My state’s cheeky nickname–Trumpsylvania–will become relevant a bit later in this post. I’ll just start by saying I come from a long line of proud Democrats. My paternal grandmother Verna, as president of the town’s Democratic Women’s Club, once met John F. Kennedy. She expressed her admiration and–according to family legend–ruffled JFK’s luxurious head of hair. I choose to believe she did that last part, because it’s such a great story, and it’s so totally Verna. She was a pistol.
Over the years, my part of the state has become increasingly red, to the point where those of us loyal to the blue can feel a little out of step. An elderly acquaintance who lives nearby is also a Democrat, so we have lots to talk about. At 88, she knows the upcoming election might be her last, and is quite anxious about the outcome. When a bumper crop of signs promoting the Republican candidate Donald Trump sprang up in and around her neighborhood, my acquaintance said she’d like to see some campaign signs for the Democratic candidate Joe Biden as well. I decided that was something I could do for the party we share.
I chose to plant two small signs along a public road near some already placed there by fans of Trump. Before I did so, I researched to find out if there were any laws against putting campaign signs on public property, and it appeared as though there weren’t. It was 3:30 in the afternoon, so I wasn’t exactly being sneaky. But I did move quickly and cautiously, since there was traffic in the area. As I drove away, I wondered how long the signs would remain in place. Numerous friends of mine already had their signs supporting candidate Biden stolen, and I suspected mine wouldn’t last long either. I hadn’t disturbed any of the Trump signs already on display, because that’s not my style. I believe people have the right to support the candidate of their choice–respectfully, of course.
Fewer than twelve hours later the signs were stolen, to the surprise of precisely no one. So whatever. This was not the mountain I wanted to die on, and the matter was over. Except that it wasn’t.
Two days later, a car drove past my house and two crumpled Biden signs were tossed unceremoniously into my yard. Clearly they were the signs I’d put up. Now, perhaps those responsible were just trying to suggest I keep my political signs in my own neighborhood. Perhaps this was their way of informing me there actually was a rule against putting political signs in public places, but since it was obvious only “blue” signs were being removed, while “red” signs remained like an angry rash dotting the landscape, that explanation seemed unlikely.
Perhaps those responsible were just ignorant twats.
Take a moment to think about this: Whoever removed those signs could have just thrown them away, burned them, used them to line a litter box. But no. The signs were kept for two days, and then driven to my yard and dumped there in a damaged state. Someone recognized me putting up the campaign signs and wanted to make a statement directly to me. And the statement was: We know who you are, we know where you live, and we are warning you. There is no place for a Biden sign in Trumpsylvania. We own this town.
At 60 years of age, this isn’t my first election. But it is the most stressful, and the most vicious. We might have thought 2016 was rough, but that election pales in comparison.
I try not to spend too much time being nostalgic at the expense of appreciating the present. As they say, “If you ain’t where you are, you’re nowhere.” But there’s something from my past I find myself longing for lately. When I was young, we were taught that a person’s politics and religion were private matters to be kept between that person and his or her conscience. It was not only impolite to discuss them in public, but such discussion was considered crass. Regarding politics in particular, people were neither obliged to nor compelled to share their voting choices.
There was some politicking at election time, to be sure. But it was usually limited to bumper stickers, flyers, and small items that could be printed with a candidate’s name, such as business cards, nail files, or ink pens. Political rallies were modest, and when campaign signs did appear in yards and along roadways, it was understood that they were not to be disturbed in any way, and to be removed promptly after the election. Even though opinions were deeply felt, a level of civility was expected and maintained. I dare say the lack of what we now call social media helped to make this possible.
When I describe our previous election protocols to younger people, they thank me for the great story, Grandma, and fail to see the point. That was then, and this is now. And nowadays, it’s all about branding–blatant and glaring–about publically declaring loyalty to that brand, flashing it like a gang sign, and about winning at all costs. And if I’m honest, even my generational peers have become swept up in the circus that is the modern American presidential election.
Take a walk with me around my neighborhood, won’t you? There’s a huge flag promising a vote for Trump is a vote for NO MORE BULLSHIT. And there’s another promising a Trump vote will MAKE LIBERALS CRY AGAIN. And look: There’s a sign depicting Trump as Rambo, complete with a bandana around his head and ridiculously muscled arms cradling a high powered rifle. These items adorn residences, businesses, and even a local government office until a complaint was lodged.
But that’s not all. Up ahead is a Jeep with a TRUMP 2020 spare tire cover on the back, complete with the Republican candidate’s image stitched onto the leather. Someone actually made those, and people bought them.
In that yard over there is a sign suggesting Jesus and Trump are quite possibly the same person. And where did all these Confederate flags come from? Didn’t Pennsylvania fight for the Union? Wait, there’s a placard claiming Covid19 and mask wearing are Democratic plots to be squashed like stinkbugs, and that voting Republican will make the virus disappear overnight.
Trump’s name and picture adorn jackets, hats, scarves, face masks, backpacks, coffee mugs. It’s the new spiritwear, designed to flaunt team loyalty and challenge dissenters. True story: I stopped wearing my red Arizona Diamondbacks ball cap because people kept mistaking it for a MAGA hat.
So why do I even care, if I respect the two party system, if I’m secure in my vote, and if I do believe all have the right to support their candidate of choice? It’s because some of us are being restricted from expressing our support, and it’s not supposed to be that way. It’s because in this place where all those things I described in the previous paragraphs are displayed prominently and safely, the opposing candidate’s signs are frequently stolen or destroyed.
It’s because this town has been branded, and there is a vaguely intimidating message in that branding. Welcome to Trumpsylvania: Please stay on brand or keep driving, Libtard Commie Snowflake. We’re watching you.
To be fair, I saw an interview with a Colorado Republican who said her area was so overwhelmingly blue, she was frightened to display her pro-Republican campaign signs. I can commiserate, even though my experience would turn hers on its head. Perhaps she’d feel more comfortable in my neighborhood, and I in hers. That would be an interesting experiment.
Back to my nostalagic memory of the days when today’s overt political strutting would have been considered crass. A good friend of mine, a bright and accomplished woman with a military backround as well as a long career in the public sector, thinks that’s partly why we’ve arrived at the place we find ourselves. She believes we–as a culture–never learned to discuss things like politics or religion civilly, because they were expected to remain private. Now they’re out in the open, rampaging like rogue bull elephants, and we have no means of tempering them. It’s a theory worth considering, isn’t it?
But there’s one thing I will say in defense of the old ways. When I see a friend, neighbor, or coworker–someone I’ve known and respected for years,–displaying a MAKE LIBERALS CRY AGAIN flag or wearing a red Twelve More Years hat, it changes how I feel about that person. And that makes me sad. Even sadder is the thought that I have friends who feel differently about me because I don’t share their political views. I know damned well some of them see me as godless, unamerican, and devoid of patriotism–none of which is true.
We’ve become more suspicious and disapproving than ever of one another, and this is an improvement how? I think–in this one case–I prefer the old days when discussing politics publically was considered inappropriate. Maybe we could use some blissful ignorance. It’s not like I go looking for this information; all I need to do is walk through my neighborhood or drive across town, and the Trump brand is unmistakenly evident.
Remember my elderly acquaintance, the one who longed to see some Democratic campaign signs? Yeah, well, she’s scared now. Eighty-eight-years-old and scared someone will vandalize her home because she belongs to the “wrong” political party. Well done, 2020. You can add that to your growing list of fuckups.
After I wrote the previous paragraph, I took a break and went for a bike ride. It was both calming and restorative. While I was out, I noticed three new campaign signs for the Democratic challenger. My signs didn’t make it, but maybe these will. I sure hope so. It’s important, and not just for the outcome of the election.