My wife and I live in an upper-middle-class suburban neighborhood. Donald Trump likes to call them the “beautiful” suburbs, and warns that Joe Biden is determined to destroy the “American dream” by desecrating the suburbs with “low-income housing.” In an effort to win over suburban women, Trump has rolled back Obama-era regulations designed to integrate these largely de facto segregated communities.
Given the cost of real estate and the fact that my neighbors are with two exceptions white, I assume most vote Republican. So far, the battle of lawn signs in this election has been muted. Banners proclaiming “Trump 2020/Make America Great Again” and “Women for Trump,” as well as an American flag, have been hung from the second-floor windows of one house. Across the street, another house features an “Any Functioning Adult” banner. I’ve come across one “Biden/Harris” lawn sign in our subdivision of about forty single-family homes. We ourselves have an “Any Functioning Adult” bumper sticker on our car. When it comes to lawn signs more generally, “Keep Christ in Christmas” is popular during the holiday season with at least two of our nearby neighbors. In the past, both have also had signs supporting local Republican candidates.
I recently read Alan Ehrenhalt’s The Lost City: The Forgotten Virtues of Community in America, his brilliant book about postwar Chicago. I was surprised and amused to learn that the campaign to put Christ back into Christmas actually began in the early 1950s. It was initiated by the U.S. Junior Chamber of Commerce, better known as the Jaycees. The organization was worried that postwar affluence, suburbanization, and a creeping secularization were undermining the moral character of the young. As Ehrenhalt reminds us, the 1950s saw an almost feverish sort of civic engagement in suburbia. It was an effort, largely futile, to replace the more organic sense of community found in the city’s ethnic neighborhoods. In today’s suburbs, civic disengagement is the norm.
It has been my experience that our neighbors tend to avoid talking about politics if they sense disagreement is likely. That seems a sensible and neighborly approach, especially in these volatile and polarized times. Whether competing lawn signs will begin to multiply the closer we get to this “rigged” election is unclear. New York Times columnist Thomas Edsall, like many pundits, has been tracking the paranoia and increasingly apocalyptic rhetoric on both sides of the political divide. Fears are mounting that a close election will bring chaos, even violence.
Trump and his followers aren’t above suggesting that the police or the military may be needed to suppress those who would try to overturn a Trump victory. Some on the Left have wrongly tried to excuse looting and violence against police. Asked if he would commit to a peaceful transfer of power should he lose the election, Trump demurred, citing his oft-repeated canard that mail-in ballots are ripe for fraud. He wants Amy Coney Barrett, his Supreme Court nominee, to be seated before the election, so that she will be able to rule on disputed election results.