he said.
But voters had ample concerns to share.
“I think we’ve got somebody at the helm now that makes Captain Queeg look stable,” said George Nygaard, 69, who asked about putting a psychiatrist on staff at the White House, embracing an idea put forth by Representative Ted Lieu, Democrat of California.
Mr. Kind was noncommittal, saying he would talk to Mr. Lieu and noting that there was a medical doctor with the president all the time. “And yet mental health is just as important for any commander in chief,” he observed, before steering away from the subject.
Mr. Nygaard said later that he understood why Mr. Kind had chosen not to take a stand regarding the president’s mental health. “He’s in that kind of district,” he said. “We’re purple.”
Mr. Kind, who encouraged people to diversify their sources of news, responded to the man who brought up the Civil War by expressing concern about what he described as “the tribalism that’s been created in this country.”
The congressman offered particularly forceful words when asked about Russian hacking and the election, drawing a parallel between that matter and two grave events in American history. “Make no mistake,” Mr. Kind said. “We were attacked on Dec. 7, 1941. We were attacked on Sept. 11, 2001. And we were attacked on Nov. 8, 2016, with outside foreign government interference in our election process.”
The session also brought out some of the soul-searching that is still playing out for Democrats, growing out of both Mrs. Clinton’s jarring defeat and the party’s presidential primary. In the Wisconsin primary, Senator Bernie Sanders of Vermont won decisively in Mr. Kind’s district, though the congressman backed Mrs. Clinton.
One questioner, noting that Mr. Sanders won the district and that Mr. Trump prevailed there in the general election, asked Mr. Kind what he would say to working-class voters who “feel disenfranchised with the leadership of the Democratic Party.” The query drew enthusiastic applause from some in the room. Mr. Kind said the heartland should not be seen as “flyover country.”
Another questioner, reminding Mr. Kind how many of his constituents voted for Mr. Sanders in the primary, asked if he would voice support for Representative Keith Ellison of Minnesota in the race to be chairman of the Democratic National Committee. Mr. Ellison supported Mr. Sanders in the primary.
Mr. Kind emphasized his longstanding friendship with Mr. Ellison — a law school classmate of his — but he also offered positive words about another candidate, Thomas E. Perez, who was labor secretary under President Barack Obama.
By the time things wrapped up, Mr. Kind offered to hold another meeting in the area so he could field more questions. He was also able to do something that Republicans battered at town meetings might envy: He thanked everyone for their civility.