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Stop making anything anything

| Tuesday, February 28, 2017

On Feb. 22, dorm elections took place. Which means, in the week or so preceding, residence halls were wallpapered with campaign posters, evidence of how much each candidate was willing to spend out of their black and white print quota in order to earn the vote of their fellow students.

At best, these are legitimately amusing; usually, at worst, they’re either aesthetically horrendous or they irk you because the kid running for senator was a real jerk at a party that one time. But this year, there has been a disquieting trend in branding and slogan usage. It is endemic to political campaigning due to its origins, but it has disseminated into other forms of common discourse and it needs to be addressed.

“Make ____ Great Again.”

Walk back with me, to the faraway epoch of summer 2015. Noted unpredictable, rich person Donald Trump has descended the escalator in his eponymous tower in order to declare his candidacy for president. This is a veritable goldmine for comedians and pundits across the country. Jon Stewart can barely contain his glee; Fox News can barely contain their viewership. People from all spots on the political spectrum tune in to see the spectacle.

What do they all have in common?

Nobody takes this seriously for a second.

“Make America Great Again” is nothing more than a cheesy phrase inscribed on cheap red trucker hats easily lampooned by John Oliver or thrown back in Trump’s face during a particularly cringeworthy debate. It is harmless. It is fun. Even as Jeb, Marco and Ted all fall, even as Hillary runs a ground game about as effective and well-organized as that of the Cleveland Browns, it is a piece of whimsy, the stamp on a defective package that would never be delivered.

I don’t have to tell you what happened on Election Day. I hope I don’t have to tell you what’s happened since then. But what I apparently do have to tell you is that this rallying cry is not a joke anymore.

With Trump in office, “Make America Great Again” carries weight. It bears the heft of executive orders that tear families apart and deny innocent people the right to enter the “land of the free.” It swings with the might of the privileged class using their words and actions to make the marginalized fear for their lives on a daily basis. It is the set of words printed across the wrecking ball that may bring down this entire system of government for good.

This is not a personal attack on any voter or citizen. This is a human being asking other human beings to think about the words they use before they continue to normalize a slogan of fear, one wielded by the #tcot (“Top Conservatives on Twitter”) and the dangerous people who advise the unstable president. This is a white man asking other white men to stop and consider groups less fortunate; sections of society that do not see a fun twist to a popular saying when you promise to “Make (Your Dorm) Great Again,” but instead sense the looming threat of ostracization. Notre Dame is home to all of us, but it’s hard to feel safe when the same phrase chanted by those who want to wall off our border is thoughtlessly plastered on bulletin boards all over campus, advertising everything from potential hall presidents to Legends’ Hip Hop Night.

Words, and the effect thereof, do change. But, despite how it may seem with fake news and alternative facts, words have power. It is time to recognize that impact behind “Make ____ Great Again” and work to remove it from our popular lexicon. It’s no longer a laughing matter.

Plus, it’s been almost two years. Come up with something original.

Gabriel Ostler


Feb. 23

The views expressed in this Letter to the Editor are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.

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  • warmupthediesel

    The tears of snowflake articles like this are a laughing matter, though.

    • disqus_PBnOP0sXke

      Always writing constructive comments…

    • disqus_PBnOP0sXke

      Do you need a “safe space” free from “snowflake articles”?

    • Adriano

      This. This is exactly whats wrong with so many ignorant people. Like i know you probably wrote this comment without thinking, but its a pretty perfect example of whats wrong with this “blah blah blah snowflake mentality.” This author isn’t really complaining, he brings up an interesting perspective that should be relevant on campus. Why does that make him a “snowflake?” I think it comes down to you being insecure that maybe you’re wrong about issues and calling someone a “snowflake” makes you sleep better. Just grow up.

      • warmupthediesel

        Your rambling resulted to nothing but ad hominem in the end. You finish philo 101 yet?

        • disqus_PBnOP0sXke

          Did you get triggered by being told to grow up? What a “snowflake”.

        • Adriano

          No, I’m just an ignorant liberal snowflake, please extol the virtues of Philosophy 101 so I be may brave like the mighty “warmupthediesel” and condescendingly remark on articles I don’t ideologically agree with so I can therefore justify my own!

        • disqus_PBnOP0sXke

          Did you get an A+ in “philo 101”?

  • HolyHandGrenade

    Wait, I thought humor and rampant overuse/misuse of a word or phrase made it LOSE power? There’s such a clear canyon between tongue-in-cheek use of the slogan (as insignificant as “Thanks Obama”) and identifiable support or criticism of Trump, that trigger warnings or avoidance of the phrase is pointless. Plus, there’s often an element of critical satire.

    • Jack

      You’re the first person to bring up trigger warnings. And there’s nothing satirical being done in the iterations described.

      • HolyHandGrenade

        I know that. I was expanding the scope, because it’s right next door to the article’s points conceptually. The vocabulary such as

        “but it’s hard to feel safe when the same phrase chanted”

        “remove it from our popular lexicon. It’s no longer a laughing matter.”

        are the same lines of logic used by the “safe space/trigger warning” arguments. But my point was that issues of safety and security *like* the issue that trigger warnings attempt to fix (yes, I know trigger warnings are directed more at serious psychological effects from traumatic events, but the line is so blurred and “triggers” has quite a bit of overreach at this point), can be mitigated by complete abuse (in quantity and quality/taxonomically) of the phrase as to render it useless. Versus holding it in fearful esteem like Voldemort’s name…

        And to your second point, hall president campaigns as a norm aren’t very serious and are often self-deprecating or based purely on references to Kanye. But for more concise forms of truly intended political satire (well, actually any conceivable iteration of Make ___ Great Again), “remov[ing] it from our popular lexicon” implies that even satire is not acceptable. So it’s valid to bring up.