As a case study in American political tribalism in the age of President Trump, a Los Angeles writer wore a MAGA hat to an ultra-liberal vegan restaurant in the city to see what sort of adventures would unfold. Quite shockingly, people actually proved his thesis wrong.
The article by Joel Stein in Los Angeles Magazine confronts the fact that Americans hate each other in the age of President Trump, a fever he himself admits to having been inflicted with at times.
“More than 42 percent of people in each party think those in the other party are ‘downright evil,’ 20 percent of Democrats and 16 percent of Republicans think we’d be better off if members of the other party ‘just died,'” Stein writes. “The anger is so ubiquitous that even I’ve been infected. I saw an elderly man walking toward me on the Ferndell Trail in Griffith Park wearing a red hat, and I hate-stared him until he got close enough that I could see it had a USC logo on it. I avoided talking to a nice dad at my son’s old school because there was a rumor that he voted for Trump.”
Stein has been researching political tribalism for his upcoming book, oddly titled “In Defense of Elitism.” He admits that his research has led him to see some Trump supporters in a different light, such as when he visited Miami, Texas, only to find out that the people there were so nice that they “fed me in their homes or paid the server before our check arrived.”
“I worry that my side isn’t as friendly,” Stein admits. “We’ve harassed politicians out of restaurants, chanted threats outside a Fox News anchor’s home, and gone off on me for asking other parents if putting on a play about Native Americans despite the fact that there are no Native Americans in our school is really that evil.”
In light of all this, Stein devised a little social experiment: wear the iconic Make America Great Again hat to the ultra-liberal Café Gratitude in Larchmont, which he describes as a “vegan hipster restaurant.” It’s a restaurant so liberal that when the establishment sold a “Make America Grateful Hat,” customers complained that it took President Trump’s evil too lightly.
“I didn’t want to give $25 to Trump’s re-election campaign, so I bought a knockoff hat made in China for $8 on Amazon,” Stein writes. “The hate is so strong in me that I thought it was more ethical to support the Chinese government than Trump.”
Stein admits to being terrified upon his journey to the restaurant, fearing the absolute worst could happen, recalling the incident at Dodger Stadium where a guy ended up in a nine-month coma for wearing a San Francisco Giants hat. When he arrived at Café Gratitude, however, his expectations were surprisingly disproven. In fact, Stein learned some interesting insight about people on his own side — they don’t hate Trump or his supporters nearly as much as they profess.
“I glanced around the room, and no one gave me a dirty look,” Stein writes. “No one walked up to yell at me about Charlottesville or caged children. The guy with the ear twig pulled out a newspaper called the SJW, which I figured was a publication for Social Justice Warriors until I looked again and saw it was The Wall Street Journal.”
“Before I left, I asked the black waiter, Darick Thomas, how he felt about my hat,” Stein continues. “‘I don’t care. At all. Really. At all! I look at a hat and that doesn’t tell me who the person is,’ he said. “‘I’m not against Trump. He says some smart things; he says some dumb things.'”
Throughout Stein’s whole time at the restaurant, only one person, a patron, openly expressed disapproval of his MAGA hat. “Is that guy wearing a f***ing MAGA hat?” the patron asked at the counter.
Stein’s article ends on a quasi-confused note, illustrating how his experience throughout his research has stifled his narrative, so much so that he strives to keep his beliefs about Trump intact. He recalls a moment when his friend saw a man with a swastika tattoo on his neck frolicking through the park in some kind of Instagram photo shoot, expressing frustration that nobody confronted him.
“The far right has become so normalized that no one said anything to a guy in a MAGA hat at Café Gratitude,” Stein concludes. “I Am Not Sure How Great That Is.”