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About those MAGA hats

| Monday, April 8, 2019

Last June, a 16-year-old wearing a bright red MAGA hat walked into a Whataburger in San Antonio to order a hamburger. But as he took a bite of his burger, a man nearly twice his age walked up to him, threw a drink in the teenager’s face, and walked out of the restaurant with his hat.

A few months later, in Tucson, Arizona, a man was minding his own business — taking a quiet, evening stroll — when an unknown man pulled the gentleman to the floor, kicked and assaulted him until his ankle broke into pieces. This man was also wearing a MAGA hat.

And just this past February, an 81-year-old resident of New Jersey was doing some innocent grocery shopping when an intoxicated woman confronted him and asked him to take off his MAGA hat. When he refused, she swatted the hat off his head and made a final swipe at his face before she stumbled out of the store.

You’ve all heard the stories. You’ve all seen the videos. You all know what I’m talking about, because this is happening right now – people in our country are being attacked for being outspoken about their political beliefs; wearing a shirt that says “Democrat” or donning a hat that reads “Republican” can literally put you in danger.

But whether you’re a Democrat who voted for Hillary Clinton in 2016 or you’re a MAGA-hat-wearing Trump supporter, this wrongs all of us. It violates all of our rights. It puts all of us in danger. It is antithetical to who we are as a nation and this is nobody else’s problem but ours.

The solution to our problem isn’t to simply vilify the attackers, however. We could sit here and “shame on you,” but what would that really change? That their behavior was reprehensible is self-evident. To say “shame on you” is only to say what’s obvious. Rather, the more sensible answer to our problem would be to fix it at its source – and this is the troubling lack of dialogue across the aisle.

Indeed, lack of dialogue will go down in history as the most significant consequence of the toxic 2016 elections. The 2016 presidential candidates were so fundamentally different, from ideology to personal philosophy, that their race tore the nation in two. It forced us to embrace tribalism, and the new motto for American politics became “You’re either with us or against us.” As a result, what little dialogue we had left has been lost, and many of the issues we have today are mere symptoms of that loss.

In the case of the MAGA hat, the lack of dialogue has cultivated two different meanings of the hat. In other words, those who wear the hat have a very different understanding of what it is from those who see it from a distance.

To Trump supporters and MAGA-hat-wearers, the hat serves as a token of support for the president. Just as we wear our Notre Dame jerseys on game days, Trump supporters wear their MAGA hats to show their endorsement of the president and his policies. Wearing the hat isn’t so much a middle finger to Democrats as it is an expression of their First Amendment rights to support their president.

But to everyone else, the MAGA hat is something far more sinister. As white supremacists, racists and other hateful groups fully embraced the MAGA hat as an emblem of their abominable ideas, the hat has been perverted into a symbol of hatred, intolerance and division. Thus, those who see the MAGA hat from afar – especially those who are targets of white supremacists, racists and other hateful groups – are now forced to see the hat as an attack. To them, the phrase “Make America great again” is no longer just a token of support for the president, but rather a public sign of hostility against those who have the courage to be different.

So how do we fix this miscommunication, this mix-up? Our solution is simple: let’s communicate. If we’re running into these issues because we’re not having enough dialogue, let’s have more of it. The current political climate tells us to pick a side – you’re either a Trump supporter or you’re against him. But even if that is where we are now, this doesn’t mean we can’t stop to have a conversation. If we want to stop the violence stemming from the MAGA hat or whatever else, we need to stop misunderstanding each other. To understand each other, we need to talk. For America to truly be great, it begins with a simple conversation. It begins with you.

The views expressed in this column are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.

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