This morning, our family saddled for a hiking trip, abandoning Pittsburgh's cityscape for the mountains 90 minutes south.
It was a beautiful, crisp autumn day, and the scenes were austere: rolling farms sprinkled with orange and auburn hues, mountain ridges cupping cottony clouds in the valleys below, roadside family restaurants sporting "buckwheat supper" announcements.
However, one thing was markedly different: anti-Obama signs – some pointed, others virulent – dotted the landscapes. "Stop the War on Coal: Fire Obama" billboards and yard signs were scattered at regular intervals as we drove past Connellsville on our way south. These were accented by a hodgepodge of bizarre anti-Obama signs, including a large billboard that shocked my wife and I: a picture of a distressed, almost crazed white male holding a gas pump to his head in mock suicide pose, with the words "Fire Obama."
These signs were not present two months ago on our last jaunt to the mountains. And their presence was disturbing – not because they represented the other "team," but because they represented a segment of society which, like Clint Eastwood, is being haunted by imaginary demons that take Obama's form. And these signs represent segments of society that, when Obama is re-elected, are going to see those demons two- and three-fold.
They are not reality-based, of course. But just like Eastwood's chair, they exist in the mind. And the fear this imaginary Obama elicits – as well as the hate-fueled anger – is palpable.
These signs aren't just popping up where I live. It's happening all over the country. Racists, right-wing conservatives, local Tea Parties and libertarians all over America are trying to scream their deluded, archaic messages via – appropriately – an old medium: roadside billboards and street signs.
Just as conservative, on-air personalities (like Rush Limbaugh) crackle over AM radio, today's equivalent of short-wave, ordinary citizens and rogue organizations are desperately attacking Obama using today's equivalent of smoke signals and drum beats.
Here's just a sampling of those signs that have popped up around the country in the past few months. They defy explication:
In Gainesville, Texas, an anti-Obama email inspires a local resident to, well, inspire others to take out the President. Subtle, no? (2012)
In Elkhart, Indiana, the same theme, this time sponsored by the local Tea Party. (2012)
In Caldwell, Idaho, the Ralph Smeed Foundation juxtaposes Obama with Colorado theater shooter James Holmes. (2012)
In Hanson, Massachusetts, motorcycle accessories distributor Sullivans Inc. concocts a communist Kenyan for consumers and passing traffic. (2012)
Of course, we've seen signs before. Anyone who pays attention to the Southern Poverty Law Center is fully aware of the hate and extremism that is growing underground in organizational form, and which has found Obama as a targeted subject. And anyone who has seen the ratcheting up of fear conducted by FOX News and conservative radio hosts knows that the village has been stoked for some time.
But from what I saw today on the road in Southwestern Pennsylvania, and what I'm seeing cropping up simultaneously across the country, there is reason to pause and reflect upon what this country will look like after November 6, 2012.
There is reason to pause and reflect upon what, if anything, can be done to dampen the emotional fires that may rage on November 7.
Today, all I could do was pause.
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