Homemade signs, including some bearing F-bombs, were held at modestly attended rally. Photo by Chris Stone

Will Johnson inflated and deflated a 1,500-cubic-foot Baby Trump balloon Sunday at Waterfront Park, taking donations as people took turns posing for pictures.

Speakers at the nearby impeachment rally inflated and deflated a crowd of 250 as well — reciting reasons for the president’s ouster but conceding the Senate wasn’t likely to remove him.

“I am asking you to steel yourself for an outcome to the impeachment trial of Donald Trump that you will not like,” said Indivisible activist Scott Storms. “Do not wallow in despair. Wear your disappointment like a badge of honor.”

Instead, he urged the mostly middle-aged and older audience to “get ready to put your shoulder to the burden” of electing Democrats up and down the ballot in November 2020.

A 70-minute rally on the bay side of the County Administration Center heard from a half-dozen speakers, including county Supervisor Nathan Fletcher and — via a statement — Rep. Mike Levin.

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“I must do my part in upholding the rule of law by voting to impeach the president of the United States,” said Levin’s message delivered by Rosa Grant, one of the event organizers. “In our democracy, no one is above the law — not even the president.”

Fletcher — whose wife, Assemblywoman Lorena Gonzalez, was in Las Vegas, stumping for Elizabeth Warren — called Trump fundamentally inconsistent with the values of America.

“We all agree that we are better than what this man represents,” he said. “And he has to be removed.”

Andy Kopp, a leader of the San Diego chapter of the Truman National Security Project, stumbled at first by thanking the crowd for coming out on a Saturday.

“Sunday, excuse me,” he soon corrected. “We’re in a time vortex with this president.”

Kopp said anything short of Trump’s conviction and removal from office threatens U.S. national security, noting a “deep cleaving” of governing institutions.

“The president’s supporters in Congress and in the press have engaged in a full-on propaganda effort to delegitimize the very idea of a shared reality,” he said. “It is profoundly dangerous for governments to use absolute lying as an official strategy of governance. President Trump, of course, has been gaslighting the American public for years.”

In a reference to GOP arguments that impeachment was an effort to void an election result, Kopp said: “Impeachment is not about an effort to rob any president of a birthright. It is a prescription for insuring that nobody tries to take ours.”

San Diego’s rally was one of 478 across all 50 states, with over 121,000 people registered to attend, said Robert Vryheid, a career health specialist who fought infectious diseases in Thailand, Cambodia and Laos.

But turnout was dwarfed by the afternoon Gaslamp Holiday Pet Parade, which drew thousands downtown — including San Diego Councilman Chris Ward (who also attended the impeachment rally.)

Vryheid said groups including local Indivisible chapters were behind the rallies. Elsewhere, MoveOn, Common Cause, Impeachment University and other activist groups organized events — plus ones in Temecula, El Cajon and Encinitas.

He gave a teach-in style lecture on the historical roots of impeachment, revealing a silver lining in impeachment-without-removal.

“Nowadays, many ask what is the practical value of impeaching the president, when the Senate probably will not convict and remove him,” he told the sign-carrying crowd.

“The value is that, after impeachment, President Trump probably cannot pardon himself and his associates,” he said. “President Trump might challenge this, and the Supreme Court will make the final interpretation of that clause of the Constitution.”

(He cited Article II, Section 2 of the Constitution that says the president “shall have the power to grant reprieves and pardons for offenses against the United States, except in case of impeachment.”)

But the audience was stirred by speakers who launched “Impeach Trump” chants and greeted cries of “Lock him up.”

Former Thomas Jefferson School of Law Professor Marjorie Cohn summarized the two articles of impeachment set for a House vote Wednesday.

Prepared text of Robert Vryheid remarks at San Diego rally for impeachment (PDF)

She echoed Democratic arguments that America can’t wait for the 2020 election or the courts to resolve the issue of ignored subpoenas “as [Trump] continues to solicit meddling by Ukraine and China.”

“Trump poses a clear and present danger to the fairness of the election,” Cohn said.

She noted how Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky has vowed to coordinate Trump’s defense with the White House counsel.

“There will be no difference between the president’s position and our position as to how to handle this, to the extent that we can,” he said recently.

Cohn was appalled.

“I’m a criminal defense attorney,” she said, “and I have never seen a jury coordinate the trial with the defendant or announce a not-guilty verdict before the trial.”

She said it reminded her of “Alice in Wonderland.”

“McConnell’s spineless pandering to Trump is emblematic of the conduct of the Republicans in Congress,” Cohn said. “They should be ashamed.”

Vryheid said pro-impeachment events would continue this week, especially Tuesday, when Indivisible 49 meets at several Interstate 5 overpasses starting at 2:30 p.m.

Johnson, the Baby Trump balloon wrangler, said part of the money he collected Sunday would go toward lights to be used for freeway overpass displays.

The balloon — one of eight in the world (and seven active after one was stabbed in Alabama) — is kept at an undisclosed location in Hillcrest, he said.

It’s expensive to float aloft, however — anywhere from $1,300 to over $2,000.

He said only two helium “mines” exist on the West Coast, “and they’re kind of suppressing the supply.”

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