Kanye, while donning a Make America Great Again hat in the Trumpman’s Oval Office, took some time to express deep appreciation for the infamous article of clothing, claiming that it gave him powers in some sense. If Kanye is talking about the power to make me vomit on sight, then yes, he’s absolutely right, and really no one man should have all that power. The MAGA hat is indeed a powerful symbol, but it does little more than represent hate and a sickening embrace of that prejudice on the part of the wearer. Kanye’s hat doesn’t give him powers; it makes him a buffoon.
And a misogynistic buffoon at that. Yeezy couched his love for the hat in disturbingly sexist terms, saying, "I love Hillary. I love everyone, right? But the campaign 'I'm with Her' didn’t make me feel as a guy who didn’t get to see my dad all the time, like a guy who could play catch with his son." According to Kanye, if you indicate any support for the Female, you forego any ability to play catch with your son a la"Cat’s in the Cradle." Similar to a good deal of other Kanye quotes, his male energy MAGA hat statement is at once senseless and offensive.
While I’m not going to spend my time stumbling through the logic of Kanye’s Sunken Place brain, I imagine Kanye, who always affirms that he doesn't support all of Trump’s policies, appreciates the hat solely for the reaction it garners. The superpower Yeezy feels is simply his compulsive need to crane necks. "It's a plane —, it's a bird —, no! It's a musician who won’t shut his black ass up!" Kanye doesn’t love Trump so much as he loves the fact that the abomination of Obama’s nation finally got invited to the White House. Later in the Oval Office meeting, he mentions the risk he took making a deal with Adidas saying, "So I had the balls – because I have enough balls to put on this hat.” Yeezy chooses to show support for a national catastrophe partly because he appreciates what that does for his ego as a known provocateur.
Kanye’s right on some account; there is force in the MAGA hat. "Make America Great Again," the Trump campaign logo embroidered across the red baseball caps is a good one. In fact, Octavia Butler foresaw the use of the campaign slogan in her 1998 novel Parable of the Talents, in which a Texas senator and religious extremist wins the presidency with the promise to "Make America Great Again." The phrase speaks to the fear conservatives feel that they will lose their foothold and sense of belonging in a seemingly-evolving country, one that supports the disenfranchised and rejects racism. Fortunately for them, it seems their fears won’t be realized for a good amount of time. The slogan plays on those fears while invoking a sense of nostalgia for the good ole days. Which of course leads us to wonder, what exactly are these good ole days? Do they mean the slavery good ole days, or the Jim Crow good ole days, or the Reagan AIDS crisis good ole days? We're in the middle of a pandemic and personally, I would still prefer to be alive now than at any other point in American history. I have voting rights and an iPhone. On the other hand, "I’m with Her" wasn’t as strong a slogan. It based the notion of a movement in a single, controversial figure while simultaneously suggesting that support for Hillary was warranted on her gender alone. "Love Trumps Hate" was also really bad because it literally made her opposing candidate’s name the victory verb. I personally would have preferred something along the lines of "Seriously, Come on but Seriously, No I mean Seriously" or simply, "For a Future." I’d buy that hat.
As a symbol of the Trump administration, and all the insane things his presidency represents, the MAGA hats have eviscerated strong reactions throughout the country. In 2019, writer Rebecca Makkai initiated online debate when she tweeted that red caps made disenfranchised people feel unsafe and that "normal people" shouldn’t wear them.
Writing for the New York Times, Paul Lukas profiled a number of Americans and their reactions to the MAGA hat. One Orlando resident named Justin Peterson told Lukas that he opts for non-red baseball caps saying, "I don’t want someone assuming I’m something that I’m not, or that I represent something that I think has become pretty ugly." In that same piece, Lukas cites podcast host John Hodgman who gave the advice "If you’re not a Trump voter, stay away from it. Stay away from anything that might resemble a MAGA hat" on an episode of his show.
Lukas also quotes Nick Landry, who claims to feel politically neutral, yet like Kanye enjoys using a red baseball cap as a form of provocation. "I ... wear it as a social experiment, hoping people will feel like idiots when they realize that it’s not a MAGA hat and that they’re feeling vitriol over something so stupid."
The MAGA hat was the focus of a lawsuit when Maddie Mueller, a California teen who serves straight Abby Fisher energy, sued her school district when she was told she could not wear her MAGA hat in school. That same year in California, a Bay-area restaurant owner tweeted that he would not serve customers wearing a MAGA hat, in the same way that he would not serve people wearing any other symbols of hate. After his tweet received backlash, the owner, J. Kenji Lopez-Alt, walked back the policy and reaffirmed his commitment to non-discriminatory service.
MAGA hats even garner violent reactions; there have been a slew of MAGA hat-charged assaults across the nation. The violence the hats provoke illustrates that they are not just political statements. I’ve never heard of someone getting assaulted for an "I Like Ike" bumper sticker. MAGA hats demonstrate more than just support for a political party. They indicate that one not only supports a position of hate but is willing to publicly brandish that sign of hate to others, knowing that it evokes real pain and fear.
Trump’s election in 2016 was not the only indication we received as a country that something was seriously wrong. Perhaps our (read: my) shock and nonstop tears the day after Election Day were a sign of naive belief in a country that didn’t deserve our faith. As my brilliant friend Akaninyene Ruffin put it the day after the election, "When a country shows you who it is, believe it. America has been trying to tell us for a long time who she actually was. And now we have to believe her.” However, there was still shock in that day, to witness so many Americans willingly accept a man whose main strategy was to espouse hate and racism.
While overly simplistic dichotomies are never the full picture, when Rebecca Mekkai talks about "normal people" she means the majority of the country that didn’t elect Trump that night. She means the people who reject the hate he promoted throughout the campaign, the people disheartened at 2016 because they never thought it possible. The pain of Trump’s election wasn’t that one dumb orange man had said a slew of racist and misogynistic things. The pain was that so much of the nation was ready to embrace him, whether for it or despite it. The pain in the MAGA hat is the national acceptance of racism and cruelty. The pain is in the people who wear it proudly, their red badge of horror.