I'm thinking about the presidential election and how different this election is from others in recent history. For the first time ever supporters of the Republican candidate in urban areas seem to be afraid to show support for their party's nominee. Walking around the neighborhoods--Girard Avenue, Lehigh Avenue and even in the streets of Center City--I have yet to see a Trump for President sign.
Hillary Clinton campaign posters, on the other hand, are common in many areas of the city, especially along Spring Garden Street. In fact, Clinton for President posters are so numerous on Spring Garden Street that one immediately thinks of the word 'overkill.' While it's natural to expect huge popular support for any Democratic candidate in a city like Philadelphia, what you don't expect is the complete absence of signs rooting for the opposition. Philly, after all, is not monolithic; we may be a city in the grip of the Democratic machine but we are still not a kingdom of Think-a-likes and clones despite the over all unpleasant aspects of Donald Trump.
Still, I must ask: are Trump supporters in Philly being silenced through various forms of personal intimidation?
When George Bush ran against John Kerry there were many pro Bush campaign posters in the neighborhoods. As an ardent Kerry supporter then, I didn't like seeing these posters but in the end I chalked it up to everyone having the right to support the candidate of their choice. I would no sooner think of destroying a Bush campaign poster than I would consider smashing someone's Halloween pumpkin on the sidewalk. During the Bush-Kerry election cycle, there was an overall feeling that because America is supposed to be a multiplicity of voices and opinions, it is our right to support the candidate of our choice.
If there are Trump campaign posters in the city, they are probably hidden away behind bushes or trees because those that surface tend to get vandalized. Many Clinton supporters and others view Trump as a bigot or would-be dictator, so the rationalization behind destroying Trump signs is that a wannabe dictator should not be given a fair chance to run for president. While it is true that Donald Trump has many things going against him-- his tendency to talk first and think later, his peacock arrogance and his past behavior towards women--it is also true that Trump wears his sins on his sleeve for all to see.
Trump's faults are transparent whereas the Byzantine Hillary Clinton, who hails from a more Macevillian political world, has just as many sins although she does a better job at hiding them. Most of the people I know who are voting for Clinton say that they are doing so only to keep "the wannabe dictator out of the White House." They also say that they will vote for Clinton while biting their lower lip or holding their nose.
Whatever one's political bias, hatred for the opposing candidate should never be so intense as to inspire violence, or even feelings that the voice of the opposition needs to be silenced.
I have no doubt that anyone who wore a Trump for President button on the Broad Street subway or the Market Frankford El, would be the target of harassment. At the very least there would be cross looks or scowls from a distance. The possibility of a verbal confrontation would be very high or, barring that, there might even be a shove or punch, or worse.
It has occurred to me to do a kind of test case by donning a "Make America Great Again" button and riding the subway and the El and then take note of what happens. An empirical test like this would certainly prove what I already suspect: If you are for Trump, you have to keep your mouth shut in Philly. Of course, I'm sure that the reverse is true in areas of the country that are pro-Trump.
At social gatherings in Center City--theater press events, art gallery openings or meet up occasions in bars --when politics comes up it's always with the underlying assumption that everybody present is voting for Clinton. I have seen this play out time and time again. Within these circles people will begin to say funny things about Trump-- about his hair, the way he talks or his inappropriate outbursts--because they expect people they don't know to add an insult or two themselves. It's like a clarion call for Trump supporters to announce themselves so that they can be scolded and humiliated.
At the press opening for a Lantern Theatre play recently, I got into a political conversation with the Artistic Director. In the interest of fairness, I began to go over the pluses and minuses of both candidates but at one point I lingered too long on what I thought Hillary's faults were. Then I happened to quote something I read on Breitbart. At that, the director did a double take and told me in a raised voice that he makes it a policy to never continue speaking with anyone who quotes from Breitbart. He then walked away, returning only after he cooled off. I'm happy to say the incident ended on a high note, when we shook hands.
Philadelphia's heavy pro-Hillary allegiance has the psychological effect of silencing any would be Trump supporter. Trump supporters for the most part are silent at these swank Philly social events. They either stay silent or shrug their shoulders or lie and say they are voting for a third party candidate but very few come out and announce their support for the man. They keep their lips sealed because saying you are for Trump in a city like Philly could, well, get you yelled at and maybe even killed.
Facebook is even worse but at least on Facebook the extreme Trump supporters and extreme Clinton supporters share the same disease: fanaticism and obsession. Ultra fanatical Clinton supporters will post messages saying that they will unfriend friends and family who support Trump. I have been unfriended several times because I have posted articles critical of Hillary Clinton but not in support of Trump. Ironically, Trump supporters, at least on Facebook, rarely make grandiose announcements that they will unfriend anyone who supports Clinton.
In Center City recently PA Rep. Brian Sims organized a campaign to get bars and clubs to ban the sale of Yuengling beer because that brand supports the Trump campaign. Here we have extreme partisan measures coming to the fore and forcing everyone who drinks to cross Yuengling off their list of beer options. Rep. Sims isn't going to get any resistance to this in Philly because Trump supporters are mostly invisible.
Sims' campaign, however, is problematic because political differences should be debated in a thoughtful and respectful manner. Disagreeing with a politician should not result in a boycott led by a government official. It sets a very dangerous precedent.
As for those absent Trump signs in Philadelphia, this is certainly not true in the suburbs.
I was in Malvern recently for a high school reunion and stayed at a family member's house in the area. During my visit I noticed a preponderance of Trump-Pence signs. The signs were everywhere, lined up like those Clinton signs along Spring Garden Street. Another thing I noticed is that during my time with my family I found that there was a general reluctance to talk politics. Only my sister voiced her support for Hillary Clinton while everyone else remained silent. This got me thinking of those Center City parties and events where only Clinton supporters came out of the woodwork. It also got me wondering if the Trump supporters in my family were afraid to come forward.
Like it or not, Donald Trump is the Republican candidate for president. Voting for him doesn't make one a bigot, just as voting for Hillary Clinton doesn't make one a friend of the banks and Goldman Sachs.
In a free country you should be able to vote your conscience.