Salon, February 17, 2019
Last week during a rally in the border city of El Paso, Texas, before thousands of his most adoring fans, Donald Trump showed America and the world--again--who he really is. Trump worked his audience up into a fever pitch as he lambasted and threatened the news media and free press. For Trump and his movement, they are the "enemy of the people." This is a fundamental principle of authoritarianism. One of Trump's MAGA hat-wearing supporters responded to the president's incitement by physically attacking a BBC cameraman named Ron Skeans.
During the same speech, Donald Trump lied about his imaginary wall along the U.S.-Mexico border and about "illegal immigrants" who come to America in order to commit crimes against white people. He spun vainglorious stories out of whole cloth about his "accomplishments" and "greatness."
Donald Trump's values and beliefs may appear incoherent, but they are not a buffet or à la carte meal from which a person can pick and choose from. Rather, they are a nasty, incestuous knot that cannot be easily untangled. Ultimately, to wear Donald Trump's MAGA hats or his other regalia is to share and endorse his racism, sexism, nativism, bigotry and anti-social behavior. To utter the words "Make America Great Again" with no sense of irony or foreboding is to announce one's betrayal of human decency and distrust of democracy.
How do Trump's MAGA hats and other clothing and slogans help to create a sense of political community for his followers? Is "Make America Great Again" an implicit threat against nonwhites, Muslims and others that he and his followers deem to be a type of enemy Other? Does Trumpism represent larger cultural battles in America about the role of academics, teachers, intellectuals and other experts in public life? Should Trump's supporters be held morally accountable for their political decision-making and the harm that they are causing to American society?
In an effort to answer these questions I spoke with Matthew A. Sears, an associate professor of classics and ancient history at the University of New Brunswick. Sears' essays have also been featured by the Washington Post and the History News Network. His most recent column for the Washington Post is "Why the decision to wear MAGA hats matters."
Read full conversation with Scholar Matt Sears at Salon