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Blue State Life

My night of hostile sexism in the Beaver State

A tight gubernatorial race in Oregon, and an evening of performative machismo

October 23, 2018

2:09 PM

23 October 2018

2:09 PM

A wet weekend in Oregon, and a rally about ‘toxic masculinity’. Boy, was I looking forward to this one.

Perhaps you’ve heard something of the general contours of the Beaver State? It’s famous for its lush, evergreen forests, abundant bodies of water, and now also for its mass punch-ups downtown most Saturday nights. It seems Oregonians are particularly exercised by the provisions of Measure 105 on November’s ballot. If passed, Measure 105 would repeal the state’s 31-year-old statute which says: ‘No law enforcement agency can use its money, equipment or personnel for the purpose of detecting or apprehending people whose only violation is being in the country illegally.’

It’s the word ‘only’ one most admires.

‘The repeal of this law would not turn state and local law enforcement officials into immigration officers,’ Cynthia Kendoll, 64, the campaign manager for Measure 105, soothingly assures us. She wants to be careful, because she knows how easily she might be misunderstood.

A few years ago, some new folks moved in next door to Kendoll’s home in a suburb of Salem, the state capital. She soon noticed that they preferred to trim their lawn with machetes, and that their garage doubled up as an unlicensed day care facility with little children in diapers running around. Kendoll filed one of her many code-violation complaints with the city.

‘Get used to it, honey,’ the city clerk advised her. ‘It’s a cultural thing.’

On the other side of the debate, there are those like Rocky Barilla, the now retired Democratic state representative behind Oregon’s sanctuary-state law. It all started for Rocky back in January 1977, when four police officers walked into a café and ‘confronted’ some Hispanic men about their citizenship status.

‘It was a pretext for racism,’ Barilla says. ‘Basically, let’s mess with the blacks. Let’s mess with the Mexicans. People of colour.’

According to Barilla, Kendoll and those who now want to repeal the law aren’t just wrongheaded. They’re morally faulty. Oregonians for Immigration Reform — the faction advocating to retain Measure 105 — was recently labeled a hate group by the Southern Poverty Law Center. The local press run endless stories and editorials stigmatising the Measure 105 folks as ‘racist’, ‘anti-immigrant’. Lisa Wright of the NAACP describes the campaigners for a ’No’ vote on Measure 105 as ‘Advocates of family separation as punishment, deterrent, and forced assimilation’ seeking to ‘perpetuate a shameful part of the history of the United States’.

Protesters regularly gather on the streets of Portland and other cities, explicitly phrased placards in their hands, in order to demonstrate their commitment to free speech by pelting Kendoll’s supporters with eggs and other debris. After one lively interaction last August, David Rogers, executive director of the local American Civil Liberties Union, remarked: ‘The Portland police’s response to our protest was completely unacceptable in a free society.’

An independent Oregon survey of 700 likely voters found about 35 per cent in favour of Measure 105, and 47 per cent in favour of repealing it. The figures have drawn appreciably closer in the last two weeks. A gap of 12 percentage points almost rates as success in Oregon, a state with a full checklist of socially progressive credentials including same-sex marriage, assisted suicide, and legalised pot, not to mention the strange reluctance on the part of Oregon’s elected officials to allow their citizens to pump their own gas.

Meanwhile, Oregon’s gubernatorial race pits Democratic incumbent Kate Brown against moderate Republican Knute Buehler. A practicing physician, Buehler describes himself as pro-universal healthcare, though, paradoxically, in favour of bringing back executions. His opponent Kate Brown is suspected of being lazy, corrupt and incompetent, at least since her service as Oregon’s secretary of state.

In 2014, Brown submitted a gushing 406-word letter to the Federal Communications Commission in support of Comcast’s proposed $45billion takeover of Time Warner Cable. All but 35 of the words, it turned out, were actually written by Comcast, a company that had donated a total of $12,000 to Brown’s past election campaigns.

On the plus side for Brown, she’s only the second female governor in Oregon’s history, as well as the first openly bisexual one. These things count for a lot out west. It’s harder to point to any concrete achievements in her tenure as secretary of state. Oregon remains a basement dweller in national public-education rankings. In January 2018, an audit accused the governor’s office of ‘systematically mismanaging’ child-welfare funds. The state as a whole continues to lurch from one budget crisis to another.

With two weeks to go, a telephone poll of 500 Oregon voters gave Brown a 40 per cent chance of victory, and 37 per cent to Buehler. A local carpenter named Patrick Starnes is running as an independent. He has managed to shave off a respectable, and potentially destabilising, 5 per cent of the votes.

All three of Oregon’s gubernatorial candidates seem quite keen to distance themselves from President Trump. They all denounce his apparent racism and sexism, rather than dwelling on his successful appeal to the economic woes of the ‘left behind’. It was the same story when I went down to the toxic-masculinity seminar in a Portland suburb.

Everything bad in the United States since January 20 2017 was attributed to ‘hostile sexism’, along with a pattern of ‘objectifying and dehumanising’ women and ‘performative machismo’ — no, I don’t know what that is, either — along with a tendency by pitiable conservatives like me to exhibit the ‘classic hallmarks of fascism invented [sic.] by Hitler and Mussolini’.

I drove home that night to my wife and child down city streets lined with snarling protesters who threw bottles and held up banners daubed with messages like ‘Fuck Donald’, ‘My Pussy Grabs Back’ and ‘Abort This Presidency in its First Term’. Trump, I realised, has bitten America, and it’s gone mad.

Christopher Sandford’s latest book is Union Jack: John F. Kennedy’s Special Relationship with Great Britain.


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