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The MAGA Hat and the Gun: A Joyous Future Realized Through Violence
Perhaps it was always going to come down to this. A MAGA hat and a gun. Two pathways to the heart of America, two symbols of what the country holds most dear: celebrities and their brands, and the right to bear arms. Two emblems of Trumpism, a movement fueled by capitalist glamour and thuggery, the former providing cover for the latter, as in this tableau.
We don't know who lovingly arranged these two devotional objects of the Trump political religion for presentation to the public, although it's symptomatic that Josh Mandel, who tweeted the image, advertises his loyalty to the leader at the top of his Twitter bio: "1st Statewide Official in Ohio to support President Trump."
Trump continues a century of authoritarian tradition in using marketing strategies to create a new sacred community. He gives his grassroots followers a tribal identity and a low-cost way to wear it proudly (the MAGA hat), turning them into walking brand ambassadors. The hat gives devotees a personal connection to him. They might not be able to afford his bespoke Brioni suits, but they share the same headgear. "He was selling Trump, but he could have been selling sneakers," said a rival strategist of Trump's digital media director, Brad Parscale, and the e-commerce model the campaign used to get Trump into office.
The MAGA hat draws them in, but the gun keeps them there. Macho lawlessness was always the root of Trump's appeal. Being encouraged by the leader to transgress (the truth, “political correctness,” the rule of law, taboos against beating up your neighbor) was and remains a large part of the thrill of being a Trump follower.
The gun peeks out from the hat because violence is built into Trump's model of politics, which preaches that some must be harmed, or at least threatened into silence, or "locked up," so that the glory of the true nation may come to fruition. The gun, already the symbol of systematic government repression of people of color, stands for the rights of arms-bearing civilians to create and police the new national community. Mandel may be a former Marine, but the gun he depicts is presumably private issue.
Sales of MAGA hats remain strong, thanks to Trump's success in hoodwinking millions of Americans into thinking he, and not Joe Biden, is the legitimate president. Yet, as the Jan. 6 coup attempt intimates, it's the gun that will come to play the larger role in American politics. Armed poll workers and election judges may pressure voters in future elections, in classic junta fashion; militia members and other radicalized gun-owning civilians may feel more empowered to menace Biden supporters, even forcing them to relocate. Weapons already figure in a vision of political change, embodied in the Jan. 6 coup attempt, that depends on force and extralegal measures.
Authoritarians always need a veneer of respectability to keep financial and other elites on board and let people think, "It's not that bad; it's not that serious." That's the function of the MAGA hat. Yet there is nothing harmless about the violence committed by those who wear those hats, who include many who breached the Capitol. MAGA hats may refer to a joyous Trumpian future, but violence is the way that future is likely to be realized.
The MAGA hat draws them in, but the gun keeps them there.