Of yard signs and civility. If you want better — be better | Tuesday Morning Coffee

September 29, 2020 7:13 am

(Capital-Star photo).

Good Tuesday Morning, Fellow Seekers.

In the early mornings, in the hour or so between when this newsletter lands in your inbox and when I settle down at my desk in my home office to work for the day, I’ve taken to going on a two- or three-mile walk around the neighborhoods in my little town.

It’s a great chance to stretch my legs, center my thoughts, and just get in a bit of oxygen and sunlight before the onslaught of emails, phone calls, and meetings rapidly crowds out the tranquility.

As Yogi Berra used to say, you can observe an awful lot by watching sometimes.

So as I’ve walked, I’ve become more acutely aware of the rhythms of the morning: The kids on their bikes and their scooters on their way to school, their parents watching or trailing behind. The crossing guards who show up every morning to make sure they get to class safely. The folks out with their dogs, getting in that quick walk before they, too, head off to work or whatever else the day holds. The neighbors out in the street chatting and catching up — at a respectful distance, because this is 2020, after all.

We nod at each other and smile. Some of them I know by name. Others I’ve come to know by sight. So we’ll wave, or say a quick hello, and continue on our way.

Over the last few weeks, the yard signs, for president, for Congress, for the elected row offices, and the General Assembly have popped up with the predictability of potted mums, pumpkins, gourds and other autumnal bric-a-brac.

People announce their intentions with their yard signs, signaling membership in their respective tribes. And while there’s surely disagreement, the rules of neighborliness dictate civility, or at least an outward ambivalence that masks any inner hostility.

WASHINGTON, DC – AUGUST 27: A screen displays the campaign banner for U.S. President Trump and Vice President Mike Pence following Trump’s acceptance speech for the Republican presidential nomination on the South Lawn of the White House August 27, 2020 in Washington, DC. Trump gave the speech in front of 1500 invited guests. (Photo by Alex Wong/Getty Images)

And so it was, on Saturday morning, that I came down one block in my neighborhood, and spotted a stash of signs, upended from their rightful places and tossed in the bushes.

And sure enough, I walked a block or two further, and the yards of the smartly kept homes where the signs had once stood had been plucked bare. So I went back, gathered up the signs, and deposited them on the front steps of one house. The owners could work out who’s who’s among themselves. Like those mums and gourds, yard sign theft is another inevitable rite of the season.

Yes politics ain’t beanbag. If you take a stand for a candidate, you’re inevitably taking on the risk of getting some grief about your choices. And, generally, the hostility is bipartisan. And it’s wrong no matter which candidate you support. But it’s also illegal.

Still this year. given all we’ve come through, all we’ve lost, and the seemingly depthless partisan hostility that’s underpinned it, trespassing into someone’s yard, yanking up the sign that they’ve placed there, irrespective of the candidate they support, and tossing it away, is just one more act of incivility.

It’s one more bruise in a year in which we’ve literally traded physical and verbal jabs over the virtues of mask-wearing and social distancing. All our nerves are rubbed raw from this difficult, painful year that we’ve been asked to endure.

So it doesn’t seem like that much to ask to just leave each other’s yard signs alone. And judging by the reaction I got on Twitter when I put the question out there, most of you agreed. Some of you didn’t, and one or two reacted with the same childishness that probably fired the sign vandals.

President Donald Trump and former Vice President Joe Biden would like to win Pennsylvania in 2020 (Capital-Star file)

Later in the day on Saturday, when I was out for another jaunt around the neighborhood, some of the signs were back in the ground, a few more were up on folks’ front porches to really keep them out of range of aspiring thieves.

On Facebook, one neighbor said she’d glitter-bombed her signs. Another rubbed hers with fertilizer. If someone was going to take them, they were going to smell bad in the doing of it.

Their creativity was impressive. It was also a little depressing. We don’t need polling data or social scientists jabbering at us to know how divided we’ve become on so many things.

And when that gets normalized at the highest levels, we all get a little numbed by it. We all surrender a little more of the high ground, sacrificing the virtues we teach our kids to treasure and embody.

This may seem like a petty grievance. And maybe it is. But it’s also true that how we treat each other when it comes to small stuff presages how we treat each other when it comes to the big stuff.

Slights on the micro-level make it that much easier to reduce each other to caricature, to dehumanize each other. And that opens the door to someone further exacerbating those divides and exploiting them for the worst kind of cynical gain.

You say you want better? It starts with the small stuff.

Pennsylvania State Capitol Building. (Capital-Star photo by Cassie Miller.)

Our Stuff.
Right on schedule, state Senate Republicans have taken their fight over mail-in ballots to the U.S. Supreme CourtElizabeth Hardison has the details.

De nuestros socios en Presente: Pittsburgh Latino Magazine: Estimula el Voto ofrecerá distribución de alimentos e inscripción de votantes Martes en Pittsburgh.

On our Commentary Page this morning, opinion regular Lloyd Sheaffer took us up on our challenge to tell us about what’s on his mind this election season: And it’s a doozy. And House Majority Leader Kerry Benninghoff, R-Centrehas a few thoughts about Gov. Tom Wolf’s recent vetoes.

The Inquirer
 takes a look at another challenge facing Joe Biden: Winning over progressives in Philadelphia who think the system is broken and needs to go.
During a bus tour stop in Monroeville, Allegheny County, GOP surrogates dismissed stories about President Donald Trump’s tax returns, the Tribune-Review reports.
Despite a threat of rain, there’s a Second Amendment rally set for today on the Capitol steps. PennLive has the details.
The Morning Call has a list of the ballot drop boxes that will be available in Northampton County starting Thursday.
The Citizens-Voice catches up with Luzerne County Dems and Republicans who are holding debate night watch parties tonight.

Here’s your #Philadelphia Instagram of the Day:


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Rise & grind ??

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A federal judge in Pennsylvania, warning of ‘irreparable harm,’ has temporarily blocked U.S. Postal Service cuts, WHYY-FM reports.
GoErie asks whether former Gov. Tom Ridge’s endorsement of Joe Biden will have legs over the long haul.
Joe Biden leads Donald Trump 49-40 percent 
in Pennsylvania in a new New York Times/Siena College poll, PoliticsPA reports.
The Cut talks to disability rights activist Judy Heumann as part of its ‘How I Get It Done’ series.
President Donald Trump’s massive debt is a ‘national security concern,’ House Speaker Nancy Pelosi says (via Talking Points Memo).

What Goes On.
The House comes in at 1 p.m. today. As ever, here’s a look at the day’s committee action. First up, the House:
9 a.m., G50 Irvis: House Human Services Committee
9:30 am., 140MC: House Judiciary Committee
10:30 a.m.: Legislative Budget & Finance Committee
12 p.m., B31MC: House Professional Licensure Committee
Call of the Chair: House Appropriations Committee

In the Senate;
10:30 a.m.: 
Legislative Budget & Finance Committee
11 a.m: Democratic Policy Committee

Also today:
11 a.m., Capitol Steps: 2nd Amendment Rally. Rain is in the forecast, we’ve been reminded.

What Goes On (Nakedly Political Edition).
7:30 a.m.: 
Breakfast for Rep. Valerie Gaydos
7:30 a.m.: 
Breakfast for Rep. Daryl Metcalfe
8 a.m: 
Breakfast for Rep. Leanne Krueger
8 a.m.: 
Breakfast for Rep. Barb Gleim
8 a.m.: 
Breakfast for Rep. Danilo Burgos
8 a.m.: 
Breakfast for Rep. Jennifer O’Mara
11 a.m. 
Luncheon for Rep. Tina Pickett
11:30 a.m.: 
Luncheon for Rep. Mark Longietti
11:30 a.m.: 
Luncheon for Rep. Maureen Madden
11:30 a.m.: 
Luncheon for Rep. Todd Stephens
5:30 p.m.: 
Reception for Rep. Stan Saylor
5:30 p.m.: 
Reception for Rep. Christina Sappey
5:30 p.m.: 
Reception for Rep. Matt Bradford
5:30 p.m.: 
Reception for Rep. Tim O’Neill
Ride the circuit and give at the max, and you’re out an eye-wateringly preposterous $26,500 today.

You Say It’s Your Birthday Dept.
Belated best wishes go out this morning to Kristen Houser at the state Department of Human Services, and to Bucks County elections lawyer Larry Otter, who celebrated on Monday. Additional best wishes go out this morning to PR/consultant guy Scott Hoeflich and to Ashley Matthews in the office of state Treasurer Joe Torsella, both of whom celebrate today. Congratulations all around, friends,

Heavy Rotation.
Here’s an absolute classic from New Order. Caught live at Bestival in 2012, it’s ‘Temptation.’ You’ll be singing those ‘oooh-oooh-oooohs‘ all day.

Tuesday’s Gratuitous Soccer Link.
Aston Villa
 got off to their first, season-opening, two-in-a-row win streak since 1999 with a 3-0 victory over Fulham on Monday. Newly promoted from the ChampionshipThe Guardian says things are already starting to look dire for the Cottagers. But, hey, it’s still early days.

And now you’re up to date.

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John L. Micek

A three-decade veteran of the news business, John L. Micek is the Pennsylvania Capital-Star's former Editor-in-Chief.