It’s dangerous to wear a MAGA hat in liberal cities like Portland, Maine. Remember when the left appealed for tolerance of their views on social and political issues? Well, many have become most intolerant of conservatives — sometimes violently, as I personally learned at Portland’s “First Friday Art Walk” last week.
A quick online search reveals several instances over the past two years in which people were physically assaulted for wearing MAGA hats — including a Manhattan man who had his face smashed in last week, but the incident was ignored by mainstream media. With all this in mind, I put on a MAGA hat and walked down Portland’s Congress Street during its monthly “First Friday Art Walk” event.
Artists selling their wares filled the sidewalk from the Museum of Art to Monument Square. My wife agreed to come if she could walk 20 feet behind and pretend not to know me. Along the way I saw several stylized paintings of breasts and “Buteruses,” short for “Beautiful Uteruses.” Another woman sold T-shirts proclaiming “F**K ICE” and “F**K THE POLICE.” Planned Parenthood was set up there, too. I asked questions of several artists who were happy to discuss their work. Some, however, looked at my hat and answered through gritted teeth.
Two men walking by and nodded approvingly. Other people elbowed each other and pointed at me. A small group in Monument Square held up a large piece of canvas with the words: “Say No To Racism!” I walked around them as they stared at my hat. It was much the same on the return trip until a young black man snarled, “Why you wearing that hat? You shouldn’t be wearing that!” But he kept walking in the opposite direction so I proceeded on.
There were more dirty looks from artists and passers-by until I got back to the intersection with High Street. In front of the museum is an open triangle on which several artists had set up. A young man there said he admired my courage and took my picture. Then dozens of people applauded as a group of 20-30 demonstrators marched by with signs proclaiming “MAINE JEWS SAY CLOSE THE CAMPS — NEVER AGAIN IS NOW” and “ABOLISH ICE!” and “STOP FAMILY SEPARATION!” I went to the curb and took pictures.
Back at the triangle I saw the young black man had returned. In a more civil tone he asked why I was wearing the hat. I said I liked Donald Trump’s policies on immigration, his judicial nominations, his handling of the Middle East, the economy — until someone shouted: “What’s your job?” I said I was a retired teacher. “What did you teach?” I told them U.S. history. “So you know about U.S. history?” said the young black man. Yes, I said.
“Trump hates people like me!” he responded, getting hostile again. “You shouldn’t be wearing that!”
Seven or eight others behind him, all white, joined him saying loudly, “Trump is racist!” I asked them what evidence they had. A young woman said Trump called white supremacists in Charlottesville, Va., “fine people.” I said Charlottesville began as a demonstration against removing statues honoring soldiers who fought for the South, but the angry group wouldn’t let me continue. Several shouted at once: “He’s racist! He raped women!”
As they loudly berated Trump and me, I asked if I could photograph them. “No!” they said, except for the young black man. He extended his arm with his middle finger out and said, “Go ahead.” I snapped the picture, and noticed our audience had expanded. The black man got more hostile and said, “You can’t wear that hat! This is my city!” I told him I watch the news, form my own opinions and I have a right to express them just as others do — and this isn’t your city. He clenched his fists and pretended to rush at me. Another man appeared at my side and told the young man to “cool it.” Still another said, “You’re saying that because he’s black! Why don’t you tell me to cool it? Because I’m white?”
At that point the young black man knocked the MAGA hat off my head and ran off down Free Street. I put it back on and turned around to face the crowd again. Some apologized for what he had done. Others got more civil at first but soon resumed shouting at me. I offered counterpoints whenever I could, though I doubted I would change any of their minds, but others were watching and listening so I calmly stood my ground.
My wife, however, looked very worried and asked me to leave, but I wanted to continue. I parried verbally with the hostiles a little longer until she pulled my hand and whispered in my ear: “Those children are getting scared.” Behind her were three kindergarten-aged kids sitting on the curbstone who looked at me wide-eyed and upset. That bothered me more than my opponents did. A man, their father maybe, watched over them.
Once more my wife pleaded with me to leave, so I did, promising myself I’d return next month — wearing my MAGA hat again, of course.
Tom McLaughlin lives in Lovell, Maine. He can be reached on his website at tommclaughlin.blogspot.com.