That Trump hat “controversy” is a bush league bummer

According to the Press Herald, a student at South Portland High School is getting heat from students and school staff for wearing a Donald Trump / Make America Great Again hat.

The student’s father has advised his son to use the controversy to practice civility.

First let me start by asking the question this Trump hat “controversy” has evoked among everybody over the age of 25. Since when can students wear hats in school?

The same article notes that “a teacher reported that a female student had removed Mullen’s hat from his head and thrown it in a trash can.”

Not surprisingly, a female student was put off by a hat bearing the slogan of a man who routinely calls women disgusting and once suggested to a woman on television that seeing her on her knees would be a “pretty picture.”

A lesson in civility indeed.

The teen is going to get crap from other students because other students will give you crap for anything when you’re 15. I got it for being an outspoken anarcho radical. Some teachers got involved by poking fun and suggesting he leave the hat at home. I got the same sort of thing when I was a kid too and these approaches aren’t great. Reportedly the South Portland principal handled this with the staff members involved.

Kids should be provided safe spaces to share and engage ideas, and free speech should be championed. Right? Ironically, this is the exact sort of thing Trump has illustrated disdain for.

This election cycle is an irony factory.

But what happens when the student’s speech, and what it represents, ultimately belongs to an entertainer who capitalizes on offering the opposite of civility? And when that entertainer’s motto is nostalgic for a yesteryear that was really only ever “great” for white people? Free speech and dialogue should be championed in school, sure, but things are bound to get murky and complicated when the speech represented is hateful and—to many in this country—terrifying. We should be creating safe spaces for students, absolutely, but admittedly things become paradoxical when we talk about doing so on the behalf of messages representing people who advocate for the opposite.

I don’t agree with teachers’ suggestion that the student leave his hat at home, which serves as a nascent suggestion of repressing his expression. Any time teachers at my school did this sort of thing to me it only further solidified my feeling that authority was some hollow promise and as such it didn’t accomplish much aside from pushing me away. I just think that the coverage to this point has really dodged touching upon the aforementioned irony and it is only when this scenario is presented without that context that this appears to be an actual quote-unquote controversy. The thing about expression that we seem to constantly forget is that when we express ourselves freely, we tend to evoke a variety of responses.

I’m always glad when teachable moments arise, but when the student says that “kids would pick on me about it” but “that’s just kids being kids” he should consider that maybe it’s more than kids being kids. Maybe it’s kids realizing that he’s either shilling for an ass or pretending to as a means of provoking a response and now he’s on the receiving end of that response. Maybe it’s kids seeing through his civility lesson. I’m glad this moment has presented itself (I guess?), but it is one devoid of heroes.

The outcome of this minor spectacle will likely prove most disappointing to the hat-donning student. He might find himself confronted with the fact that sometimes when you try to force a teachable moment upon a community, you eventually realize you are not actually the martyr for justice you imagined yourself to be.

Alex Steed

About Alex Steed

Alex Steed has written about and engaged in politics since he was an insufferable teenager. He has run for the Statehouse and produced a successful web series. He now runs a content firm called Knack Factory with two guys who are a lot more talented than himself.