Normand Cote is getting on in years and, far as he knows, this could be the last presidential election he ever witnesses. 

So you can see why Mr. Cote, treasurer of the L/A Veterans Council, is trying to be as involved as possible. A Trump supporter, Cote has proclaimed his choice for president by setting up campaign signs on his lawn at Bosse Heights in Lewiston. 

Which, of course, is just plain unacceptable to a certain type of weasel who cannot accept a different opinion. 

“Somebody has been stealing our Trump signs from our front lawns at night,” Cote tells me.  

And it is not just his signs. Skulking Grinches of the political realm have been stealing signs put up by his neighbors, as well.

On Pineland Street, Bobby Street and Adele Street, Trump signs have vanished in the night, never to be seen again. One Pond Road man has been targeted so frequently he had to resort to putting up an electric fence to guard his campaign signs. 

Cote just does not understand it. 

“Where have our rights to freedom of speech gone to?” he demands to know. “I’m am 89 years old and this will probably be the last time I vote for a president. What has this country turned into? I just don’t understand how people like these thieves trample over my rights.” 

And here, other Trump supporters may be inclined to shake their heads and go, “Tsk, tsk.” Ain’t that just like a Democrat? Can’t stand the spirit of political competition so they are reduced to committing childish acts to stifle the voices of their opponents. 

But, hold the phone, Ronald Reagan. On the other side of the Androscoggin River, a fellow named Chris Beam, also a veteran, is likewise aggrieved. His signs have been the target of vandals, as well. But his signs read “Biden,” not “Trump.” 

“Over the last week, my wife and I have placed on our property (at the corner of No Name Pond and Pond Roads in Lewiston) yard signs for Biden-Harris, Gideon and Golden,” Beam tells me. “Four Biden-Harris signs have been stolen, although the others were untouched. Yesterday, we put out yet another Biden-Harris sign, this time close to our mail/newspaper box and further from the road, in the hope that the distance might deter vandals. Overnight, as you can see from the attached photos, someone cut several slashes in the sign.” 

Yep, the photographs tell the story: Beam’s signs were in tatters. They looked like they were ravaged by Freddy Krueger, and here, other Democrats might be inclined to shake their heads and go, “Tsk, tsk.” Ain’t that just like a Trump supporter to mutilate a rival’s signs like that? 

You see where I am going with this, of course. Campaign sign shenanigans are nothing new, and it would be folly to blame it exclusively on one side or the other.

Mr. Cote and Mr. Beam are from opposite ends of the political spectrum. Were they to meet on the street, they might have a lively conversation about their difference of political opinion. They might even argue a little bit, yet something tells me neither man would stoop so low as to steal, vandalize or otherwise molest a campaign sign owned by the other. 

Stoop that low and you do not add power to your position, you just prove that English author Neil Gaiman had a point when he said, “If you don’t stand up for the stuff you don’t like, when they come for the stuff you do like, you’ve already lost.”

Campaign signs are not only symbols of free speech. They are the sole property of the person who saw fit to hammer them into his or her front lawn. Steal or otherwise tamper with those signs and you are violating property rights and free speech rights in one craven act of hooliganism. Worse, it demonstrates that, lacking the intellect and courage to argue your own ideas, you have resorted to the tantrum tactics of a spoiled 5-year-old. 

Get a grip, son. 

Of course, none of this is any surprise. Not in this, the bitterest and most-vicious battle for the soul of the nation any of us has ever seen. 

“We have not experienced such acts before,” Beam says. “It appears they are symptomatic of a disturbing trend in current politics.” 

No matter how you slice it, this campaign has become nasty and undignified. Who among you thinks it will all go away once the votes are counted? How can we possibly return to some semblance of sanity when this political battle has become such a national obsession? It feels, at times, like there is no chance we will ever return to a state of  benevolence and open-mindedness. The stakes have gotten too high.

Like a riptide, the battle of left versus right draws in even those who typically eschew politics, and once they are in the game, there is no pulling them out.

Today I was reading a story about a Louisiana priest accused of engaging in a demonic ménage à trois with two women on the altar of his church. I mean, this was red-hot tabloid wickedness.

I read the story with glee, not because of the salaciousness of it, but because a wild story such as this is so nonpolitical it certainly would serve, at least temporarily, as distraction from the brain-rotting noise of political bickering going on everywhere else. 

When I was finished reading the story about the allegedly depraved priest, I moved on to the comment section, eager to see what others were saying about the debauchery. 

“Something is strange,” wrote one of the first to comment. “Nobody has blamed Obama yet.” 

“The DEVIL is alive and living in America being lead by the Democratic party,” responded another. 

“Trump has been using the presidency to enrich himself, but Trump supporters won’t admit it!” declared a third. 

And on it went, perhaps 100 comments from people so hell-bent on insulting those on the other side of the political divide, they did not even make feigned attempts to stay on topic. The story of a sex-crazed priest defiling a church seemed barely to register in their thoughts. It does not matter what you put in front of these people for whom every waking second must be dedicated to the important task of engaging in political slap fights with strangers.

My friends, if a three-way on a church altar is not enough to distract us from the mess we are in, I reckon nothing will do it. 

So some people in Lewiston and Auburn are ripping up campaign signs in the dark of night. In other parts of the country, they have advanced to burning down businesses, toppling statues and shooting one another on the streets over differences of opinion. 

Free speech and property rights, remember those? 

Alas, Babylon, it likely gets much worse before it gets any better. It is hard not to agree with Cote, who has turned utterly gloomy about the signs in his yard and about the signs of things to come. 

“I just want to give up,” he said. “I have lost my country, and I am afraid I will never have it back.”

Hear that, brother.


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