March 31, 2017
Along a tree-lined residential South Jersey block, a Philadelphia Flyers and U.S. Navy flag blew in Friday morning’s rain-soaked winds.
Near the end of that Haddon Heights street, in front of a quaint two-story single-family home, an American flag did the same. Something set this property apart from the others, though.
Blocking a small portion of the family’s garden was a blue sign. Under a heart decorated with the stars and stripes were five all-caps words. “HATE HAS NO HOME HERE,” read the only such sign on the block.
You probably already know where this is going from here.
Yes, that’s the small Camden County town that made big headlines – including one on this site – by issuing a publicly undetermined number of zoning notices to residents on Thursday because of the signs.
Those typed code-violation alerts came along with these instructions: 1) Remove the signs within three days “so that we can continue to provide a safe and attractive community to all of our residents.” 2) “Failure to comply … will result in a summons being issued. Thank you.”
In one respect, the letters from zoning and code enforcement officer Ron Newell concluded with a polite tone. That’s always nice.
In another, they totally ramped up America’s ongoing political divisiveness, even if unintentionally so. That’s always troubling, especially when First Amendment rights bump up against selective small-town enforcement.
They. Are. Not. Collective. Code. Speak. For. Private. Liberal. Anti-Trump. Clubs.
I’m not here to cast aspersions on Newell’s intentions. Nobody should at this point, considering that there is a code that those signs violated and he is in part-time charge of enforcing those codes.
Taking all of eight minutes to respond to my Thursday afternoon email seeking comment, he thanked me “for asking for my side” in an issue that had already veered into the realm of yelly-screamy controversy.
I’m also not here to debate whether the sign in front of Danielle Linaris’ home violated the spirit of the (ambiguously misguided) code since she told a local newspaper that she got it in response to President Donald Trump’s first failed attempt at a Muslim travel ban. It’s a certainty that that issue – and more! – will be the focus of a sure-to-be-heated Borough Council meeting on Tuesday.
Nope. What’s continued to strike me about the backlash to these signs, since writing a story about them getting stolen from Montgomery County lawns in February, are the folks who doth protest too much about their existence. (Sorry for the easy literary reference, but the current American mood strikes me as eminently Shakespearean.)
Travel back with me to that Montgomery County story of nearly six weeks ago.
Among the many emails I received in the aftermath was one from a county Republican committee member who wrote, “These are anti-Trump signs, their little coded political message to people who also hate Trump. It is their liberal protest against our President, our government and our country. And they are not fooling anyone.”
Me being me, I responded, “I didn't realize the signs mentioned Trump. I'll take another look. Thanks.” This, because the signs most assuredly don’t mention the man who finished second in the presidential-race popular vote.
Well, she didn’t take too kindly to my retort, offering this instruction in response: “Don’t be a smart ass. The people around Abington that (sic?) have them on their lawns are Trump haters.”
Setting aside that nobody dating back to my first-grade teacher, Mrs. Merkle, has been able to convince me to act accordingly, I was envious of the emailer’s ability to read people’s minds. It would be eminently helpful in my line of work.
Still, the exchange was a case study in everything that’s wrong with the “Hate has no home here” sign drama.
When I drove over to Linaris’ block on Friday, my conservative radio pal Dom Giordano was talking about the signs on his 1210AM morning show.
One thing he said was surprising-ish: He was all for the signs staying on lawns there and anywhere.
Another thing he said wasn’t: Those signs out people as coming from different political stripes than his own.
(Full disclosure: I’ve appeared on his show numerous times, and will be to talk about this very column at 11 a.m. Monday. Not once has the conversation devolved into a testy exchange. He’s genuinely curious to discuss my oft-liberal perspectives. Those appearances always remind me that people needn’t be at one another’s throats just because they disagree on some issues. On that, we also agree.)
Well, here’s why I think those signs should be placed on any damn lawn that property owners want:
They. Are. Not. Collective. Code. Speak. For. Private. Liberal. Anti-Trump. Clubs. (Just like people getting punched at Trump rallies wasn't emblematic of everybody who voted for the Republican candidate.)
Sure, those signs came along after a ridiculously heated political campaign. And yes, that campaign prominently featured accusations – both fair and not – of people cashing in on hatred of “others” in inherently un-American ways to ensure victory.
To assume someone declares their opposition to hate in an effort to real-time subtweet neighbors is both silly and presumptuous.
When I hear someone doing it – while making an argument that the signs should go away – I can’t help but think the message hit a little too close to home for their liking. Translation: They know that hate has a home in their hearts, but don’t want people to know that.
Seeing those signs is a constant reminder that their secret has been, or will be, exposed. So they either steal them off someone else’s lawn or whine about it online to convince themselves that someone else is to blame for their moralistic shortcomings.
Haddon Heights made the right call to forgo fines assessed by trying to peek into the hearts and minds of Americans to determine their inspiration. Here's hoping they stick to that position in the future.
Everybody else should make the right call to stop pretending people can loathe the hate they see in the world without it being a personal shot at someone down the street or a person who works in Washington, D.C. and Mar-A-Lago.
Like them, I may not like what the president's doing. But, like them, I despise hate itself enough to let the world know. I just happen to have a platform bigger than a small sign on my front lawn to do it. Good luck shutting any of us up.