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Editorial: America’s political split roars onto the North Fork

Last Sunday was an interesting day on eastern Long Island, where the bitter division that has engulfed America was on full display, just a little more than a month before a momentous presidential election. A large caravan of enthusiastic President Trump supporters made its way east from Northport to Riverhead and then Greenport.

By some estimates, hundreds of vehicles left Northport with the caravan. By the time the long line of cars and trucks passed down a very congested Route 58 in Riverhead and arrived on Front Street in Greenport the caravan was estimated at perhaps 300 to 500 vehicles.

The noise of the trucks’ horns was, if you stood too close, deafening. Whatever noise ordinance exists in the village was certainly violated. 

In a village that has done so much to work its way out of the COVID-19 economic horror — setting up parklets where people can dine right on Front Street and on the southern end of Main Street — the caravan was an inconvenience and an unwelcome distraction. We mean that from a business standpoint. No one could have sat outside at, say, Noah’s, and enjoyed an afternoon meal with the noise from the caravan and the crowds on the sidewalks. Some businesses simply closed for the afternoon.

But that is beside the point. What struck many who were there as the caravan made its way east and arrived at its end in Greenport was how deeply and dramatically divided Americans are, on the North Fork and nationwide. 

We all knew this, of course. Just turn on the news, any channel of your choosing, and you will see that America is polarized in a way that reminds some historians of the bitterness between North and South over the issue of slavery before the Civil War, which became inevitable with the election of Abraham Lincoln as president.

Way more than a narrow Front Street separated those who came to cheer on the caravan and those who came to display signs critical of the president and in support of former vice president Joe Biden. They were a world apart. That chasm between them will only grow wider as Nov. 3 approaches, particularly as political infighting in Washington, D.C., continues over the issue of replacing the extraordinary Ruth Bader Ginsburg on the Supreme Court. Justice Ginsburg died Friday, coinciding with the beginning of Rosh Hashana.

In large part, those who gathered in Greenport to demonstrate their disgust at the president and his policies clustered west of Third Street on the north side of the road. Organizers there urged everyone to be silent and respectful, to not step into the road and to show their contempt for this administration simply by being there.

The very enthusiastic people in the caravan wanted to make their support for the president fully known, and they surely did, in wave after wave of cars and trucks, with American flags and Trump banners trailing from the backs of pickups and horns and megaphones blaring. To Trump supporters, this was patriotism on full, in-your-face display. To Trump critics, this was a horror show.

Southold police, with Chief Martin Flatley patrolling Front Street on foot, urged people to stay out of the road so the caravan could get through without a problem, were in full force. Only one arrest was made, for disorderly conduct.

At several points during the afternoon, officers in front of Mitchell Park had to stand between a small group of what appeared to be teenage Black Lives Matter protesters who tossed the “f” bomb at passing cars and at people standing a few feet from them across the street. Obscenities also flew freely from Trump caravan cars, with middle fingers extended to protesters and plenty of “f” bombs of their own. By all appearances, none of the Trump supporters in their vehicles wore masks; some vehicles carried small children who listened to it all. 

Two Americas were here on the North Fork Sunday. The caravan and its opponents showed that we should all be greatly concerned about what will happen Nov. 3 and in the election’s aftermath. Our democracy is on the line. Make no mistake about it. All eligible voters must cast their ballots. The American people must be heard and each of us must decide: Which America do you want to live in? Which candidate represents basic decency?

As former congressman Elijah Cummings said, “We are better than this.”