(Re-published from The Hill | March 3, 2019) Symbolism is critical to the political process, perhaps essential. At the ballot box, voters take these symbols in with them to identify a candidate who aligns that symbol with their political beliefs.
Catchphrases, articles of clothing, and color are all part of our political paradigm. It allows supporters of a candidate to identify with others of like mind. Collective identity builds a base upon which a candidate wins an election and to govern.
There is nothing sinister about any of this in a larger sense. However, it can be sinister, divisive, and calculating, with an ultimate goal of control and governance by fear and hate.
It is this sinister calculus that citizens should be wary of, particularly citizens of liberal democracies where freedom of speech and expression are hallmarks to that democracy.
Politicians who have motives other than good governance can hide behind the shield of these freedoms, emerging to use their symbols to assist them in taking political control for more sinister reasons.
Modern history is replete with symbols, particularly clothing and colors, where politicians legitimately gain power, pivot, and seize ultimate control. Adolf Hitler and his henchmen were masters of using symbols and colors to create a national socialist agenda. The “Brownshirts,” party enthusiasts who believed in a greater Aryan nation, come quickly to mind.
In America, symbolism and colors also play an important part in our political and social discourse. Red and blue seem to be popular colors, also white. Suffragists wore a yellow sash, and the color white has symbolized the emancipation of women unifying for a proper cause. However, the white robe of the Ku Klux Klan captures how symbols and color can be used to promote division, hate, and fear for the sordid purpose of promoting a white America.
Over the past two years, another colored article of clothing has entered the political arena: a red hat. The “MAGA hat,” for President Trump’s “Make America Great Again” slogan, has come to identify not just the president’s political agenda but those who have bought into his philosophy …
Now retired from teaching at Syracuse University College of Law, David M. Crane is an INSCT Research & Practice Associate.