The Meaning of MAGA

By: Richard Calkins
When I was a (very) young US History and Government teacher in a large (4,000 students) suburban high school in East Los Angeles, I was cautioned by the school administration to be objective, to challenge my students to make their own decisions. It was good advice. The times were turbulent. Martin Luther King and Robert Kennedy had been assassinated. The Vietnam War was at its bloodiest, dividing a nation. The Chicago Democratic Convention further divided us. The result of all the political upheaval was the election of Richard Nixon.

Moreover, my students were very diverse ethnically, religiously, and politically.  A large Hispanic population mixed with a significant African American and Asian population.  Two local Kingdom Halls indicated a presence of Jehovah’s Witnesses, and there was also a large Mormon population.  This was a difficult map to navigate, but if I had opinions, which I did, they did not enter the classroom or any place students were present.

Kentucky’s Covington Academy, an overwhelmingly white all-boys Catholic school, caught my eye as being the polar opposite of my teaching experience.  I saw photos of the Covington boys harassing, in blackface, a young black basketball player passing the ball in from the sidelines.   Where were the teachers?  More famously, a young Nick Sandmann, surrounded by classmates urging him on, confronted a Native American drummer on the grounds of the Lincoln Memorial.  Although it appeared disrespectful, Sandmann and his classmates were there for a right-to-life rally (!) and wearing Make American Great Again (MAGA) hats.  So much for objectivity.  Again, where were the teachers?

The MAGA hats the young students were allowed to wear was, for me, the last straw.  The hat is a symbol of what divides us, and is a declaration of the identity of the wearer.  It was worn by the white supremacists in Charlottesville (very fine people, according to Trump), at Trump rallies where the MAGA hat wearing minions were encouraged to assault those who disagreed with the Trump screed, and embraced by many of those who have committed atrocities in El Paso and elsewhere.  It is a symbol of white male privilege, and those who wrap themselves in the Confederate flag, as if somehow they are better than everyone else.  It represents Trump’s deranged view that U.S. citizens of color are not true Americans.  It deepens the wounds caused by bigotry and is poisonous.  It damages the nation.

The hat provokes visceral fears in many, and is meant by its very presence to foster division and hate. It represents ignorance, intolerance, and nativist tribalism.  Was all of this too much for high school students to digest?  Are they too young to absorb its meaning?  Did not their teachers and chaperones understand that the future of their young male students may be severely compromised by allowing them to wear this atrocious hat?

Perhaps the adult teachers and chaperones responsible were in deep denial and breathtakingly careless, but they have enabled young, impressionable minds to be warped by a symbol they may regret for the rest of their lives, and that is unforgiveable.

Richard Calkins is a former President of the Talbot County Democratic Forum and is the Chair of the Forum’s Communications Committee.  He writes from Tilghman.



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