By Heidi Campbell
Almost immediately after 17 children were gunned down in a high school in Parkland, Florida, last week, the shooter’s Instagram account was deleted. This has become a common response by law enforcement agencies to the mass shootings that now occur regularly in our country. Usually screen-shots have been preserved before the accounts are deleted, though, and in this instance a few second-tier media outlets published videos and photos of the shooter bragging about his amassed arsenal and plans to attack the school. His profile picture was a photo of someone (probably himself) with the epochal red MAGA hat.
Every good revolution needs a logo; a symbol, a catch-phrase, or a flag. While crowns, sashes, robes, orbs, coat-of-arms, rings, military regalia, slaves, harems, and any manner of object has been used to denote power, campaigns that have employed simple and replicable images have been particularly effective at fomenting populist support.
Mussolini and Hitler appropriated historical symbols. The term fascism is actually derived from Mussolini’s campaign symbol, a tethered bundle of wooden rods with a blade emerging from the side in the clutches of a golden eagle. The bundle (fasces) is an ancient Roman symbol of magisterial power. Hitler arguably executed the most effective campaign branding in the history of human politics. The swastika was an ancient religious icon in several cultures, with various different meanings mostly pertaining to luck, success, and prosperity. Few would refute that it is now singularly associated with Adolf Hitler and the Holocaust. The Soviet star, hammer, and sickle symbolized the five inhabited continents, and the power of the common worker.
And it now appears we have a new addition to the revolutionary paradigm; the MAGA (Make America Great Again) hat. No President has actively merchandised his office to the degree that Donald Trump has. His campaign website continues to actively market all manner of Trump gear, surprisingly with a culturally diverse array of models. But the cash cow has always been the red hat with the simple white words, that has upended our entire culture.
What do the words “Make America Great Again” mean? It’s a question that’s been asked over and over again in the hundreds of millions of social media battles between pro and anti-Trump factions. Progressives will point out that it honors a time when women and minorities were fully oppressed, and conservatives will deny that to be the case. Regardless, I’m sure that we can all agree that the message is divisive. And since this unoriginal message (Hitler used “Make Germany Great Again!” a few times in speeches, and Ronald Reagan used the actual slogan for his 1980 campaign), has become the rallying cry for his supporters, he and his supporters bear responsibility for the actions that are executed under the MAGA standard.
Young men, with their burgeoning testosterone levels, and limited frontal-lobe development are renowned for manufacturing free-floating anger in search of validation. Bolstered by the messaging of the depraved and criminal NRA, and the stupidly facile procedure of acquiring powerful and destructive weapons, they’re vulnerable targets for an authoritarian campaign that defines worth with such surgical precision. Poor, uneducated, and disenfranchised people feel empowered by a message that they deserve more, even if it means that the rest of the world deserves less.
The burden of guilt for this normalized sacrificial process (the price we pay for freedom) rests with the party that supports gun rights, American exceptionalism, and the patriarchy. The unbearable grief of the parents, siblings, and friends who’ve lost their loved one so suddenly and cruelly should weigh heavy on the hearts of the party that has chosen their own financial and political gain over the security and future of our children. And the picture of the shooter in the hat should be seen by all of us. We should all bear witness to what is being done under the aegis of the MAGA standard.
(Heidi Campbell is co-founder of ACTIVATEAMERICANOW.COM, a non-profit organization aimed at empowering voters.)