Insulted by local political sign? You’ll have to put up with it

A political sign on the front lawn of a home in Thief River Falls is causing consternation among neighbors.

The sign, supporting Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump, says “Trump that Bitch,” a reference to Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton.

Ain’t free speech something?

“As the kind of voters that Trump is appealing to, one of the reasons that they like him is because of statements like this,” Bo Wood, a political science professor at the University of North Dakota, tells WDAY. “Because he’s a straight shooter and he says what they would say if they didn’t feel restrained by political correctness.”

Wood says there are federal rules regulating campaign signs in lawns, though he didn’t specify what they were.

The FEC has no restriction on the content of political signs other than the usual requirement that it must indicate in the fine print who paid for it.

Cities can regulate political lawn signs, but they cannot mandate content-based restrictions under the First Amendment. And under Minnesota law, local ordinances on signs cannot be enforced between June 24 and November 18, when the signs have to come down.

Thirty-eight days to go.

Related: Cases of Political Sign Vandalism, Theft Rising (KAAL)

  • jon

    I’d think in this particular instance the profanity would be the thing that would get the sign removed…
    Some sort of public decency law about the use of profanity perhaps?

    Sure the courts would decide if those laws jive with the first amendment…. but, given some of the other laws/regulations still on the books, I think there might be an argument to be made by a competent lawyer…

    • True, obscenity is exempted from First Amendment protections. Strip clubs, for instance can’t put up signs showing women in full …well, you know. A lot of ordinances are focused on this sort of thing. I think this particular sign would have a hard time running afoul of community standards giving the prevalence of the word in today’s culture.

      • >> I think this particular sign would have a hard time running afoul of community standards giving the prevalence of the word in today’s culture.<<

        The word "Trump"?


      • jon

        I don’t know about that word in particular, but I’d think if you couldn’t broadcast it because of FCC regulations then you’ve got a decent shot of getting the sign removed…

        Of course odds of getting a lawyer and a court date in the next 38 days means that it probably wouldn’t matter any how.

        • Rob

          Actually, there are several songs that contain the B wood that are commonly heard on the radio. The Bitch is Back by Elton John
          and SOB by Nathaniel Rateliff and the Night Sweats are just a couple of examples.

          • jon

            As I said I didn’t know about that word in particular.

        • Anna

          If memory serves me correctly, George Carlin is famous for his “Seven Words You Can Never Say on Television” stand up routine in the 70’s.

          I don’t think “bitch” is among them. “P***y isn’t either because it is another word for cat.

          The way things are headed currently, “Trump” is almost on the level of “He who must not be named” of Harry Potter fame.

          IMO, Trump is getting to the level of Dutarte of the Phillipines, another foul-mouthed demagogue.

          • Contrary to Carlin’s routine, there is no list.

          • Rob

            List or no, the phrases Carlin cited are still verboten on network TV and on radio, are they not?

          • In effect, anything that could lead you to file a complaint with the FCC that could reasonably be argued is offensive under the current law is verboten.

          • Kassie

            We had a list in college of words we couldn’t say on the radio. You could say Ass, but not Asshole. You could say God and Damn, but not goddamn. But you could talk about KUMM all you wanted, because those were the call letter for the station.

            Oh and between Midnight and 6am, you could say anything you wanted. College radio was really fun.

          • rallysocks

            Ahh, yes. My alma mater. And their tee shirts read: Put a little KUMM in your ear.

          • Kassie

            Really? I think they only used that for a few years. My partner still has the shirt in his dresser. I’m guessing we must have overlapped there at some point. I wonder if we all know each other…

          • rallysocks

            it wouldn’t surprise me one bit!

          • Angry Jonny

            I believe it was “The U-90 Alternative-The only station that puts KUMM in your ear.”

            That’s what my shirt says, anyway. With the little vaguely sperm-like hyphen in between the U and 90.

          • jon

            I didn’t presume George Carlin’s was the authoritative list.

          • Right.I’m saying there is NO list, authoritative or otherwise.

      • Alex

        As an aside, I think the rhetorical implications of the term “full undress” are kinda interesting. It seems to imply that that is an active state of being rather than the natural or normative state. It gets weirder when you realize that we also say “fully dressed.”

    • Anna

      I guess the people living inside could argue they were referring to their female dog, commonly referred to as a “bitch.”

      Or it could be considered a threat (like the man is going to get his hand anywhere near that part of her anatomy).

      Either way, it is crude, rude and a whole lot of other choice euphemisms.

      If there is fine print on that sign, you’d need a microscope to see it.

      I say keep putting those signs up. It’s a reminder that the candidate is not fit for office.

      • Mike

        Your last two sentences are a reminder of why more speech is always better than censoring that which is unpopular, rude, or obscene. Valuable insights can often be gleaned from speech that violates social norms (e.g., artistic expression), and such speech can also serve in ways that the speaker did not intend.

        The Bill of Rights is essentially a test of whether people can govern themselves. I’m always going to put my money on it, even though none of us can ever be sure of the actual outcome. Ultimately it’s an existential question.

        • Anna

          “The Bill of Rights is essentially a test of whether people can govern themselves.”

          After this election cycle, that theory is definitely in doubt.

          • Mike

            It’s not in doubt for me (I’ll always choose freedom over the government trying to prevent my feelings from being hurt), but I understand your point.

      • jon

        there does appear to be a dog in the background of the photo… but do the owners really want people “trumping” their dog? I think that’s an issue for the animal humane society to take up.

    • Rob

      Umm, no. Profanity/obscenity can be grounds for removal, but my guess is that no judge is going to consider this particular appellation offensive enough to general standards of public decency to order it yanked.

  • Will
    • Anna

      While I don’t particularly like the verbiage, it definitely captures the sentiment of far too many voters this year.

      Keep those signs coming, buddy!

    • Jared

      I’m partial to

  • chris

    If refraining from calling the future first female president a b**** is political correctness, we need more political correctness, clearly. The crassness that T has unleashed is the saddest part of this campaign.

  • fromthesidelines21

    I drove by this sign last Friday for the first time with my 9 year old son. He saw it before I did and he immediately knew it crossed a line. I got to have one of those ‘I’m not ready for this’ conversations with him about how people should be able to have a point of view without being rude and mean.

    Trying to educate our children on the political process (they are paying attention) has been difficult this year. Do we let them watch/listen to the news or even watch a debate? We shouldn’t need parental warnings for the political process.

    FYI, last I checked while driving by the local Republican headquarters they did NOT have any Trump signs displayed.

    • jon

      My father made a comment to me about how I didn’t know anything about the Clintons and how I wasn’t there for Bill’s infidelity and lying and blah blah blah…

      I was 9-10 when Bill took office, I remember watching his inauguration on TV in what I believe was the 4th grade… I recall voting for the man in the weekly reader poll. I recall countless sermons in church about David and Bathsheba…

      I would have been 17-18 when he left office, I was driving his pickup truck around at the time…

      My father was dumbfounded that I remembered all of this from my childhood, and that I payed attention to politics at that age, and also dumbfounded how I could support Clinton as the far better candidate of the two…

      For the record, I don’t understand how some one who lived through the vietnam war can even consider a presidential candidate who wants to kill civilian populations because of their blood relation to fighters on the other side… I don’t understand how he could consider supporting some one who asks “Why don’t we just use the nukes?” after having lived through the cold war, particularly given how tense relations with Russia and China can be right now.

      But memory is a fickle thing…

      • tboom

        We boomers have never mended the “hawks” “doves” split.

  • Rob

    Can’t agree with the poli sci prof that it’s political correctness to refrain from using very crude pejoratives to refer to women.

    • joetron2030

      Did this comment end up in the wrong post?

      • Rob


        • joetron2030

          Weird. When I first replied, your comment was about a building demolition that didn’t go as planned. Disqus acting up, I guess.

          • jon

            I saw it too.

          • Rob


    • RBHolb

      I cannot understand why some people seem to take delight in being offensive for the sake of being offensive.

  • Mike Worcester

    Every day on my morning commute I drive by more than one political sign that is for sure uncomplimentary to Sec Clinton. One is hand-made, spray painted on plywood, which says “Hellary For Jail”. The other is a typical yard sign on the metal wires which says “Hillary for Prison, 2016”.

    I could say that I find both offensive, but that is not enough to make me demand their removal, or even suggest that, or even hint at it. One of the beauties (if you want to call it that) is our political system not only invites a robust exchange of thoughts — good, bad, or otherwise — it encourages it and yes, celebrates it.

    So when I drive by a Hillary For Prison sign, it might make me shake my head a little, but I also know what the alternative might be — someone telling me that my thoughts are criminal and I should be punished for them. Nope, not keen on that idea at all. I’ll take the head-shaking any day.

  • Definition of “obscene” (via FCC):

    According to the U.S. Supreme Court, to be obscene, material must meet a three-prong test: (1) an average person, applying contemporary community standards, must find that the material, as a whole, appeals to the prurient interest (i.e., material having a tendency to excite lustful thoughts); (2) the material must depict or describe, in a patently offensive way, sexual conduct specifically defined by applicable law; and (3) the material, taken as a whole, must lack serious literary, artistic, political, or scientific value. The Supreme Court has indicated that this test is designed to cover hard-core pornography.

    • Alex

      That’s great and all for pornography, which is a form purely defined by its sexual nature, but I’m fairly sure that there are words that most people would deem obscene in the realm of public display that would not be obscene by this definition (i.e. several words that I’m sure can’t be said on air). For example, if I put up a sign that said “[CANDIDATE] is a piece of sh*t” (the uncensored version)?

      On the obverse, I know that the word “bitch” can be used on air because I’ve watched enough dog shows on Animal Planet over the years

      • The above is not a definition of pornography; it’s a definition of obscenity, which must be met in order for a sign to be removed without violating First Amendment rights. All three have to be met.

        Your hypothetical sign would likely be protected.

        • Rob

          Yes, pornography generally enjoys First Amendment protections, under the notion that it is sexual expression.
          I love the line from a decades-ago Minnesta District Court case, Doe v. Minneapolis, in which the court, in a case involving a porno shop, referred to a stripper dancing to music as “an ecdysiast pursuing her terpsichorian muse.”

          • Fred, Just Fred

            …pornography generally enjoys First Amendment protections, under the notion that it is sexual expression.

            lol…well, you almost had it.

            What SCOTUS said was “sexual expression which is indecent but not obscene is protected by the First Amendment.”


          • Rob

            Potato, potatoh. Note again my use of the word “generally.”

          • Fred, Just Fred


      • RBHolb

        “Naughty” words, used in isolation, are not obscene and are protected expression (Cohen v. California, a.k.a. the “F*** the Draft” case). On the other hand, they may be deemed “indecent” and kept off the broadcast airwaves at certain times (FCC v. Pacifica Foundation, the “Seven Dirty Words” case).