The blare of horns at all hours has disturbed Frankhauser and her three children ever since. “ ‘I’ll think about it,’ ” her neighbor replied when Frankhauser appealed to her for peace. A month later, the sign remains, and the honking won’t quit.
By definition, presidential campaigns are anxious affairs, often defined by vituperative rhetoric and high-volume antics. But the 2020 campaign may be the ultimate made-for-Xanax special, a hair-raising brew of Trump’s tumultuous reign, a global pandemic and the clamor of nationwide protests.
As the nation’s capital, Washington serves as a symbolic player in the drama, as well as a stage for the pageantry and demonstrations that could follow the election — no matter the outcome.
Like many around the country, Washingtonians and their suburban neighbors are experiencing sleep-
rattled nights as Nov. 3 approaches, with some trying to shut out the din by turning off their televisions and limiting their exposure to social media.
In a heavily Democratic region, the prospect of Trump’s reelection has caused panic and fantasies about leaving the country in some households. Republicans fret about leftists taking over Washington and complain about stolen and vandalized Trump signs, accusing Democrats of violating their right to free speech.
An attorney’s post this week that “a bunch of men in military fatigues” outside a Woodley Park hotel looked like “militia-types” sparked a flurry of comments on Nextdoor that included speculation about election security and plenty of snark.
“Military in hotel parking lot = Insurrection! Run for the hills!!” one poster wrote.
“I think we all could benefit from a few deep breaths,” wrote another.
Those who worry that D.C. could be a magnet for post-election chaos see fodder for their concern in news footage of people in open-carry states bringing weapons to protests, as well as revelations about an extremist plot to kidnap Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer (D).
Bryan Weaver, the founder of a nonprofit who lives in D.C., has found himself imagining what steps he would need to take to protect his family if he is confronted with unrest.
“I don’t feel like we’re in the Lincoln moment, where we’re going to fall back on the better angels of our nature,” he said. “A thousand patriots coming to the White House to protect the president doesn’t seem far-fetched. If things do go sideways, what would I do?”
John Platillero, 26, who described himself as a TikTok influencer, evinced no such worries as he skateboarded outside the U.S. Capitol, waving a long metal pole that held six Trump flags fluttering in a late-afternoon breeze.
“It will be sad if Biden wins, but I haven’t lost sleep over it,” said Platillero, a Tennessee native who was in white shoes, red pants, and a blue blazer festooned with stars. His helmet was emblazoned with the design of the American flag.
“What a f---ing racist,” a passing jogger shouted at him. A woman stopped to use his Trump flags as a background to photograph her raised middle finger.
Balloons and Roman heroes
Amid the expressions of anxiety, hostility and urgency — a pumpkin on a D.C. stoop is carved to form the word “VOTE” — doses of humor are sometimes discernible. In the District’s Mount Pleasant neighborhood one night, a one-story-tall balloon facsimile of Trump appeared on a sidewalk, unannounced.
In Takoma Park, Md., a proud bastion of lefty politics, attorney John Bohn outfitted two reproductions of ancient statuettes with campaign signs he had made for “Gaius Gracchus” and “Tiberius Gracchus,” the Roman brothers who were political populists.
One was murdered by rivals; the other — his life in danger — died by suicide.
Bohn said he would leave it to his audience to interpret his display, but he acknowledged that his perspective is somewhat bleak: “I’m raising the question of whether we’re heading in that direction, the degree to which we have division and discord, and the degree to which political violence may be reappearing.”
In McLean, Frankhauser said the Biden campaign called to offer her large signs promoting the Democratic ticket after they learned of her neighbor’s display, which includes a Trump flag and eight signs bearing the president’s name.
A hand-scrawled whiteboard on Caccavari’s lawn urges people to donate eggs to local food banks instead of throwing them at her signs.
Frankhauser, 52, a compliance officer for a tech company, was pleased to add the Biden bling to the smaller signs she already had up. As an added attraction, she ziptied two plastic pink flamingos to one of her new signs. The flamingos had been a gift from Caccavari, whom Frankhauser described as a friend. When Frankhauser was running low on toilet paper early in the pandemic, she said, Caccavari left a package of 36 rolls on her doorstep.
Caccavari did not want to talk about her Trump display, the campaign or the honking encouraged by her signs when reached recently.
“The animosity in my neighborhood is horrific,” she said in a brief phone call. “There are very mean people.” She did not respond to subsequent messages.
A few miles away in Falls Church, retired teacher Ann Baise said she and her husband were awakened one morning this month when a neighbor walking his dog rang their doorbell.
“ ‘Ma’am, your Trump sign is on fire,’ ” he told her.
They used a garden hose to douse the 4-by-8-foot placard leaning on a white picket fence. Baise said she ignored a police officer’s suggestion that she remove the charred remnants.
“I’m not going to be intimidated,” she said. “People need to see this.”
A week later, a police officer came upon another Trump sign on fire outside a house in Leesburg, Va. The two men who live there said the sign was not theirs, and they did not know why it was on their property.
“It doesn’t matter who wins,” Galindo Alvarado, 33, who builds decks, said of the election. “The country will be the same.”
Hard to ignore
Michael Kazin, a Georgetown University history professor, can tick off examples of high-stress elections dating back to 1860, when Abraham Lincoln’s victory helped catalyze the Civil War.
Kazin knows the country has endured. But that’s of little comfort as he deals with his own pre-election antsiness. He said he tries to calm himself by watching baseball and checking polls “every two hours.”
What makes Americans’ current agitation unique, he said, is the dominance of social media: “Your emotional cords are being pulled tighter and tighter. We have too much information all the time, much of it repetitive, much of it paranoid.”
Alan Stein, a massage therapist who lives in Silver Spring, Md., said his clients complain more about the stress of dealing with covid-19 than the election. Meanwhile, he finds himself contemplating scenarios he once would have considered absurd.
“What if we have armed militia walking down our street?” he said, chuckling at the thought. But then he added: “There’s a political reality for this. It’s not out of a dystopian novel.”
In Dupont Circle, Cory Claussen, 44, a government affairs specialist, worries about polarization and Americans’ ability to “discern fact from fiction.” He tries to avoid the noise of the election by burying himself in work, books, video games and hiking.
Sometimes the noise intrudes anyway.
After placing his ballot in a drop box the other day, his face shielded by a mask bearing Biden’s campaign logo, Claussen heard a passerby say, “Good luck to your candidate.”
When Claussen thanked him, the passerby yelled that he would need luck because “Trump is going to win in a landslide.” The stranger, Claussen said, then threatened to “bash” his “f---ing skull.”
Claussen said he did not respond and kept walking until he reached his apartment, all the more certain that the campaign season couldn’t end soon enough.