The dark history behind the MAGA hat

By Victoria Lavelle

Photo courtesy of @charles_gaba on Twitter

Symbolism is critical to the political process, maybe even essential, but some symbols have a grim history and are better off buried with the nation’s dark past.

For example, the Trump-approved red cap has become a symbol of hate — hatred possessed by the wearer — and dread for onlookers who are forced to stare at the blood-red hat with hesitation and disgust.

Unlike other traditional baseball caps, a red MAGA hat announces that the person wearing it is on a certain political team, and it aligns the individual with the policies of the very person who made that hat famous and sold them by the truck full.

The little red hat stormed the political arena, stirring up emotions on both sides of the political aisle since its unveiling in July 2015.

The MAGA hat quickly became the trademark symbol for the Trump campaign, his base supporters, and eventually the entire Republican party.

To most liberals, the hat has become a walking symbol promoting prejudice and intolerance. Moreover, it’s a calling card to others with similar mindsets.

The hat possesses all of Trump’s retrograde policies and dog-whistle tweets cleverly stitched into a tiny piece of red fabric.

For centrists, the red hat is nothing shy of a fashion catastrophe, an eyesore that gives the wearer a severe case of “hat head.”

Notwithstanding, Americans who have dared to sport the red hat have done so at their own risk: some have worn it to pick a fight, while others wear it to invoke division and fear.
All too often the wearer’s intent is to provoke and instigate, but once they receive a negative response, they tend to show up on Fox News where they are portrayed as victims of liberal revenge.

Still, there are a handful of Americans who swear the red cap is simply an accessory to proudly display their unwavering support for a president who has stood up against the Washington establishment, drained the swamp, and remained faithful to the promise embroidered on the hat: the quest to “make America great again.”

Nevertheless, the hat is a stark reminder of the times we currently live in. It’s a testament to the politically charged environment that envelopes the nation and representative of the polarized country that America has become.

The “Make America Great Again” motto for President Trump’s campaign has come to identify not just the president’s agenda, but those who have bought into his philosophy.

Yet, Trump’s trademark slogan “Make America Great Again” is not a new mantra or ideology.

In fact, “Make America Great Again” is recycled branding from former President Ronald Reagan’s 1980 campaign. Back then, though, it didn’t possess the negative connotation that it has today.

The acronym “MAGA” has taught the nation that words have meaning and purpose. Moreover, the way words are articulated and spoken have intent, and the way in which words are perceived can have consequence.

For instance, the word “again” embroidered on the red MAGA hat is a clear sign of the president’s agenda, which from the very start of his campaign has been to take America back in time.

The insinuation that Trump and his supporters want to take America back to a time when the nation was, as they see it, “great” has been open to a large amount of speculation and scrutiny.

That’s because today’s red MAGA hats have a lot in common with the “Red Shirts,” also known as Redshirts, from America’s Reconstruction era. Given the grim history, it’s not a farfetched notion to assume that they are more than likely referring to a time when white supremacist and racist mindsets flourished.

Historically, the Red Shirts were one of the first white supremacist paramilitary terrorist groups in the nation, named for the distinct blood-red shirts they wore, according to the Confederate Library of History.

Formed by ex-Confederates, the Red Shirts organized as brigades to attack political rivals, and they were determined to block African Americans from political franchise.

In contrast to the Ku Klux Klan, the Red Shirts showed off their eye-catching button-down tops with their faces in full public view. Their goal was to be as public and flagrant as possible to invoke fear and intimidation.

Not only did the Red Shirts halt America’s reconstruction and impose Jim Crow laws throughout the South, they also became the force of authority themselves, according to the North Carolina Museum of History.

The eerie similarities between the Red Shirts and the modern MAGA hats are uncanny.
Symbolically, a red-colored shirt stood for a metaphoric phrase derived from an old legendary trope: “Waving the bloody shirt.”

It’s a term that can still be applied today to describe unseemly demagoguery that condemns an entire population or race for the unruly acts of a few.

As a reminder, Trump launched his campaign liking Mexicans to rapists, criminals, and drug dealers.

The same fear-mongering president claims that Hispanic immigrants are invading the border to steal your jobs, when in actuality American jobs are being swallowed up by robots, computers, artificial intelligence, and overseas manufacturers.

Americans grapple with the idea that after the hard-fought struggles of the Civil Rights era which overthrew the rule of Jim Crow, that Trump supporters still want to deprive minorities who have endured the longstanding histories of overt racism, political and economic repression, and social injustice.

At times, it seems MAGA hats are being utilized as a big middle finger to everyone who isn’t a Trump supporter.

Yet, just like the old Red Shirts, Confederate flags, and Nazi Swastikas, MAGA hats represent a lost cause.

Furthermore, MAGA hats have become the symbol of many visible groups that possess very un-American values, such as racism, sexism and xenophobia.

Although Trump has denied sharing those values, he has encouraged those who do because they make up a significant portion of his base.

Just look around, as you don’t have to squint your eyes in order to find them. Their vibrant red hats are blinding, and their Trump-rally chants are “in your face” loud.

Yet, rather than labeling themselves racists, bigots, or homophobes, they give themselves a variety of labels: “Patriots,” “MAGA Moms,” “Trumpettes, and “Proud Boys” to name a few.

Moreover, obnoxious and antagonizing MAGA hats tend to crop up during the nation’s ugliest moments, like the “Unite the Right” march in Charlottesville. What those Trump supporters tend to be about is proclaiming the supremacy of a straight-white rule in America and denying equality and prosperous gain to anyone who does not look, think, or act like them.

Nevertheless, as America continues growing into a more multicultural, diverse nation, some Trump supporters keep clinging to an America that doesn’t exist anymore — and hasn’t for some time.

Today, it seems as though MAGA hats are of an act of desperation; the final gasp of a straight-white America from the past, not of the future. The change to what America is destined to become is causing pushback for now, but the demographic shift is inevitable.

Still, no matter what you think of the little red hat, Americans don’t have the right to harass or attack someone for wearing it. Even in this politically charged nation, donning a MAGA hat shouldn’t be a welcome mat for violence or drama.

Even if the person brandishing a MAGA hat is provoking you, the best response is no response at all.

Instead, vent your frustrations at the ballot box in the upcoming presidential election to be held in 2020.

Afterall, by next year it will be long overdue for America to remove the little red hat from the political arena and return it back to its original home — the baseball park.

Contact Victoria Lavelle at

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s