Editorial: Tolerance is our only path forward

In the hyper-ugly political moment we are living in, it’s certainly part of the climate that someone, or some group, could be so horribly offended by political signs for candidates they can’t stand that they would stop on the side of the road, pull them up and throw them away.

Take that! I hate you! I hate your candidates! I can’t stand looking at their names when I see them by the side of the road! I only want to see posters for the candidates I support!

Throw into the conversation the photograph that flashed across social media on Sunday of a taxpayer-funded Brookhaven Fire Department ladder truck in a parade in Patchogue decorated with a large Confederate flag. America in September 2020. 

Now, while it was certainly true that during the Civil War (1861-65) the North Fork was loaded with Confederate sympathizers (they were called Copperheads), waving that banner today proclaims alignment with white supremacy. No one can pretend otherwise.

As has been said many times, we are living in a post-truth America, where everyone has his or her own version of reality and hypocrisy runs a mile deep. Imagine a political candidate running on a law enforcement platform who has had at least seven close associates and advisors either indicted for or pleading guilty to crimes. You pretty much can’t make that up.

Ripping out political signs because they offend you and flying the flag once held high by traitors and slave owners — resulting in the deaths of hundreds of thousands of young men who believed their leaders were right and took up arms in support — is taking political insult to a new level.

As Patchogue Mayor Paul Pontieri said in Newsday of the parade banner, “It lights a fire where a fire doesn’t need to be lit.”

On Monday, Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone called on the county Human Rights Commission and the New York State Division of Human Rights to investigate the flag incident.

To some, history is malleable. It can be anything they want it to be and no one can tell them otherwise. There were no gas chambers at Auschwitz! That’s a made-up story! I have my history and you have yours and don’t tell me anything different!

In our letters to the editor pages we include one from Southold Supervisor Scott Russell and 1st District county Legislator Al Krupski. They write that “the removal of political signs is an act aimed at suppressing free speech, a right which we Americans cherish and one protected by the First Amendment of the United States Constitution. Suppression of free speech is unpatriotic and will not be tolerated in our community.

“… regardless of your political beliefs, we are facing an extremely contentious national election, one which threatens to divide our community to the detriment of all of us. There is no need to bring any divisiveness into our community. This is a time, as we face so many stresses and tensions, when it is vitally important for all of us to be tolerant of one another and of opinions and beliefs that differ from our own. 

“These are the founding principles of our nation. This means respecting freedom of speech and property, whether the speech is in the form of a written or spoken word or the property is a political sign on your neighbor’s lawn. We call on all Southold residents to practice tolerance, and perhaps compassion.”

Very well put. But to some who will read it, this plea will land on deaf ears. They will think out loud, “Who are these two to lecture me?” And regardless, the Southold and Riverhead police blotters will soon have frequent mentions of political signs being pulled up and tossed aside. 

The people who do this are speaking clearly: That is the intolerant America they want to live in.