Opinion

Investigating political highway signs

Anyone traveling on US Highway 34, between Mt. Pleasant and Fairfield in the last few years has no doubt noticed the political signs. They’re sort of belligerent, in your face, crude and to be honest, compared to the natural beauty of the Skunk River bottom, an eyesore, or what is now popularly called, “eye pollution.” But, hey, this is America. We have First Amendment rights of free speech and press. I don’t have to look at these signs, albeit it’s hard not to, and whether I agree with them or not, makes no difference.

The signs were, what should I say, anti-Hillary, with the usual bromide of “Lock Her Up!” and “Hillary for Prison.” One thing I’ll say for farmers, they don’t mince words when it comes to expressing political views, or any view for that matter.

So, recently, when traveling the same stretch of US Highway 34, I noticed the sign now said, “Trump for Prison,” I just about drove off the road. What happened? Did this farmer have a tectonic shifting of political parties? My imagination went wild. (Writers have a vivid imagination.)

“It’s the tariffs,” I told myself. “Corn and soybean prices are in the tank. Even with subsidies, farmers are losing money, and there may be another Farm Crisis. This farmer has switched parties.”

I decided I would stoke up my courage and go talk to this farmer, tell him that I had noticed the change in his sign, and ask him if it was because of commodity prices. Being a former door-to-door insurance salesman, I’ve knocked on many a strange door. It’s not something I particularly relish, but I haven’t been shot yet, and know when to turn tail and run.

The house alongside the highway was quite pleasant looking. It was well cared for, the yard was neat and trim, and there were a lot of yard ornaments that indicated cheery people resided here. I knocked on the door and, lo-and-behold, I knew the fellow. He had been a plumber before he retired, and had actually been on a service call at our house. He informed me that the sign was not his, it was his brother’s, who lived in the house behind his. To get to his brother’s house, however, I had to take the gravel road around.

I made this circumvention and found the brother’s house. He welcomed me in and was a friendly fellow. No, he had not switched political parties. A vandal had come along, and painted out the word, “Hillary” and spray-painted in “Trump.” In fact, vandals had destroyed a couple of his signs, even taking an ax to one. He now had a solar-powered camera on the sign post. However, the person who had changed names on this sign, knowing the camera was there, had been wearing a hoodie. Things were getting dicey. The farmer explained that he had, in addition to receiving complimentary letters and phone calls about his signage, also received anonymous threats. If people would just talk to him, he would like to have a civil conversation about differing political views.

I asked him about commodity prices, and he said it was just something the farmers were going to have to live with temporarily. Over the long run, he felt, President Donald Trump’s tariffs would be beneficial. He was on his way out to repaint the sign, and was just going to paint over the “Trump” and not put a name there.

As I left, the 1970 tune “Sign” from Five Man Electrical Band, kept playing in my head. “Sign, sign, everywhere a sign, Blockin’ out the scenery, breakin’ my mind, Do this, don’t do that, can’t you read the sign?”

We’ll see how long the sign remains nameless.

Have a good story? Call or text Curt Swarm in Mt. Pleasant at 319-217-0526, email him at curtswarm@yahoo.com or find him on Facebook.