Sunday, August 21, 2016

A Brush With Trumpery Leaves Me Feeling Slimed

I got a letter in the mail the other day from a group called Chico Democrats. It said that the local branch of the Republican Party would be opening their campaign headquarters on August 20th, with a rally for Chico City Council candidate Sean Morgan, and that the Democrats would be present to counter by waving signs for Hilary Clinton. The letter was signed by one Bob Mulholland, which name rang a bell, but I couldn’t place it.

I was curious about these “Chico Democrats”. I attempted a Google search for them. They don’t have their own website, or even a Facebook page, as far as I can tell, only an email address with the domain name “”. I called the phone number on the letter, and got a recording saying “Leave a message for Mike or for Bob, or if you have an interest in Democratic politics.” Not very informative or very professional-sounding, in my opinion. I figured the Bob was this Mulholland, but I didn’t do a Google search on him. If I had, I would have been a little better informed. It turns out he even has a suspiciously brief Wikipedia entry with the caveat “The neutrality of this article is disputed.” I found out as I sat down to write this that the Chico Dems are a group within the Butte County Democratic Party, and have a page on that website.

I had recently read an article about the effectiveness of political advertising. In it, a savvy political analyst was saying that the messages of the ads are not important to the outcome of an election. It’s mainly about constantly keeping a candidate’s name in people’s eyes and ears, and therefore their minds.

The local Republicans are calling their campaign headquarters the “North State Republican Victory Office”. I thought that was very optimistic of them, although they might be counting their chickens before they hatch. It is located in a large building formerly occupied by an investment firm called Stifel Nicolaus, which apparently recently relocated to roomier quarters in another area of town. I’ve always thought it was sort of funny that both major political parties always set up shop in empty storefronts at election times. Of course, we can’t expect them to maintain permanent lodgings for something that only happens every two to four years, but there is something rather sad about seeing a former business festooned with posters for candidates who are usually promising jobs and economic growth.

Some of you may remember that I recently staged a small protest when a local gun shop announced – just days after the Orlando “Pulse” mass shooting – that it would be giving away an assault rifle on July 4th. That bit of civil protest whetted my appetite for more political or social activism. When I got the letter from the Chico Dems, I figured I could do my part to help keep Clinton’s and other Dems’ names out there, so that Trump and lower-level Republicans running for local offices wouldn’t get all the press. Besides, it might be fun, I thought. Turns out I was wrong.

I donned my novelty stars and stripes-spangled “Uncle Sam” stovepipe hat (“Made in China”!) that I had worn at my gun protest. Some people may think that the wearing of such a silly chapeau might seem irreverent, or like I’m trying to be an ironic old hipster or something, but I wanted to convey a spirit of good-natured friendliness for this meeting of opposing political camps.

When I arrived at the location of the event, I didn’t immediately see anyone I could positively identify as looking like a “Democrat”. I parked in a nearby church parking lot and walked toward the site. I saw two older women who were making the same tentative circumnavigation of the perimeter of the property that I was. There was a young man holding (but not wearing, I noted) a “Make America Great Again” hat who was directing people to parking spaces, which were quickly filling up with rather expensive-looking automobiles. I was half hoping that one of the Republicans might mistake me for a supporter and offer me one of those hats. Not that I would ever wear one, but as Triumph the Insult Comic Dog might say, it would be a very nice hat FOR ME TO POOP ON! Of course, I’m sure no conservative would actually give anything away. The proceeds from the sale of such a thing could go toward helping the mega-rich candidate get elected.

After I had made a complete circle of the place and found no one else who looked like they were on “my side”, I walked over to the two older women and asked if they were also there for the Democrats. They said they were. Then one of them said, “That looks like a Republican hat!” I was a little taken aback by this, but I just said, “No, it’s an American hat.”

We were soon joined by another older woman. It was quickly apparent that this third lady was a little off her rocker. In addition to babbling to us about people and events we had never heard of, she also immediately started shouting at anyone who looked like they were involved in the Republican event things like, “We don’t want you here! Go home.” Oh, great, I thought, a nutter who might start some trouble. I wondered if she meant they should just return to their domiciles, or did she think that Republicans came from strange land. Actually, I wonder that myself, sometimes. The crazy lady said something about “we were supposed to make signs, but I hurt my arm”, and indeed, she was wearing a nylon and Velcro brace on one of the aforementioned limbs. I asked her how she had heard about this gathering, and she said, “At the Chico Medical Marijuana Coalition meeting last night.” Okay, fair enough, I thought. She also said that if she got too stressed out, she would go off to a corner somewhere and read “Siddhartha” by Herman Hesse. I figured that wouldn’t be the only thing she’d be doing in that corner, but if it calmed her down, more power to her. I also wondered if “Siddhartha” was the left’s equivalent of the conservatives’ love of Ayn Rand’s “Atlas Shrugged”.

We were soon joined by a tall, thin man who introduced himself as Bob Mulholland. As I walked with him to his car to get the signs, I told him I had heard his name before, but I wasn’t sure in what capacity. He said that he was a super delegate for the DNC, and was married to Butte County Supervisor Jane Dolan. I’ve known of Jane since the early 1980s.

We got the signs, which in addition to the Hilary ones, also included city council candidates. I have to admit that even though I vote in all elections that I can, I’m not very well-informed about the political leanings of many city council or county supervisor candidates. They never include the words “Democrat” or “Republican”, but I have noticed that the conservatives are usually sure to include that word in their ads. I was a little surprised to see that there was a sign for city council member Ann Schwab. I would have taken her for a conservative, because when our bus drivers’ contract was being renewed with the local transit authority, she was vehemently against the idea of bus drivers getting any more money. I felt a little reluctant to be participating in a function of a group that supported someone who was so diametrically opposed to my livelihood, but I decided to put aside petty squabbles for the greater good. I wouldn’t hold one of her signs, though.

When we returned, our numbers had increased slightly. A lady and her daughter, who looked to be about 10 or 11, had joined us. They were both carrying (clean) toilet plungers on the handles of which were rolls of novelty toilet paper, each square of which had a cartoon drawing of Trump and phrases such as “Silly poor people, money is for the rich!” Soon a few more people joined us, and it looked like we might have a jolly little gathering, if only Hesse Fangirl would stop shouting angrily at anyone who looked remotely conservative.

When we started selecting signs to hold, Angry Medical Marijuana Woman informed us that she would not hold a “Hilary” sign, because she was “third-party all the way”. I wanted to tell her that voting third party was a likely way to make Hilary lose and Trump win, but I didn’t want to rile her up further. She picked out a couple of signs for city council candidates. As she did so, I heard her mutter, “Okay, third party, third party.” I doubted she even knew who those people were, let alone what third party she thought they represented.

So we started waving our signs. The former Stifel Nicolaus building is located on the Southeast corner of Mangrove Avenue and E. First Avenue, a very busy intersection. I was a little nervous about being so close to such a high-traffic crossroads, especially since we were a distraction to motorists. Responses from passersby were about like what I experienced during my gun store protest. Some people just waved, some people honked, which I took as a sign of support, and some people had to shout things from their car windows. It was usually difficult to understand exactly what they were saying, but it didn’t sound nice. Some of the phrases I did hear included, “Hilary is a lying bitch!” and “She belongs in jail!” More than a few people just shook their heads in disgust, while some felt compelled to give us the finger. I was particularly struck by two white men wearing long-sleeved dress shirts in a dark Audi who BOTH flipped us off (mind you, there was a young child in our group), and then they pulled into the parking lot of the event. I was very tempted to confront them, but I’m glad I didn’t. I just wanted a peaceful protest, if you can call what we were doing that.
Soon Hesse Fangirl must have gotten tired or stressed out from shouting at Republicans, for she put down her signs and wandered away and didn’t return. A few minutes later, I saw an elderly couple standing on the other side of East First Avenue. They looked like they were waiting for the “Walk” sign so they could cross, but they had not pushed the button to activate it. They stood there through two cycles of the signals, looking more and more confused as to why they weren’t getting to cross. Bob spotted them, and he pushed the button on our side of the street for them. Before it could change, however, they started walking east on E. First. I hoped they weren’t thinking of trying to jaywalk mid-block.

Then a line of cars was turning left from Mangrove onto E. First, and four clean cut young fellows in a white car jeered at us as they passed. I can’t recall their exact words, but they were ugly. Seconds later there was a screech of tires followed quickly by two loud reports of metal against metal. When we turned toward the sounds, we saw that the elderly couple had indeed jaywalked. The driver of a pickup had slammed on their brakes to successfully avoid hitting them, and the driver of the white car full of clean-cut young men was probably too caught up in his and his companions’ bon mots to react in time and slammed into the back of the pickup, then a mini-van crashed into the back of them. The white car immediately started leaking an important-looking fluid. Soon all three cars were moved under their own power into the church parking lot. I don’t know if the police ever responded. The old couple – seemingly oblivious to the fact that they were at least indirectly responsible for a three-car accident – continued on their way…into the Republican event.

Upon seeing these idiots get into an accident right after hurling epithets at strangers, I was tempted to at least shout “Ha Ha”, a la The Simpsons’ Nelson Muntz, but that would have been in poor taste. Beside, innocent people had their vehicles damaged in that pile-up. A short while later the four clean-cut young jackasses walked past our group. I guess their car was kaput. They were a little more subdued, but one of them told us we were responsible for their accident. As a commercial driver, I know that’s bullshit. No matter what sort of distraction is going on outside your vehicle, the driver is ultimately responsible for the control of it.

Shortly after the accident, the mother took her daughter home, explaining to us that the little girl was getting too stressed out by all the shouting and chaos. A few minutes later another driver was so busy shouting something nasty at us that he nearly veered into the curb, right where the accident had occurred. I was beginning to think that we should disband for the sake of public safety.

The best part of the day was when a man stopped by to talk to us. He told us that he was a Republican, but that he would be voting for Hilary this election. We thanked him, but asked him why. He said simply, “Because she’s not Trump.” He went on to explain that although he’s registered as Republican, he believes in voting for the best person for the job. He said that he voted for Obama over Romney in the last election. He also said that he had voted for Trump in California’s closed primary election this June over any other Republican candidate because he figured that Trump would be the most likely to lose against Hilary. He was a very intelligent fellow, and a pleasure to talk to. His bi-partisanship and level-headedness were a bit of a salve after all the hate being hurled at us from cars. But it wasn’t quite enough to keep me from experiencing despair for this election, this country and humanity in general. I left the gathering after a couple of hours.

I’ve spent the last couple of days since the event pondering the hate I felt flowing from those loud mouths. I have to admit I don’t know all that much about Hilary. I’m not super-excited about her, but I don’t have anything against her. I wondered why the conservatives always say that she’s a liar and should be jailed. I think it probably has something to do with Benghazi, of which I was ignorant. I reviewed the basic facts of that story before composing this, but I’m still not sure what to think. Part of the problem is finding reliable sources for information. My friend Lizann told me of a site called Media Bias/Fact Check, which reports on the biases (if any) and reliability of many sources of information, on both sides of the spectrum. It’s an invaluable resource, but now I don’t know who to believe. I don’t want to be guilty of “confirmation bias” by only consulting left-biased sources, nor do I want to swallow something from right-biased outlets without a large grain of salt to go with it.
When things like Fox News and conservative talk-radio personalities like Rush Limbaugh were on the rise, a frequently-heard phrase was “the liberal meida”, and indeed it seems that many respected media sources like ABC, NBC, CNN and Newsweek are considered “left-center” biased by MB/FC. Maybe the reason that many venerable news reporters are a bit leftist is because they have A FUCKING EDUCATION! Glenn Beck never went to college, Rush Limbaugh is a college drop-out, and Roger Ailes (serial sexual harasser and founder and recently resigned CEO of Fox News) at least had a bachelor’s degree in radio and television production. I’m sure there must be conservative reporters with decent educations, but I’m too tired to look for them.

Getting back to reading about Hilary and Benghazi, MB/FC said that USA Today was one of the least biased news sources going. This surprised me, because when USA Today started, many of us thought of it as “News Lite”. I never thought it would become as successful and respected as it has. After getting the basic facts about Benghazi from USA Today, I was confirmed in my cynical feeling that all politicians lie. The continued investigations into the event were obviously a Republican effort to discredit Hilary. And maybe Hilary did some hinky stuff, but we’ll probably never know for sure. Missing stuff like emails are hard for people to forget about. As a child, I remember a lot of flap about an 18 and a half minute gap in Nixon’s White House tapes.

I’m may be getting into stereotype territory here, but Trump and the current Republican Party seem to be pandering to minimally-educated, white, lower-middle class Americans, many of whom want to blame minorities and/or women for their economic troubles. Trump is not afraid to say whatever racist or sexist things pop into his orange head, and there is a discouragingly large percentage of our population who are all-too ready to gobble up the hateful rhetoric and spew it back ten-fold.
I don’t think Trump will win this election, but provided his heart (which is three sizes too small) doesn’t explode, there’s really nothing to prevent him from trying again in four years. I don’t think he’ll care to, but I think he’s paved the way for someone like him (or worse) from picking up all his hate-filled followers. We have some serious problems in this society. I might be plagiarizing something I read and I apologize if I am, but the election of Barack Obama shown a light into the dark corners of our country and incited the stunted creatures who dwelled there to action in the guise of the Tea Party. Now I may be mixing metaphors, but Trump is fanning the flames. The election of Hilary won’t put them out. Things are probably going to get worse before they get better. Sorry to end on such a dour note, but the best way for me to process my feelings is by writing. And right now, my primary feeling is one of despair. And I don’t think I have the emotional fortitude for civil protest.

Saturday, June 18, 2016

Insensitive Bastards

Those charmers at Down Ranger Indoor Training Center in Chico, California (the ones who like to defile holidays with billboards of gun-toting Santa Clauses and Easter Bunnies) are at it again. Mere days after the Orlando nightclub massacre, they put up this sign (top photo) in which they actually offer to give away an AR-15. As if it weren't already too easy to get ahold of these weapons, they want to give one for free. To be fair, they probably had this event planned and the sign ordered before June 12. But to go ahead with it is the height of insensitivity in the wake of the tragedy. I'm sure they're feeling like their precious assault rifles are under attack after the latest "worst thing ever", and felt the need to proceed with this patriotic shindig.

And don't bore me arguments like, "the weapon used in Orlando was a Sig Sauer Mc-whatever, NOT an AR-15". It doesn't matter. It also doesn't matter if your state only allows so-called "low capacity magazines", when there is no limit on how many magazines you can carry other than your own strength. And I don't want to hear about how a ban on such weapons won't work because really motivated criminals will still find a way to acquire them. It's time to follow Australia's fine example and put some limits on how much fire power a private citizen can pack and where than can pack it.

Don 't get me wrong - I actually like guns. I think target shooting is fun (and I'm good at it). I'm not advocating a total ban on all firearms. That would be unrealistic. But there is no justifiable reason for any private citizen to have an assault rifle.

I'm contemplating staging some of protest outside this place during their "celebration". Anyone care to join me?