The bright red "Make America Great Again" baseball cap entered the popular culture as candidate Donald Trump's political swag. It has transformed into an open wound, a firestorm of hate and a marker of societal atavism.
An aesthetically benign baseball cap is a 21st-century grotesquerie.
Fashion has upset the populace before. Miniskirts were an affront to tradition and decorum. Baggy jeans and hoodies riled the establishment. "Black Lives Matter" T-shirts and pink pussy hats were created to send a message of political protest.
But the Make America Great Again hat is not a statement of policy. It's a declaration of identity.
Has there been in recent memory any other item of clothing - so specific in design and colour - that pits neighbours against one another, causes classroom altercations, sparks both rage and fear, and ultimately alludes to little more than a mirage?
In the beginning, the MAGA hat had multiple meanings and nuance. It could reasonably be argued that it was about foreign policy or tax cuts, social conservatism, the working class or a celebration of small-town life. But the definition has evolved. The rosy nostalgia has turned specious and rank.
There's nothing banal or benign about the hat, no matter its wearer's intent. It was weaponized by the punch-throwing Trump rallygoers, the Charlottesville white supremacists, Trump's nomination of Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh, Kanye West and proponents of the wall, the wall, the wall.
The hat has become a symbol of us versus them, of exclusion and suspicion, of garrulous narcissism, of white male privilege, of violence and hate.
Last year, Kanye West knew that he was tossing a hand grenade into the social media universe when he tweeted a photograph of himself wearing a MAGA hat. It was a contrarian moment, an attempt to get a rise out of people - and, of course, he did.
The hat is a provocation. Is its corrosiveness too much for high school students to understand?
To deny the hat's message is to be in denial - not about a misunderstanding or an unfortunate incident, but a familiar, festering truth.
The Washington Post