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MAGA Hat Discord

January 20, 2019

Heads up: It’s political!

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On this eve of our nation’s remembering the birth, life, and sacrifice of American civil rights activist, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., my thoughts turn toward perhaps the single most divisive article of clothing one could don in 2019:

The MAGA (“Make America Great Again”) hat.

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Yes, this is America, and yes, as Americans, people have the right to choose to wear MAGA hats if they want, but those choosing to wear them run a high risk of either creating or exacerbating a divisive, volatile atmosphere (unless surrounded only by like-minded, MAGA-hat wearers, which, ironically, seems to be the ultimate goal of many who proudly sport the item).

Perhaps the volatility of the MAGA message involves its lack of clarity combined with the over-the-top, controversial, offensive words (also here and here) of its creator, Donald Trump.

On its face, the phrase, “Make America Great Again,” implies the return to some better time, of something being lost. However, the “good old days” were good for certain Americans and bad for others– which is a recipe for discord right from the start. From the August 31, 2017, Voices of America (VOA) article, “Is ‘Make America Great Again’ Racist?”:

Marketing consultant Eva Van Brunt, a critic of the president, says the malleability of the words “great” and “again” are a common marketing trick: using words that sound positive, but lack specific meaning.

“By leaving a definitional vacuum around the word ‘great,’ it became very easy for groups to co-opt it, ascribing to it the meaning they wanted it to have,” Van Brunt says. “The same way a mother rests easy because her baby’s food has ‘all-natural’ written on the jar, Nazis, the KKK, and other white supremacists were able to feel good about Trump because ‘great’ became interchangeable with white, heterosexual, male, hate, oppress, deport.

As for the word “again,” Van Brunt notes that it limits the audience to those who think America was once great and no longer is.

“That excludes those who never thought America was great for them and those who think America is great for them now,” she says. “Looked at from that vantage point, it’s hard to imagine that the co-opting by certain groups was accidental.”

For better or worse, the phrase is a loaded one, with potential to cause trouble between people who do not share the same interpretation.

And cause trouble, it does, because those “good old days” tend to be days in which life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness were chiefly available to whites– and particularly white males– with varying degrees of economic and social exclusion/oppression for women and people of color.

As Eva Van Brunt notes above, some who sport the MAGA cap know exactly what messsage they are sending by choosing to wear it.

And those who don’t know, should.

For many Americans, MAGA isn’t just a hat. It’s a bitter reminder that one American’s “great again” is another American’s oppression, a reminder that can only contribute to increased public discord.

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Schneider is a southern Louisiana native, career teacher, trained researcher, and author of two other books: A Chronicle of Echoes: Who’s Who In the Implosion of American Public Education and Common Core Dilemma: Who Owns Our Schools?. You should buy these books. They’re great. No, really.

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10 Comments
  1. Can anyone deny that after Bush and Obama there was room for improvement and that Hilary wasn’t it? Her hat, had she had one, should have had on it SOS. Same Old S. . .

  2. Marc Murphy permalink

    Thanks for adding your commentary on the controversial MAGA hat symbol. Perhaps one day this charged symbol of Donald Trump’s presidency will be viewed in the way that sported swastikas and Confrederate Flags are viewed today. Dr. Kings Birthday is a reminder of how far we have come as a country and how much further we have to go to reach “the promised land.”

    Marc Murphy
    Art Teacher
    Wisconsin

    • yes, the hats are an update on the confed. flag — the entire nation knows exactly what they stand for, but many will deny the connection

  3. IRA SHOR permalink

    Yes, thank you, MAGA is toxic. Did you see the viral video of a gang of teen white boys sporting MAGA hats in DC mobbing, ridiculing, and threatening a Native American elder who was reciting a drum prayer for the “Indigenous People’s Day” rally? The white boys with the red hats were from Covington Catholic HS, bussed in by their HS from KY to take part in the annual anti-abortion rally.

  4. Thank you. Yes.

    BTW, MAGA means “Moscow’s Asset Governing America”

  5. Laura H.Chapman permalink

    Mercedes. A wondeful and timely post. Thank you.

  6. “However, the “good old days” were good for certain Americans and bad for others– which is a recipe for discord right from the start.” YES. AND RIGHT FROM THE START, this USA ‘democracy’ we are always trying to revere was far from a democracy — not by those who WERE included in making government decisions, but by those so very strategically and intentionally left out.

Trackbacks & Pingbacks

  1. Mercedes Schneider: Reflecting on MAGA on Martin Luther King, Jr., Day | Diane Ravitch's blog

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