Scenes From a Conservative Happy Hour - January 20, 2017 - SF Weekly
SF Weekly

Scenes From a Conservative Happy Hour

(Stephen Jackson)

It was just starting to rain as I navigated my way through the Embarcadero Center, looking for a bar called Patriot House.

The place used to be The Holding Company, a popular watering hole for downtown types for several decades, until four Irish sisters bought the place and nearly ran it into the ground. (In fact, the establishment was in such dire straits that it was actually featured on Bar Rescue, a popular reality TV show where an alcoholic, played by Professional Dickhead Jon Taffer, goes to a struggling bar and yells at other alcoholics for being alcoholics.) The makeover resulted in a name change and a supposed revamp. However, it’s still just a sports bar in the FiDi, save for the proud American colonist featured on the sign out front and pictures of the Founding Fathers on the walls inside.

As I walked through the plate glass doors, I thought the image of a young patriot in the ridiculous hat was an apt harbinger for the event I was attending: the monthly happy hour for the San Francisco Young Republicans. Fortuitously, the Bay Area Conservatives had scheduled a cocktail party through Meetup.com at the same place and time — a coincidence, according to the Vice President of the Young Republicans. At first I found that hard to believe, but as I learned the extent to which conservatives in San Francisco feel themselves to be a marginalized group, I realized that it wasn’t too big of a stretch for these two circles, living in the shadows of the most liberal city in America, to happen upon one another at a place called “Patriot House.”

Everything looked pretty normal. This was a letdown, as I had secretly hoped to stumble upon a scene from Eyes Wide Shut or the tail end of a goat sacrifice. Sitting at the bar with a club soda and an order of fries, I introduced myself to a young couple waiting for a house salad. They were both conservatives, and — like many other people I’d speak to that night — referred to themselves as “living in the closet”.

I found the terminology beautifully ironic given the shameless bigotry regarding marriage equality loosely veiled as “social conservatism,” but I let it pass without comment. The couple was nice, and the marriage issue didn’t come up. The woman, probably in her early 30s, relayed the story of “coming out” as a Trump supporter while hiking with a group of fellow women who heckled her so relentlessly that she away in tears. Her boyfriend keeps his political views to himself for fear of losing his job. Both agreed to speak only if I withheld their identities, a picture of reverse-McCarthyism I couldn’t help but find amusing.  

Another female Trump supporter I spoke with said that she was invited to a pre-Thanksgiving dinner party in Sausalito the day after the election and was outed as a Trump-voter.

“About five women who were probably in their 50s were all screaming and pointing their fingers at me and it ended the night,” she said, also speaking anonymously. “One lady called me a ‘bitch’ and a ‘cunt,’ and I was no longer welcome at any more of their dinner parties. The same lady who founded the group also asked what I was doing there and why wasn’t I with my own people.”

She continued to explain that, as an African-American woman, she adheres to Republican principles because she feels that Democratic policies in fact keep women and minorities from succeeding. I asked if she felt alienated from the millions of other women who will be marching in protest against Donald Trump on Saturday.

(Stephen Jackson)

“Not at all,” she replied confidently. “I’m not worried about these women’s marches. … We’re not in Kuwait or Pakistan. If that’s what they want to do, then they have the right to do that.”

Jon, a hardcore social conservative, wore wire-rim glasses and a 49ers jacket. He, like many other folks who are pro-life and anti-allowing-people-their-constitutionally-granted-right-to marry-whomever-they-please, found Trump insufficiently conservative. So he cast his vote for Evan McMullin, a former CIA spook from Utah who ran as an independent, appearing on the ballot in only a handful of states. Jon also didn’t like Trump because of his unpredictable and crass behavior on the campaign trail, along with his treatment of women.

“I think he’s a bully, and his behavior was not becoming of a presidential candidate,” he said.

“I think San Francisco needs to be more open-minded and look at the full breadth of issues,” he continued. “I don’t think people should be demonized just because they hold socially conservative views. … I don’t think we should be demonized and looked at as bigots. Sometimes, I think there’s a big target on my back. Sometimes, I do feel discriminated against walking around the city or in the workplace.”

I asked whether or not he could see that the LGBTQ or community or those concerned with the reproductive rights might feel equally marginalized by the socially conservative beliefs held across large portions of the country.

“I can understand how they feel,” he said. “It’s very easy to label people and label groups.” He’d enjoy sitting down with members of the LGBTQ and pro-choice community to have a discussion about the issues of “right to life” and marriage equality and try to find some common ground. (Oh, to be a fly on the wall…)

Other conversations began to blend into one another, especially regarding big government versus small government, budget deficits, and a general disdain for Obama and “the media.” When I’d bring up Trump and womanizing, they’d bring up Slick Willy, and when I’d ask about aggression at Trump rallies, they’d inform me that it was liberals who were causing the most damage. In fact, a common thread I picked up on was the feeling that liberals were “bullies,” and that conservatives were unable to get a word in edgewise when it came to matters of debate.

Being around a group of like-minded people can have an intoxicating effect no matter what your beliefs are, and I was surprised by the modicum of empathy stirring inside of me as I saw the group, huddled in their own enclave of shared perspective, as something of an unexpected underdog. Did they have a point? Is the typical San Franciscan just a big hippie jerk?

Just as my heart began to bleed for disenfranchised Republicans, a chilling conversation with a man who looked like an off-duty cop sobered me up. He asked not to be recorded, but I will share that this proud owner of a firearm referred to immigrants as “spicies.” I also may or may not have heard a direct call for violence in the streets against democrats and found new meaning in the word “bully.”

It was at this point that I was reminded that San Francisco is, in fact, a bubble and that there were many people just like him beyond our walled city. I was jarred by the interaction as it stood in such stark contrast to the other people I spoke to that night who — issues aside — were all kind, measured, and thoughtful people.

That is, with the other exception of the rat-faced kid who told me to “fuck off” after he’d made me out to be the “dude in plaid from SF Weekly.” He also thought it would be funny to tell me to follow the scary guy from the bar outside for an “exclusive interview.”

As the party died down, I felt the weight of the world. There were times throughout the evening when I started to break objectivity and provide counterpoints to some of the stuff I was hearing, citing things I’d read. However, these were immediately tossed back with an opposing viewpoint gleaned from something they’d read, and we’d quickly find ourselves in a stalemate. For all their hatred of the media, these folks were somehow getting their facts from somewhere, and weren’t afraid to use them.

Walking away from Patriot House, the deep and authentic irony of the evening began to sink in. The election of Donald Trump has shown our nation for the hotbed of increasingly conservative, xenophobia that it is, and the notion that liberals have somehow been the big kid pushing the Republican wimp off the swingset is poppycock. If Republicans have a bone to pick with bullies, they might want to start by reaching out to the man they just elected to run the country.

I’m pretty sure he’s on Twitter right now.