For a liberal Democrat, Larry David sometimes comes off as America’s reactionary id. Last night, on a superb tenth-season opener of Curb Your Enthusiasm, David made an extended joke about the (in)famous Make America Great Again cap. To a certain extent, I think the joke here is on Larry David.
David’s character “Larry David” is, famously, an inveterate curmudgeon who is constantly getting in brouhahas over minor questions of etiquette or misunderstandings. On the new episode, Larry finds himself unable to avoid having lunch with a disliked colleague in the comedy world (Phil Rosenthal, also playing himself). He knows that his usual tricks won’t work on Rosenthal, so he can’t escape by having a friend call during the lunch to say he’s needed back at the office. So Larry hits on a brilliant idea: He wears a red MAGA cap to the lunch. Rosenthal immediately blanches, looks around the restaurant, and discovers he’s getting dirty looks from black customers and other diners. Horrified that people might associate him with Trumpism, he hastily makes his excuses and exits. Larry is triumphant. He even finds other uses for the MAGA cap; sitting at a sushi bar in close quarters, he puts on the cap and finds that the people who were going to squeeze in next to him instead flee in horror. He brags that the hat is a useful “people repellent.” But in a potentially dicey traffic situation with an angry biker, Larry puts on the hat and defuses the situation because the hat signals to the biker that he’s a kindred spirit.
I’ve written several times about how comedy’s hunger for transgression is pushing it rightward; if the culture is dictated by the left, then being oppositional to that almost forces the comic imagination to the right. David’s irony isn’t quite what he thinks it is here. Because he would never dream of voting for President Trump, he thinks it’s funny to imagine himself in a MAGA cap. But think of what the MAGA cap, and the Trump phenomenon more broadly, actually mean. David doesn’t see it, but there is an affinity between the way he thinks and Trumpism.
The MAGA hat has many meanings, does it not? It doesn’t really mean “Make America Great Again.” It’s more like a badge of defiance, of apartness. It says, “You’re all annoying.” It says, “I want no part of this.” It says, “Things used to be better.” It says, “Buzz off.” It says, “I’m deplorable.”
I’m Deplorable could be an alternate title for David’s misanthropic show. A PRRI/Atlantic Survey found a strong correlation between Trump support and feeling like a stranger in one’s own land. Of whom does that remind you? Stranger in La-La Land could be another title for the show. Larry, in the new Curb, is shown casually knocking over a row of newfangled eco-friendly electric scooters, grabbing and breaking a selfie stick being used by a couple of tourists and accused of sexual harassment because he was trying to get a tasty appetizer from a female server and she thought he was ogling her instead of the pigs in a blanket on her platter. He’s a man one year younger than Trump and born in the same city who is constantly finding new reasons to be angered and frustrated by changing ways. A huge part of Trump’s appeal is tied up in cultural signifiers. A lot of people support Trump because they feel exactly the way Larry David’s character does on any given day.