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Friday, June 14, 2024
The Observer

Let’s use words this election, not hats

There is a growing problem with our democracy, and it has to do with clothes. Wearing a red cap makes you racist, wearing a mask means you support an oppressive government regime. Even wearing white can be seen as showing solidarity to the most recent political cause. As this election drags on, it seems that more and more of what we wear is getting assigned a political meaning, to the point where basic apparel can’t be worn without taking sides. As a man of simple wardrobes, I only hope that this trend of politicizing outfits won’t keep going on. Because especially in this weather, I’d like to keep my shirt.

Unfortunately, I may be out of luck. After all, the trend to politicize doesn’t just start and end at next week’s attire. Defined simply as “the action of causing an activity, or event to become political in character,” it can apply to all sorts of things. People, parades, dogs, cats — even American history itself can find itself sometimes tied to a political side. But to say that anything can become politicized is not to imply that when it happens, it doesn’t matter. In almost every case, it drives us further apart.

How this happens is pretty simple. A broader issue gets squeezed into a single object or person, we look at the issue purely through a partisan lens, and the discussion strays away from our ideas or convictions. Instead, we find ourselves locked in a debate about allegiance, putting people into opposing groups around a single thing we now have to either reject or support. And whenever it comes to choosing that side, of course, it’s always the one we pick that is right.  

The consequence of this though is a proliferation of so much wrong. Take any common statistic about polarization to date — how “45% [of people] … definitely would not consider seriously dating a Trump voter,” or that “47% of Republicans said that Democrats are more ‘immoral’ than other Americans.” In a few short numbers, we can realize again just how much politics can affect our personal lives.

But in standing by those allegiances, we also need to realize it means more than just unfriendly breakups or angry uncles at Thanksgiving. It means sparking racial strife, with Fox News harping on the looting of American stores, and not the thousands of Black men who get killed on their way there.It means finding all the flaws of a conservative speaker’s past to stop them from sharing their ideas on a campus meant for their acknowledgment.

In thinking only along the lines of which group we are in, and not the ideas we hold, the attempt to persuade others doesn’t come through discussion. It comes by vilifying the flaws of the other side, all to prove yours is right.

Some, of course, say that politicizing is necessary — to flag dangerous aspects of our culture and avoid it by associating with something tangible. Just look at MAGA hats. Wearing them, people say, is “making a conscious choice to do so aware of the garment’s connotations” for racism and white supremacy. Therefore, anyone who does so must be those hateful things.

But the argument cuts both ways. Regardless of the logic, millions of people view masks as inherently anti-patriotic, being a suppression of their freedom and a symbol of government imposition on their lives. Just like with denouncing racism, people are willing to stand against these threats, and even assigning their politics to a specific article of clothing. But at a point, the desire to promote blind allegiance through a symbol isn’t just about creating a better life anymore. For some, it is life-threatening.

It wouldn’t be a hot take to say that in this election, the choice to politicize things is only fueling the fire of the divisions going on. We’ve seen routine protests in the street and childish squabbles by presidential candidates, and even had the national guard called out on Election Day to prevent civil unrest. But the point I want to make is that no matter how much politicians try to turn something along partisan lines, we can avoid falling into these predisposed groups that make our divisions so palpable.

We can ensure our ideas are placed above allegiance, and we can open up the chance to talk about our beliefs with the respect and nuance they deserve. Because if the goal for any of us is to get through this election and heal, it’s in the grayness of our convictions where we will find that many of our beliefs overlap. In other words, it is up to us to start having conversations about more than just a hat.

Edward Brunicardi is a sophomore at Notre Dame pursuing a major in political science and a minor with the Hesburgh Program of Public Service. Though he may have had all the creativity sucked out of him in high school, writing serves as Edward's best chance at getting something back. He can be reached at or @EdwardBrunicar1 on Twitter.

The views expressed in this column are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.