I’m a progressive, lesbian, Jewish, American, Democrat. I don’t like ascribing to stereotypes, but I look the part. I wear jeans and T-shirts. I live in Miami, so most days I wear flip-flops. I have curly, graying hair and black-rimmed glasses. I think most people who know me, or know of me, can guess my political persuasion.
Last week, I did an experiment: I wore a flag baseball cap for a day. First thing in the morning, I came out of the closet wearing the hat. My wife, a more centrist, lesbian, Catholic Venezuelan-American, Democrat was in bed drinking coffee, reading The New York Times. It took her several minutes to notice, but when she did, she cracked up like I was wearing a clown wig.
Our son had an assembly that morning honoring American heroes throughout history. The whole Temple Beth Am Day School fourth grade was in costume. Sebastian was George Washington. There was Martha Washington and all the usual characters: Ben Franklin, Aaron Burr, and that guy in the coonskin cap.
At first, no one said anything about my hat. I don’t usually worry about what people think of me, but I stood there watching the assembly feeling extremely self-conscious.
As we walked out, Sebastian’s teacher said, “Hey, you’re in the spirit.”
My friend Alex, who I know for sure did NOT vote for Trump, kissed me and said, “Nice hat; matches my MAGA hat.”
Another friend Jane and I chatted outside. I tried to play it off, like nothing was out of the ordinary, I mean, why should it be? But I felt conspicuous. Finally, Jane, who’s a Democrat and a political activist, said, “The hat looks a little Trumpy.”
I told her I was doing an experiment to see what the hat brings up for people. I didn’t realize it would bring up so much anxiety for me.
I said, “Why do Republicans get the flag and Jesus?”
She said, “They got Jesus over the abortion debate. But that’s fine, they can have him.”
I would say, “Let the Republicans have Jesus,” but I see, through my wife’s eyes, how unfair that is. Her Jesus was a hippie who wore flip-flops and was an advocate for poor and sick people. Her Jesus welcomed the stranger and was down on capitalism. Her Jesus would probably be a Democrat. But the Republicans captured him, like they captured the flag.
My friend Jay, also a Democrat, thinks Ronald Reagan’s PR team branded the Republican Party with the flag. If so, the Republicans were brilliant in that takeover. Now, the flag is solidly planted on Republican soil.
A 2011 article in U.S. News & World Reportcalled “Shock Study: U.S. Flag Only Boosts GOP” says that even a brief exposure to the American flag shifts a person’s bias — beliefs, attitudes, and voting behavior — even a Democrat’s, toward Republicanism. A University of Chicago, Cornel, and Hebrew University study showed that exposure to images of the flag skews voters to the right, regardless of what party is in the White House.
People salivate Republican whenever they see the flag.
The results of this study reveal a big problem. The symbol of America has been co-opted and can be used to persuade voters as if Republican ideals are more American than Democratic ideals.
When I showed up at work in my flag hat, my podcast audio producer said, “Are you stretching your boundaries?”
I hadn’t thought I was, but I was. The whole day I felt like I was in costume, dressed like a Republican. I felt like I was advocating for the opposing team. I felt like a traitor.
I’m an American and I want my flag back.
Later, I saw my mom, who’s worked for the Democratic Party for 40 years. She said, “I like your Wonder Woman hat.” That was the best reaction I got all day. That’s my kind of hat.
Here’s №41 of my #weeklyessaychallenge. I started this challenge when I turned 50. My goal is 50 essays in 52 weeks.