The first time a customer approached me and asked if we sold “Make America Great Again” hats, I was surprised. But as my days working at a museum gift shop wore on, I was asked that question more times than I could count.
The store is stocked with political souvenirs, but most of the presidential merchandise on the shelves mocks Donald Trump. Hundreds of kids bought Trump products like cotton candy called “Trump’s hair” and a stress ball of his face this summer, but I overheard some of them say they don’t know the difference between Democrats and Republicans – but they know Democrats are wrong. As a cashier, I talked to each customer, and it was clear that many of these kids, and even some adults, did not see the merchandise as anything but a lighthearted joke.
Customers clicked talking pens that play recordings like “I am the greatest president God has ever created” and “I will build a great, great wall on our southern border,” and many laughed, without realizing the impact of the president’s words across the country. By creating and consuming merchandise that turns the actions of Trump and other people in power into jokes, we neutralize their actions and dilute their negative impact.
Merchandise that pokes fun at political figures is not a new phenomenon. Past presidents have inspired products like barf bags and a book of “-isms.” But just because these products have existed in the past, doesn’t mean they should continue.
Most satirical political merchandise paints Trump as a joke rather than dangerous and unqualified. When the president’s concerning actions are turned into jokes, it can lead to desensitization – a diminished emotional response through prolonged exposure. When pop culture repeatedly references the news in a casual way, it can make his actions and warped facts seem less concerning.
As I watch tourists peruse the gift shop and go home with Trump souvenirs from their time in the District, it is upsetting. It’s difficult to hear the talking pen repeat the president’s quote about building a wall, because it reminds me of my hometown, which houses the largest immigration detention facility in the country. When Latino customers visit the store, I can see them stiffen up when they hear the phrases.
When the president is portrayed as the butt of a joke through products, it is easier to dismiss the negative effect that he has had on our country and around the world. Laughing it off through satire may seem like a good remedy, but doing so simply makes his actions routine and normal.
Alejandra Velazquez, a sophomore majoring in political science, is a Hatchet columnist.
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