Call it a cold civil war.
In the Village of Port Jefferson, a local ice cream shop has displayed a massive banner proclaiming “In Trump We Trust,” Village officials say the sign violates local codes and needs to be removed.
The sign divides many in the community. It’s a sign of the times. Port Jefferson, like many waterfront villages on the North Shore, is a place of contradictions. The wealthy descend on its tony restaurants from estates on high bluffs in Belle Terre and Old Field. Middle-class families come from subdivisions to its pizza places and chain restaurants. Students from Stony Brook University mix with retirees.
Even the politics are contradictory. The town councilwoman and county legislator are progressive Democrats. The congressman, Rep. Lee Zeldin, is an outspoken supporter of President Donald Trump. Last year, a prominent Trump insider challenged the mayor in a kind of proxy battle, and lost. In 2016, Clinton bested Trump in the village.
The ice cream shop, Roger’s Frigate, occupies a two-story brick building overlooking a harbor. From behind long glass counters, employees scoop dozens of flavors.
The owner had decided that the flavor of the month was, well, Trump. To protest impeachment proceedings, he stretched his “In Trump We Trust” banner across the facade, two stories high. He’s done this before: before the 2016 election and when Trump was inaugurated.
The problem is that the sign violates a village code governing the dimension of signs in proportion to building size. Village Mayor Margot J. Garant said the message was irrelevant. The village reminded store general manager Roger Rutherford that he could reduce the size or display it inside. He insists the sign remain until Trump’s impeachment is over. Last week, the village ordered the ice cream shop to remove the sign or face penalties of up to $2,000 a day. On Super Bowl Sunday, pro-Trump forces staged a rally in the parking lot. There were “Trump 2020” signs, “We The People Banners,” and patriotic music blaring to honks of endorsement from passing motorists.
And so, Roger’s Frigate has become a symbol of the great national divide, playing the role of Fort Sumter (with sprinkles). Some object to having ideology foisted on them when all they want is a double scoop of cookies and cream. Some object to the particular ideology.
Jack Harrington is a local Democrat who recently returned from a deployment in Afghanistan. Harrington, who considered running against Zeldin, told me that his family isn’t patronizing Roger’s Frigate for now, “which is sad, because I went there as a kid. I know others who boycott as well.”
The sign is part of a larger partisan food phenomenon. David Wasserman of the Cook Political Report recently analyzed intersections between congressional districts and local markets. He concluded that proximity to a Cracker Barrel versus a Whole Foods is a strong indicator of whether the local member of Congress is a Democrat or Republican.
Which is the worst part of the Trump phenomenon. The pros and cons seep into everything and create fissures everywhere. The war over ice cream used to be vanilla versus chocolate, now it’s conviction versus acquittal.
Can’t there be a compromise? A “Trumpcicle” with an Orange swirl? A scoop of Im-Peach-Mint?
Can’t we just go back to a nation populated by villages where people can disagree without tribal banners waved?
Keep the split in banana split. I want to go back to an America where mouths froth over ice cream and not politics.
Steve Israel is a former Democratic congressman who heads Cornell University's Institute of Politics and Global Affairs.