Political Harassment: Who’s empowering the trolls?

For the past three summers, I’ve volunteered to spend a couple of hours staffing the Dems booth at the Waukesha County Fair.  In southeastern Wisconsin, the words “Waukesha County Democrats” usually draw a raucous laugh.  Waukesha is one of the “collar counties” that rim Milwaukee County on the west and north, and it’s known to be one of the most reliably right-wing areas in the state.  But it’s also got the third largest number of Democratic votes in the state, and thanks to Donald J. Trump, the third largest Democratic party in terms of membership.

In the summer of 2017, I expected the Democrat booth to be a bit livelier than usual, and it was.  More people stopped by who were engaged and outraged by the Trump administration and wanted to talk about it. People seemed less furtive, less embarrassed, less, “Gee, I hope none of my neighbors see me over here,” than in previous years. I staffed the booth with one other Democrat on a Saturday afternoon, and we were buoyed by the action. When turnout like that happens, it gives you a feeling of hope that some great awakening is about to occur in Waukesha County, that people will start voting in their own interests and stop thinking that concern about the contents of other people’s uteruses and a largely concocted horror of immigrants are the only reasons to turn out on election day.

Midway through our shift a dad, tall, black-haired, ethnically mixed, stopped by with a flock of dark-haired kids all wearing Swimtastic tees patterned in psychedelic colors.  One of the kids, a daughter, was tall like the dad. The dad seemed friendly and open while his kids were helping themselves to our Democrat lollipops. The woman I was staffing the booth with kept encouraging them to take more. We’re Democrats. We’re nice people.

But we had also made an assumption about this man, based on his appearance. We had profiled him. We had decided that, based on his race, he was one of us.

After the kids had consumed about three tootsie pops apiece, the family continued to linger, standing across the aisle from us, in front of the LuLaRoe area, stuffed with clothes that must have cost the woman selling them thousands of dollars.

That’s when the dad and his tall, teen-age daughter began a deliberate display, one that seemed planned, taking stickers out of their pockets and pasting them on their shirts.

The stickers featured the words “Trump” and the acronym MAGA. The daughter and the dad smiled at each other while unveiling this delayed evidence of their political affiliation.

I said, jokingly, “You can’t be serious.”  I thought maybe we could talk about it.

The dad looked straight at me and said, “I don’t argue with you about the stupid things you believe in.”

Climate change, healthcare for all, immigration rights, the right to live your life authentically with a meaningful identity, the right to choose how many kids you’ll have – these things are stupid?

But I could tell we weren’t going to have a conversation, so instead of talking back, I whispered to my fellow Democrat booth-staffer that the man and his blond wife were probably “mega-churchers.” They sure had enough kids. And the fact that all of them were evidently attending private swimming lessons did suggest parochial school.

They just kept standing there, smirking, not talking to us, until I said to my friend, a bit louder, “If they don’t get out of here, I’m calling security.” I would have had absolutely no grounds to do that, but the threat worked, because the entire family, dad and five kids, did an about-face and shuffled off.

After they left, two skinny adolescent boys raced by our booth yelling, “Trump!”  I guess you could say all this was a measure of the passion of the president’s base.  But I have a hard time feeling anybody really likes Trump that much.  I think it’s something else.

Fall of 2016, while I knocked on doors for Hillary, I received mostly positive reactions and warmth.  Canvassers only visit voters who are registered Dems or have voted Democrat in the past.

But there was one woman who came close to attacking me as soon as she heard my introductory, “just here to see if you’re going to vote” spiel.

She sprang out of her door, a small woman with blonde ringlets down to her shoulders, middle-aged and filled with ferocious anger.  She didn’t understand how anyone could vote for an evil person like Hillary Clinton, she said.  Didn’t I know about Benghazi? she shouted.  What about those emails?

As canvassers, we’re not supposed to get into arguments with potential voters.  And besides, this would have been more than an argument.  She looked like she was getting ready to hit me.  So I stood there calmly watching this display until she finally ordered me off her porch.

I’ve heard a lot of pundits talk about the divided America, how we’re not able to talk to each other anymore.  During the Obama administration, they talked a lot about how angry the voters were.  I remember seeing John McCain on the news talking about how the voters were so angry about President Obama’s “failed” liberal policies.

I knew that anger was largely manufactured and reinforced by people like Sean Hannity, Rush Limbaugh, and Glenn Beck. And of course, the Koch Brothers, founders of the so-called “grassroots movement” known as the Tea Party.

Many people would agree that what’s revving people up, reinforcing their prejudices and making them believe that a mere figurehead like Trump is actually running our government is the right-wing media.  But do any of us really listen to it?  Or are we saying we “know” when we only assume?

Recently, more and more disgusted by Trump’s cavalier assertions about “fake news,” I decided to give a listen to what he considers “real news.” I picked Hannity because he’s the current #1 right wing fulminator, because he is an avid Trump supporter, and because the admiration society is mutual.

Watching Hannity is like entering an alternate universe through your TV screen, one every bit as weird as anything served up by Netflix or Hulu.  On his January 4 show on Fox News, lower thirds appearing beneath Hannity screamed the news that the DOJ was investigating Hillary Clinton, had reopened investigations into her emails and into the activities of the Clinton Foundation, a story that had barely raised an eyebrow, let alone earned a mention, in the mainstream media.

If you’re like me, you probably think, “Jesus, why can’t they leave the woman alone? Haven’t they investigated her enough already?” And furthermore, isn’t the DOJ just doing this to appease Trump for Jeff Sessions recusing himself from the Mueller investigation?

But Hannity’s complaint that night was the fact that what he constantly refers as “the liberal media,” had shifted away from discussing the button controversy that occurred when Trump announced on Twitter that his nuclear button is bigger than Kim Jong Un’s nuclear button. “[Watch] the media’s hysterical coverage as they lie to you,” Hannity shouted, without explaining what exactly they were lying about. Then he complained about “the media’s” attention span. They stayed on North Korea “until Steve Bannon’s comments [on the Trump family’s treasonous Russia connections], and then the narrative shifts away.” That, said Hannity, “just shows you how pathetic these people [the media] are.”

Reporting about Bannon, whose comments were recorded in Michael Wolff’s infamous new book, Fire and Fury, was, according to Hannity, evidence that the “media has been an extension of the Democratic Party for decades.”

Then Hannity refers to presidents Clinton and Obama as “people who appease murdering dictators and despots.” (What would Hannity call Rodrigo Duterte? Putin? Xi Jingping?)

Clinton and Obama had the nerve to try to negotiate with our enemies, and the media loved it! Just in case viewers were missing the point, the words “Media Love Appeasement” appeared against a red background behind Hannity’s head whenever there were no clips.

Hannity raged that Bill Clinton “totally sucked up to” Kim Jong-il in the 1990s, playing an extensive clip of Clinton describing a nuclear disarmament deal, in which North Korea agreed to halt development of nuclear weapons in exchange for aid.

The media, of course, loved it, because they are “a bunch of braindead sheep.”

“Today we know this failed,” Hannity said of 1994’s nuclear deal. (According to the D.C. based Arms Control Association, an NFP, the deal collapsed in 2002).

Then Hannity jumped from North Korea to one of President Obama’s signature negotiations, nuclear disarmament deal with Iran, which he called, “Total B.S. Total stupidity.”

Hannity repeated an outrageous claim frequently made and never disputed on the right – the President Obama “paid them [the Iranians] 150 billion of your tax dollars – out of your pocket.”

That actually shocked me, because it was such a blatant and obvious lie. The money paid to Iran consisted of Iranian funds that were frozen by the U.S. as part of sanctions against the country. Is it possible that someone as media savvy as Hannity doesn’t know that the $150 billion that went to Iran was their money and not ours? And would Hannity’s outrage about the Iran deal have carried much weight if his viewers knew the truth?

A recent article by Matt Shaer in the New York Times Sunday Magazine put Hannity’s annual income at $36 million. That’s annual income, not net worth. Telling people what they want to hear and playing to their instinctive prejudices can make you very rich. Just ask Hannity’s boss, mega-billionaire Rupert Murdoch.

To Shaer, Hannity described himself flat-out as a journalist. But isn’t a journalist supposed to make some effort to verify his information. If you call yourself and a “journalist” and flat-out lie, aren’t you supposed to lose your job?

In the past year, many people have been fixated on the inappropriateness of the buffoonish, thin-skinned, self-glorifying Donald Trump for the office of president. But what I find even more troubling is the complete reversal of every policy initiative set in place by the Obama Administration. Trump and the Republican Donor Party are essentially having a dream date – the donors get everything they want, and Trump gets to think he’s president.

Take the example of the EPA. Guidelines put in place by the Obama-era EPA gave fossil fuel companies a long-lead time for complying with regulations to curb climate change – decades in some cases. And yet Scott Pruitt, the former AG of the fracked-to-hell state of Oklahoma, the earthquake capitol of the United States, sued and sued and sued. And now he heads the EPA, and its employees are not allowed to even mention the words “climate change.”

The Republican Donor Party is pretty much run by fossil fuel magnates like the Koch brothers. You don’t get to say “climate change” out loud if you work for them either.

Sean Hannity, by the way, has called people who refuse to deny the reality of global warming “idiots” and “morons.” This is what passes for a discussion with today’s conservatives. This is their evidence that man-made climate change just ain’t happening.

Nobody should labor under the delusion that this is a country that works. Our infrastructure is failing, our educational system is in chaos. We are one of the most backward developed countries on the planet. Some speculate that the reason a moderate politician like Emmanuel Macron was elected president of France is because the French have no equivalent of Fox News. All they have is actual news.

Sean Hannity alone reaches as many as 13 million people a day with both his radio and TV shows, according to the New York Times. And it’s Hannity and his ilk who are causing our country to crumble. In the U.S., a seriously misinformed public has elected a Congress that not only doesn’t do its bidding but ignores its wishes whenever it can get away with it.

It’s gotta stop.

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