Partisan politics have a long history of the ridiculous, but I’m not sure anything in the history of partisan politics is as ridiculous as the brewing war of suburban lawn signs.
The opening volley was the spread of “Hate Has no Home Here” signs, which had their origin in the North Park neighborhood of Chicago and were imported locally by a Glenside mother looking for solace after the election of President Donald Trump.
The initial campaign was so successful, the signs multiplied like wild rabbits, invading grassy knolls from Bucks to Chester County. Any drive around Northwest Philadelphia and its surrounding suburbs will likely take you past 100 of the signs every 10 minutes.
While I don’t think much is ever accomplished by lawn sign slogans, there’s nothing harmful about the signs. They express a relatively harmless sentiment, reaffirming the homeowner’s pledge to harbor no prejudice.
Today, however, because everything is partisan, some conservative supporters of Trump took exception to the sign, taking them to be indictments of anyone without a sign. A line was drawn in the green grasses of neighborhood lawns. You either had no hate in your home or you were a hater.
Last week, former Springfield Township commissioner and Republican Committee leader Robert Gillies developed a counter sign that reads: “Love Lives Here.” The sign continues with the lines “Love of God, Family, Friends, Country, Community and the U.S. Constitution.”
Gillies appeared on the talk show of local conservative talker Dom Giordano to explain the sign’s origin, admitting that it was a direct response to the perceived attack of the “Hate Has No Home Here” signs.
“They sort of stuck a knife in my back,” Gillies said of the original signs. “They felt hard. Someone puts a sign right across from your house that says no hate lives here, what does it mean? That it lives across the street.”
Now there is absolutely nothing wrong at the core of the counter love signs. There’s nothing wrong with loving god, country, or, the constitution. But again, it begs the question: Why? Do we need, individually, to announce that we hold no prejudice on our lawns? Do we need to counter those expressions with patriotic sloganeering? Yes, there are divisions of opinion, but why do we continue to look for teams to join? For sides to take?
The United States’ first president, George Washington, was famously not a fan of political parties. One of Washington’s favorite thinkers on the matter was the writer Joseph Addison who wrote an essay titled “The Malice of Parties” about the civil war in England during the 1640s. His words are remarkably relevant to 2017.
“There cannot a greater judgment befall a country than a dreadful spirit of division as rends a government into two distinct people, and makes them greater strangers, and more averse to one another, than if they were actually two different nations,” Addison wrote.
I wouldn’t fault anyone for feeling moved to put a sign on their front lawn. But overcoming divisions in this country won’t be accomplished with slogans, regardless of their benign sentiments. Although it seems a remarkably simplistic thing to write, it is nonetheless true: We need to stop seeking divisions and find common ground. The country everyone says they love depends on it.