When a “Make America Great Again” hat enters the room, some people act as if they’re in a horror film, whimpering: “This is no dream. This is really happening”— to quote Rosemary’s Baby. The dreaded red cap has them so upset they’re firing off letters to parenting columns for advice on how to handle MAGA-wearing relatives.
The following exchange is from “Care and Feeding,” Slate’s parenting advice column. While the columnist tries to talk the distressed relative off the ledge with words of calm — just back away slowly — she isn’t too far from the edge herself. She talks about President Donald Trump supporters as if they’re mentally deranged cultists consumed by the dark side of the force. “Not only are you motivated by an objection to bad forces in the world,” she advises the terrified relative, “but you also have the chance to be motivated by a desire to keep someone you love from being a part of bad forces in the world.”
Dear Care and Feeding,
What do you say to your 18-year-old niece wearing a Make America Great Again hat at a family party? Respect her autonomy as an adult to peacefully display her political views? Counsel her privately that her choice to wear the hat makes you and other people uncomfortable? Ask her why she’s wearing the hat?
—Make My Niece Great Again?
I don’t think there’s a hard and fast rule about what to do with someone rocking MAGA gear. Sometimes I’d advise backing off; other times I would probably say that certain people could stand to be confronted. But even though the situations differ, the goals, to me at least, remain the same. Less harm, violence, and oppression for people and more kindness, equality, justice, love, and connection.
It is my personal belief that if fewer people thought Donald Trump was good, the world would probably be better off. But it’s also my belief that I can’t—nor should I—feel responsible for changing the mind of every such person I encounter. As a black person, that strikes me as absurd. I didn’t create the mess of this country’s wild history with race and violence, so why should I be consigned to be running around trying to fix it for people? I have to pick and choose my spots.
However, I am assuming that you are a white person (call it a lucky guess), so the situation is different for you. And in this case, you have a unique opportunity. You love and trust someone who currently supports Donald Trump, which means that you have an existing relationship with that person outside of politics. This means that you can talk with your niece without her having to doubt that you love her, and loving your niece has an extra value here. Not only are you motivated by an objection to bad forces in the world, but you also have the chance to be motivated by a desire to keep someone you love from being a part of bad forces in the world. I do believe that love is one of the most powerful forces of change. It does not mean that loving your enemy will keep them from killing you (people really love getting that message twisted). But it does mean that we are generally more courageous, clear, and therefore effective when motivated by love than we are when motivated by hate or fear.
You may hate seeing your niece in this hat. You may fear what her wearing this hat means about her, or what it means she may think of you. But what you must prioritize above those things is love. Love for your niece, love for the people who are harmed by what your niece’s hat represents and supports. With that in mind, not only can you talk with her, you must talk with her. Tell her what your concerns are. Listen to hers. Give her things to think about. It is not about the hat. It is about who she is and who she can be. But I have a feeling you already know this. Good luck.