Sense of Decency

Listening to others, seeing things through their eyes.

Syracuse resident and Trump supporter Walter Scammell spray-painted ‘BIDEN’ on a sofa he put out to the curb for trash pickup. He wanted to see what reaction it would generate on his street, which is staunchly pro-Democratic Party. “It beats the hell out of getting your house paint-balled and egged,” Scammell said. Photo © Michelle Gabel.

By DENNIS HARROD

If I had a nickel for every house with at least one sign supporting Democrats or Black Lives Matter on Allen Street in Syracuse, I’d have at least $1.50. If I had a nickel for every house with a Trump sign, I’d have … well, a nickel. 

“Being a Republican around here,” says Walter Scammell, “doesn’t amount to a flea fart in a hurricane.”

Scammell’s house at 506 Allen Street is festooned with banners, bumper stickers and signs supporting the incumbent president. Large blue banners flank the upstairs windows and say TRUMP MAKE AMERICA GREAT AGAIN and POLICE LIVES MATTER.  On the porch pillars are vertical banners that say TRUMP and 2020. A lawn sign with a picture of a grimacing Joe Biden says: “SAY NO TO CREEPY JOE.” Along the top of the porch is another message: HELP! # NO COPS # CALL A CRACKHEAD. On his back door a bumper sticker says: “I’m a Happy Deplorable.”

His neighborhood thinks otherwise. In the half-mile stretch of Allen Street between Euclid and East Genesee streets, more than 30 houses have lawn signs and banners promoting Democrats or Black Lives Matter or both. The surrounding streets boast only one lawn sign for a Republican (Sam Rodgers for state senate). 

Of all the houses on Allen Street showing support for BLM and/or Democrats, the loudest is directly across the street from Scammell at 515 Allen. Across the front of the second story of Jeffry Mateo’s house are large banners saying BLACK LIVES MATTER and FLUSH THE TURD NOVEMBER THIRD 2020. Another banner suggests that one perform a sexual act on or with the president. Metaphorically, one hopes.

The house on Allen Street across the street from Scammell’s home. Resident Jeffry Mateo put up the banners after seeing Scammell’s pro-Trump banners and signs. Photo by Jim McKeever.

Mateo says he initially put up a banner in response to Scammell’s “Trump” and “Police Lives Matter” banners. Then, Mateo says, Scammell put up more, so Mateo did also. “It was kind of tit for tat,” he says. In spite of their visual sparring, the two have never spoken to each other. Mateo says he figures he will one of these days. Scammell answers “Probably not,” when asked if he will try to talk with Mateo. “I gave up on this area as far as trying to change anybody’s mind.” 

Allen Street’s lean to the left is due in large part to the influence of nearby Syracuse University, Scammell says.  And he doesn’t think highly of the university itself. A few years back, he says, he was at a coffee house on Westcott Street. “There was a professor of sociology … expounding all this wonderful crap and he said, ‘We should get rid of the military.’ I couldn’t take it and looked at him and said, ‘Why are we getting rid of the military?’ He said, ‘Nobody will ever invade us,’ and I said, ‘Why wouldn’t anybody invade us?’ and he said, ‘They wouldn’t be able to run our economy.’”

Scammell throws up his hands in resignation. 

“I had no response,” he says. “I mean, OK, they’ve dropped the bombs, they do the artillery and then they’re going to send in the accountants?” He shakes his head. “So that’s what Syracuse University is all about: They’re so far out there that they’re hard to talk to.”

His opinions have gotten some pushback. 

“They put three paintballs into the Donald Trump sign and threw a couple of eggs onto the porch, but nothing else has happened,” he says.

A while back, he put a sofa out on the curb for pickup. Then, “just for the hell of it,” he spray-painted “Biden” on the sofa. “I wanted to see what the reaction would be.” He placed it so it was perpendicular to the house so drivers on Allen Street would see it. Someone at night turned it so the “Biden” faced Scammell’s house. Scammell turned it over so the “Biden” was hidden. Next day, it was right-side up again, with “Biden” for all to see. Scammell saw it all as good fun. “It beats the hell out of getting your house paint-balled and egged. If they were going to do something, I’d rather have them tip the couch over.  It’s a low way to resist, I guess.”

Scammell, an open and wiry guy of 71, agreed to chat on a recent evening and laid out his ideas and opinions across a picnic table in the back yard of the house he’s lived in since 1983. He says there are a few other Republicans (“maybe one each block”) in the area, but none of them are making it known by way of lawn signs or banners. He grew up a Democrat and only switched parties in 1980 when Ronald Reagan ran for president. He’s been a committed Republican since.

Walter Scammell’s home on Allen Street in Syracuse. Photo by Jim McKeever.

Not just a Republican, though. He is a whole hearted supporter of the president. “Best thing that’s happened to this country,” he says. He sees Trump as having followed through on his promise to “drain the swamp” of Washington. All the other politicians are crooks just getting rich off the American people. He dismisses criticism of the president as either fake, exaggerated or inconsequential. The U.S. media has been out to get Trump since even before the 2016 election, he says, and never lets up or reports anything positive about the president.

He believes that Barack Obama was born in Kenya. He saw a Power Point proving it. “Defund the Police” is a gift to the gangs. He agrees with the president that John McCain was a “loser” but doesn’t fault the president for not serving. “Nobody wants to go to war,” he says. The performance of Obama and Biden when the N1H1 flu struck in 2009 was worse than Trump’s handling of the Covid-19 crisis. The Biden family is corrupt and in cahoots with China. And so on.

Scammell says he doesn’t listen to or read news produced nationally. For his news, he principally relies on RT news. That’s a television and news network funded by the Russian government, according to Media Bias/Fact Check. RT news gets a “Very Low” rating on Factual Reporting and “presents news that is generally in line with the narrative of the Russian Government. … They are highly biased in favor of Russia,” according to Media Bias. Columbia Journalism Review has called RT “a propaganda outlet” for Russia.

He also likes Al Jazeera and says they cover the president more objectively than U.S. media outlets. 

Asked if he thought the country would be able to pull out of its current malaise and get back on track in the future, regardless of who wins the election, Scammell answers: “Not in my lifetime.”

In spite of his views that run contrary to those of the neighborhood, he says he gets along with most of his neighbors, other than one person across the street who no longer speaks to him, and his former dentist who Scammell says crosses the street to avoid him. As he and I say goodbye in his driveway, a young couple has paused on the sidewalk to look at Mateo’s house across the street. Scammell says hello to them. The young woman walks on as if she didn’t hear. The young man looks at Scammell and then he, too, walks on without saying a word.

“See what I mean,” Scammell says.

A view of Allen Street in Syracuse, where signs in support of Democratic candidates and the Black Lives Matter movement abound. The front yard of Scammell’s home, with the light pole, is in the background. Photo by Jim McKeever.

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