Joel Stein wanted to do an experiment on political tribalism for a new book he’s writing, so the LA writer wore a red MAGA hat to an ultra liberal vegan restaurant to see what kind of reaction he would get.
Turns out, no one really cared.
After parking two blocks from the restaurant, I put my MAGA hat on for the first time and looked in the rearview mirror. I looked smug. I looked mean. I looked like someone I wanted to punch.
My heart thumped and my vision narrowed as I walked up Larchmont Boulevard. I jaywalked in a daze and then passed three women who, to my surprise, didn’t stop their conversation to confront me. As I approached Café Gratitude, I saw that the patio was packed. I feared I’d have to wait for a seat, milling about alone and exposed. I scurried to the host stand and asked if I could order lunch at the nearly empty bar. She barely nodded yes before I was sitting there, looking straight ahead, avoiding eye contact. A few minutes after I sat down, the one guy at the bar who had been typing on his computer left, undoubtedly to make a statement about Donald Trump. I was going to have the entire bar to myself in this crowded restaurant.
Stein wrote an essay about the experience for Los Angeles Magazine, concluding that “The far right has become so normalized that no one said anything to a guy in a MAGA hat at Café Gratitude. I Am Not Sure How Great That Is.”
He expected to be harassed, and after he’d finished his meal, asked his waiter what he thought about the hat.
“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.” Darick didn’t vote. “Voting is the illusion of choice for the masses,” he explained.
He also tried to figure out if other restaurant patrons were talking about him. They really didn’t care what he was wearing either.
I glanced around the room, and no one gave me a dirty look. 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. He started a friendly conversation with the black woman, during which they both glanced at me. I eavesdropped, suspecting to hear them talking about me. Or The Wall Street Journal. They were talking about almond milk.