When Krystal Lake, a college student from Staten Island, New York, wore a baseball cap that read "America was never great" to her Home Depot job this past weekend, technically her rights as a citizen of the United States were protected (her rights as a worker at Home Depot are another story).
But that doesn't mean she was protected from the onslaught of online harassment and even death threats she says she has received since a customer snapped a photo of her wearing the cap and posted it online, where it went viral.
The slogan on her hat is an obvious riff on the one Donald Trump has been using since the start of his run for office: "Make America great again." Lake, who is a Bernie Sanders supporter, according to the Staten Island Advance, reportedly told the newspaper her intention in wearing the cap was to remind people that the goal should be to look to the future and make America better than it was rather than pining for the return of a past that certainly wasn't golden for all segments of the population.
"The point of the hat was to say America needs changing and improvement," Lake told the Staten Island Advance. "I don't think it's a positive message to say, 'Let's look to the past.'"
In case you're wondering, a Home Depot spokesperson reportedly said its employees are not permitted to wear articles of clothing that reflect political statements, though Lake claims some of her co-workers have been wearing pro-Trump pins and have not been told to remove them. So no, Lake maybe shouldn't have worn this hat to work — you win that argument.
But the intense anger and rage her hat is inspiring on social media has very little to do with Home Depot, and we probably shouldn't assume it's all coming from Trump supporters, since we don't have proof of that.
There are sentiments like this one:
If you're #KrystalLake you could always live in a great country like North Korea.— #hodgster (@matth0dge) May 20, 2016
And this one:
@HomeDepot Loyal shopper here. Krystal Lake wears that hat again in your store I'll assume you support the message and become former shopper— R Thomas (@Plate0fShrimp) May 19, 2016
And countless others. Groups of people who despise Lake's message and those who support her (and many do) share one thing in common: extreme anger over the issue.
As someone who lives in one of few very conservative areas in very liberal New York, I have neighbors, friends and relatives who support Trump. Almost all of them have explained their loyalty to him using some version of the following statement: He says what everyone is thinking but is afraid to say.
If Trump is celebrated by some when he implies that America is not currently great — there's too much illegal immigration, the U.S.-China trade relationship needs to be reformed, etc. — Lake should be afforded the same respect when she expresses a similar sentiment. The big difference here is the word "never." Lake's slogan doesn't give people the hope they crave right now. But those who are berating Lake and even threatening her are closing their eyes to the obvious fact that Trump's slogan does nothing to offer her hope. His is an exclusive promise. If she feels left out of his vision for America's future, it means millions of others share her frustration — why has it become so frightening to let people have a voice?
You can make an argument that, at the very least, Trump is honest and forthright about who he is and his limitations in being able to appeal to people of every race and religion. But that simply isn't good enough for the people who feel left out. And Lake doesn't deserve to be abused online for pointing that out.
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