The bright red Make America Great Again baseball cap entered the popular culture as candidate Donald Trump’s political swag. It has transformed into an open wound, a firestorm of hate and a marker of societal atavism.
An aesthetically benign baseball cap is a 21st-century grotesquerie.
Has there been in recent memory any other item of clothing — so specific in design and color — that pits neighbors against each other, causes classroom altercations, sparks both rage and fear, and ultimately alludes to little more than a mirage?
Fashion has upset the populace before. Miniskirts were an affront to tradition and decorum. Baggy jeans and hoodies riled the establishment. “Black Lives Matter” T-shirts and pink pussy hats were created to send a message of political protest.
But the Make America Great Again hat is not a statement of policy. It’s a declaration of identity.
The MAGA hat. The acronym reads like a guttural cry. An angry roar. MAA-GAA! It calls out to a time — back in some sepia-tinged period — when America was greater than it is now, which for a lot of Americans means a time when this country still had a lot of work to do before it was even tolerant — let alone welcoming — of them and their kind. Some see an era of single-income families, picket fences and unlocked doors. Others see little more than the heartbreak of redlining, walkers and beards, and the “problem that has no name.”
The past was not greater; it is simply the past. It’s only the soft-focus, judicious edit that looks so perfect and sweet.