Losing Our Heads Over Trump’s ‘MAGA’ Hats
Is arguing about this hat really going to fix America?
As an American expat, watching from afar, the bickering over MAGA (Make American Great Again) hats has drawn both my curiosity and concern. These red hats are basically the official merchandise of Donald Trump’s presidential campaign and rallies. They have become notorious.
Recently I read an article on GQ arguing that the MAGA hat should be treated as an “object of hate”. I suppose that means hate symbol. I’m not sure if that means criminal.
Author Cam Wolf opens with the paragraph,
Those blood-red Make America Great Again hats have a tendency to crop up during the country’s dimmest moments. Think of where you’ve seen them over the past two years. They’ve been at the white supremacist rally in Charlottesville, in the Instagram avatar of the Parkland shooter, and, of course, inside unhinged Trump rallies.
That reminds me of classical (psychological) conditioning, the constant pairing of two stimuli to yield a predictable response over time. No doubt the events at Charlotteville and Parkland High School are tragic atrocities. And yes, the MAGA hats were there. So, in a sense, I understand why the sight of these hats brings to mind such distress. By now, it may even be automatic for some people. They see a MAGA hat, and immediately experience a negative — perhaps fearful, perhaps hateful — attitude towards the person wearing the hat. It’s as though the hat alone is enough to speak volumes regarding the person’s entire character and belief system.
As Wolf puts it,
They announce the wearer is on a certain team. Wearing a MAGA hat aligns you with the policies of the very person who made that hat famous, and who has sold them by the boxful. That is: the president who started his campaign painting Mexicans as rapists, criminals, and drug dealers, who lustily bragged about grabbing women “by the pussy,” who has stoked hate crimes, and who seemingly desires more than anything else to build a wall at the U.S.-Mexico border.
Still, I think that it’s important to distinguish the difference between an ordinary citizen who voted a certain way or endorses a certain candidate, and a person who goes out and intentionally murders people. I think we are becoming dangerously attracted to the types of mental shortcuts that make it easier to separate what we deem as ‘good people’ and ‘bad people’, leaving no room for in-betweens. The sports team analogy makes more sense to me if we compare the average Joe in a MAGA hat to a fan rather than a teammate. We could continue arguing that the fans have an influence on Trump’s team, if not equal to those on Trump’s payroll, yet we could do better than assuming we know everything about a person based on what ‘team’ they follow. People also change teams over time, usually for reasons other than because they are being screamed at to do so.
Let’s just entertain, for a moment, the perspective that everyday people are either all good or all bad, and ask ourselves whether the following 3 scenarios truly make sense:
Bad person plus MAGA hat equals bad person. I’m with you.
Bad person minus MAGA hat equals (still) a bad person. I’m (still) with you.
Good person plus MAGA hat equals… bad person?
No, I’m not trying to be patronizing. Maybe somebody out there actually thinks this, but it appears the more popular reduction is akin to “no good person would even imagine wearing a MAGA hat”. This ‘mental shortcut’ is to assume, without knowing or engaging with the person, that said person is inherently bad, or even dangerous, before or after donning the cap.
Candace Owens, a conservative commentator who is also black, wears a MAGA hat. YouTuber Blaire White, a conservative who happens to be transgender, also wears a MAGA hat. They don’t fit the ‘white supremacist’ stereotype. Worst case scenario you may find their political views vomit-inducing, but neither of them have ever killed somebody. As for me, a gay man who’s had close friendships with undocumented immigrants, I can still listen to most perspectives that are different from mine without losing my lunch. I want to grant this ability to everyone, I really do.
I’m not sure what labeling MAGA hats an ‘object of hate’ aims to achieve. Ban them from being worn? Wolf points refers in the article to how the KKK advised its members to dress in polos and khakis, to make themselves less conspicuous. Toxic ideologies can simply go underground if they are prohibited from public display. Not to say that everyone wearing a MAGA hat holds toxic views, but either way, it seems naive to think that banning the hats would eradicate those views or reduce violence.
You can still hate people when you’re stark naked.
In defense of those who are wearing the hats, it is their right. I haven’t talked to all of them, therefore I am not prone to make rigid assumptions about their views on women, immigration, minorities, LGBT, etc. Even if they do have some thoughts that I disagree with, bigoted ones included, I don’t believe in punishing thoughtcrimes a la George Orwell’s dystopian novel 1984. I don’t believe in punishing fashion crimes either.
I do, of course, believe in punishing actual crimes, whether MAGA hat wearers are the perpetrators or the victims. There are various videos and accounts of people wearing MAGA hats being harassed or physically assaulted by strangers, apparently due to their dress, and that doesn’t sound like something that should occur in a ‘free’ country. The climate of political repression and censorship which took place in the former Soviet Union or Cuba is not a model I want mimicked by America’s future leaders, yet alternatively, the haste towards violence could potentially even backfire against the very people who are so opposed to the hats and the man they represent. As conservatives feel more alienated and threatened, they sense a greater need to come out en masse and vote against liberals.
I sympathize with Wolf’s criticism of Fox News for comparing MAGA hat provocation to the way womens’ choices of clothing are scrutinized when they are sexually harassed. I think a better, if not perfect, comparison can be drawn between the MAGA hat and religious headgear. While some religious extremists can and do become violent (as in the Orlando Pulse Nightclub Shooting, which took the lives of 49 people), the majority who are simply wearing the attire prescribed by their culture or religion do not.
I can’t imagine generations to come celebrating their grandparents for defeating a bunch of ugly hats. I think they would probably be far more proud of what we did to bring Americans closer together, champion human rights and promote liberty and justice for all. Sometimes certain people get in the way of these goals, but it’s not their hats which are to blame. That’s why I say, “choose your battles.”
Wolf, C. (2019, January 25). The MAGA Hat Is Still an Object of Hate. Retrieved from https://www.gq.com/story/maga-hat-march-for-life