Of all the potential ruinations reaped by Donald Trump’s candidacy, one sartorial concern has gone overlooked.
His impact on men’s headgear.
Specifically, the ball cap.
When Trump visited Laredo, Texas, last summer, he first wore his breathtaking, avuncular, white baseball cap emblazoned with his now infamous mantra: “Make America Great Again.” News stories covered his sentimental boast that “Hispanics love me!” But wry-eyed fashionistas noticed that hat.
Yes, indeed, let’s make America great again. One screen-print cap at a time.
Anything but apolitical, style mavens have since had a field day. The Human Rights Campaign trolled out $26 “Make America Gay Again.” La Raza, Planned Parenthood and the Council on Islamic Relations banded together to raise money with their “Make America Great Britain Again.” And there’s my personal favorite, Brooklyn press and bookstore Melville House’s “Make Publishing Great Again” baseball caps, available for $20.
(The original, manufactured by a Southern California company employing many immigrants, is available on Trump’s online campaign store for $25 in red, white and blue and for $30 in camouflage.)
But beyond all the sidesplitting, there’s a real concern.
I can’t go out in public anymore in my baseball caps.
Recently, I toured the Library of Congress, where I purchased a $15 cap featuring an American flag with “Library of Congress, Washington DC” printed in white underneath. Simple hat. Functional for sun protection.
But when I wore it on campus at the University of Minnesota walking with my Upward Bound ninth-graders on a field trip to the Minnesota Nano Center, the students, in short, freaked out.
“Mr. Chris! Are you a Trump supporter?” cried out Mai.
“Do you know what I tell people who support Trump?” asked Shamso.
I shook my head, protesting that my hat was indeed from the Library of Congress.
“I tell them that ‘Trump don’t know you!’ ” She burst into laughter, imagining anyone actually supporting a politician who advocates Lego-style building a wall at our southern border must figure they’re getting his money in exchange for votes.
I walked beside her, soggy from the rain. I wish.
My students in Upward Bound are Minneapolis public school students, all students of color, many low-income and many good-naturedly alarmed by the presumptive Republican nominee.
Back in rural Minnesota, I know Trump supporters. So I tried being judicious, telling students I could imagine people who might feel economically or politically held back and would feel buoyed by a Trump candidacy. But as I played neutral, drying off during the tour, I fretted — how many others during the day think I’m wearing a Donald Trump hat? Moreover, what distinguishes the Donald Trump hat from other hats? Is it the nose-shielding flat bill? The trucker-hat-esque pronounced crown? Or simply all parts combined — a comically sinister sendup to America’s second-most-iconic hat (after the cowboy’s).
I considered hiding my Library of Congress hat and its American flag, but felt humiliated by that option, too. Would I really not feel comfortable wearing an American flag on a hat anymore? The Library of Congress — with all those great books, the oldest federal institution — has been around longer than the Long Island scion!
Trump creates difficult choices for us all.
After I dismissed the class, one student, Fariah, stayed after. She, like many students in my class, is of East African descent.
“Mr. Chris? You don’t actually support Donald Trump, do you?”
The room was silent. Does she have family back home wanting to immigrate to America? Does she just — like me — find his rhetoric appalling and reason enough to vote against him? (The New York Times wrote that Trump vows in his first 100 days to ban Muslim immigrants. I think we take him at his word.)
I walked over, knelt so we could be at eye level and said, “Absolutely not.”
A small breaking of her teacher’s political neutrality? Yes. But needed. She nodded, satisfied, and as we walked out — me holding my ball cap at my side out of sight (until at least I’d gotten far from the building) — I listened to her talk about what she’d been reading about the election, the last one her country will have before she and her classmates will be eligible to vote.
Christopher Vondracek is an adjunct English teacher at Hamline University in St. Paul and Pine Technical and Community College in Pine City, Minn. He lives in St. Paul.