Magazine | December 3, 2018, Issue

Decor of Democracy

Ted Cruz and Beto O’Rourke election signs are seen near downtown Carizzo Springs, Tex., September 5, 2018. (Callaghan O'Hare/Reuters)

Please join me in breathing a sigh of relief, America: November 6 has come and gone, and the most important elections the world has ever seen — well, at least until the one held two years from now, and then the one two years after that — are now safely in the rear-view mirror. (Well, okay, fine: As I write, this is mainly true, except in Florida. There, the beloved Broward and Palm Beach County traditions hold that no decade is complete without an excruciatingly painful airing of multiple confusing electoral grievances paired with a drawn-out and hapless recount of the votes.)

But anyway, most of us are in the clear. The election, for the most part, is gone with the wind, with just one minor and troubling and widespread exception: Across this great nation, some Americans have not yet taken down their political yard signs.

Let’s be clear: I am an enthusiastic fan of outdoor seasonal decor. This year, our family’s Halloween decorations ballooned to include two giant spiders, two alarmingly realistic mummies, one rubber bat, three tree-dwelling ghosts, an incredibly tacky fake gravestone flanked by two zombie arms coming out of the ground, and two motion-activated gargoyles that helpfully bellowed “Beware! This house is currrrsed!” every time the poor UPS person had to drop packages at the door.

But here’s the thing: This spectacular parade of spookiness — in my humble opinion, it really should have won some sort of award — was whisked away two days after Halloween. The whisking was mainly done by my husband, by the way, after I informed him that the removal of outdoor seasonal decor was “a very tough and very manly man’s job that a woman cannot possibly handle.” (Was this sexist? Definitely! But hey, it worked!)

In any case, throughout the centuries, most societies have shared an unspoken code as to the proper timing of the removal of elaborate outdoor seasonal decor. In my book, the grace period should last through the weekend after the holiday — unless we’re talking about Christmas, when you get until after New Year’s Day to remove your crazed Clark Griswold–style parade of flashing LED-powered reindeer. Wait any longer and things can get kind of depressing. Seriously, readers: Is there anything more morose than a giant sagging “Santa Snoopy” Christmas balloon tottering in a snow-free yard on February 14?

Okay, fine: There are many things more morose than that, but you get the point. Yet even a poor struggling off-season front-yard Snoopy might be cheerier than an outdated yet strangely persistent political yard sign wobbling bizarrely in a post-electoral wind. Moreover, unlike the very manly and difficult job of dragging a balloon Snoopy into your garage or re­moving a host of store-bought zombie heads from your tallest tree, deleting a political yard sign is not that hard to do. You simply remove it. Even a woman can do it! (I’m kidding! Kidding! Please don’t get mad and email me! It’s a joke, based on my previous joke! I’m terrible! I’m sorry! I know!)

Political signs can be endearing in their way, of course. They remind us of the tremendous gift of living in America. They remind us of our nation’s list of unique and invaluable rights. They remind us to cherish our country’s freedom of expression. They also remind us that once you put a political bumper sticker on your car, you better darn well like it, and the world better darn well like it, because let’s face it, to judge by the evidence that I see around town, you’re probably never going to get around to taking it off.

Political signs also remind us of cute couples such as Art and Barbara Bushue of Clinton, Wis., who famously drew a white line down the middle of their lawn so that each could have space for his or her competing yard signs. The Mrs. leaned left; the Mr. leaned right. “She’s a ‘union thug,’ and I’m a ‘management moron,’” Mr. Bushue joked to USA Today. “It’s kind of nothing serious. We get along just fine.” They also happen to nicely cancel out each other’s votes.

Here in Texas, it turns out, the rules of the road are quite detailed when it comes to rogue signage: According to the Texas De­part­ment of Transportation, campaign signs on private property visible from the road get the boot ten days after an election. This doesn’t, of course, affect other yard signs: such as the ones that declare “Hate has no home here,” implying that other houses — you know, the ones that are sign-free — are full of terrible people who are busy hating everyone all the time. After all, if they weren’t haters, they’d obviously have a sign to tell everyone.

This is not to say that all signs are bad. Political signs have their time and place. I have accepted that political bumper stickers are eternal. I applaud weird and goofy bumper stickers in general, as long as they are rated PG-13 or below. In Austin, Texas, one restaurant, El Arroyo, has mastered the art of the delightful public sign, rotating messages each week: “Dear vegans, if you are trying to save the animals, stop eating their food.” “If Britney Spears can get through 2007, you can get through today.” “I wonder what my dog named me.”

Finally, my personal favorite: “What if nobody was president and we all promised real hard to just be cool?”

Perhaps that’s the answer to all of our nation’s sign-based conundrums: Be cool. Or not. Whatever. I don’t want to boss anyone around! But maybe we can at least agree to take down the election signs at some point soon. They’re getting spookier than my long-shelved shouting gargoyles.

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