We recently drove a slow van in morning rush hour traffic through Bridgeport, Conn., past Danbury, hooked around New York City, then down through New Jersey to hit the afternoon rush in Baltimore and Annapolis. Two days later we wallowed through morning madness in Washington, D.C., and bore on south to Richmond. We were passed by thousands of cars (most carrying solo drivers, for shame! for shame!) and only counted a dozen with bumper stickers.
What's going on? Doesn't anyone care about anything anymore? Don't any issues burn for blurbed expression? Even among that dozen, three were of the proud-parent-of-a-great-child-at-More-Science-High variety and hardly count as political, however sincerely displayed. Two others advertised radio stations.
Amongst myriad commuters in D.C., one, just one, touting the "I'd-sooner-vote-for-a-maggoty-turnip-than-Clinton" school of conservative reasoning. Imagine that! Wending the Beltway, which holds up the trousers of our nation, there was only one person who held an opinion he was willing to publicly support. Doubtless many in that madding crowd work at jobs dependent upon patronage and are reluctant to rock some future boat, and others, working directly for the government, are required to remain publicly apolitical. But everyone?
And how to explain the utter lack of passion in the Big Apple? Or Connecticut? Are they just Too Cool?
One possible reason for the dearth of bumpered slogans is economic. Folks tend toward quiescence when their tummies are full, and a lot of them seem to have new cars. Perhaps not enough time has passed for stickers to accrete, barnaclelike, on aging hulls. Perhaps folks don't want to muss the gleam.
Curiously, however, once we were back in the North Carolina mountains, BS was alive and well. Loads of campaign stickers, anti-zoning stickers, pro-choice and anti-reproductive rights stickers, "Re-unite Gondwanaland!" (from a tectonic optimist), animal rights, Earthfirst! or "No-more-wilderness," "pry-my-dead-cold-fingers-off-the-trigger" and "wouldn't-it-be-great-if-the-Pentagon-had-to-hold-a-bake-sale?"
At the first political protest event we attended after our return we were ex-posed to another twist on the old BS. One activist couple has mounted their stickers on magnetic strips so that the slogans can be removed when entering the enemy camp. If one wants to know what's up with the Trump campaign, it just won't do to waltz in wearing a Buchanan button, they reason. In their case, infiltration of a Cattleman's Association shindig might easily be hampered by their sticker that reads, "A hamburger stops a beating heart."
Living with BS can be confusing, of course. When someone sails by us, grinning, thumb-up, we have to figure out if she's reacting to "In Goddess We Trust," "Liberate Laboratory Animals" or whether she too is "Another friend of Ishmael." The flip side, a flipped finger, is equally uninformative, unless, in either case, we find confirmation on the other's bumper as they race past.
And here we reach the nub: BS provides a context for intervehicular communication and thereby builds community. Sticker-bearers are no longer faceless strangers in the rolling crowd, but compatriots or opponents, staking out positions, joining the club, standing tall, debating our common future and finding consensus or defining chasms to be bridged. As political campaigns mire ever deeper in 30-second soundbites and rabid mudslinging, BS permits serious issues to be explored by the electorate without interference from the vested elite. We can each wage our own $1 ad campaign, free of soft money, PACs, lobbyists, foreign government influence or graft. That is, unless you are in favor of soft money, PACs, lobbyists, foreign government influence or graft, in which case you can blare your support.
This is Jeffersonian enlightened self-governance distilled to its imperative essence. Democracy demands an informed electorate. Run that one up your bumper, and see who salutes!