STANFORD, CA, JAN. 3, 2017 - Affiliates of the Symbolic Systems Program at Stanford University have chosen the MAKE AMERICA GREAT AGAIN hat as the Symbol of the Year from 2016, in their fifth annual vote for notable symbols.
The citation for the Symbol of the Year said: "Donald Trump's red cap became a widely recognized symbol and effective distillation of his campaign. The slogan, first used by Ronald Reagan in 1980, defined a positional narrative: America was great, is not any more, but could be again. Reactions ranged from Hillary Clinton's ('America never stopped being great') to an AMERICA WAS NEVER GREAT hat."
The baseball cap representing Donald Trump's 2016 Presidential campaign debuted in 2015, the year when Trump announced his candidacy. Although none of the hat's elements were original to Trump's campaign, the combination of a monochrome hat, containing the campaign's slogan, proved powerful. The hats were visible in large numbers at rallies where the now President-Elect's supporters gathered during the year and a half campaign. They both helped to spread a time-tested message that resonated again in 2016 with a large percentage of the electorate, and connected hat-wearers to that message.
Brandon Williams, a 1995 graduate of the Symbolic Systems Program and a co-nominator of the MAKE AMERICA GREAT AGAIN hat for Symbol of the Year, noted, "Trump's campaign, well symbolized by the hat, and the hat itself, led to some of the most extraordinarily heated controversy in 2016 and the wildest election in decades."
Other Notable Symbols from 2016 chosen by voters for their significance were:
- ambulance photo of Omran Daqneesh in Aleppo: A 5-year-old Syrian boy, covered in dust and blood and sitting in an ambulance, became the face of Aleppo's suffering during the Syrian Civil War after he was injured in an air strike on August 17. The image of Omran Daqneesh was from a video posted by the Aleppo Media Centre. Omran's 10-year-old brother Ali died from his injuries in the strike.
- taking a knee during the U.S. National Anthem: A wave of National Anthem protests across the U.S. began when 49er Colin Kaepernick sat down during the pre-game Anthem. Kaepernick and then others switched to kneeling on one knee to protest against "a country that oppresses black people and people of color." An 11% NFL viewership decline was interpreted by some as a reaction to the protests.
- a wall: Across the world, immigration barriers are being raised again as the consequences of globalization have led to a backlash. Donald Trump pledged to "build a great, great wall on our southern border." With many questioning or feeling threatened by the wall rhetoric, it became a symbol of Trump's proposals and the divisions they created and reflected.
- gender neutral bathroom signs: Signs identifying restrooms as gender inclusive utilized different designs, but together they symbolized advances in transgender rights in U.S. states such as California, where a new law mandates gender neutrality in single-use bathrooms. The new signs also led to a political backlash against gender neutrality in (and boycotts of) North Carolina.
- variations on "Make America Great Again”: Donald Trump's "Make America Great Again" campaign slogan spawned riffing variations, often as critiques or satires. Examples included the history-referencing "Make America Mexico Again" and Ted Cruz's "Make Trump Debate Again" -- both of which were sold as hats -- as well as Toni Morrison's post-election article "Making America White Again".
- the safety pin: The wearing of a safety pin as a symbol of solidarity with ethnic minorities, migrants, and others began after the Brexit vote in the U.K. in June, and continued in the U.S. following the November election. The pin was said to convey that the wearer would support or help people who felt threatened by the consequences of these elections.
- the Dakota Access Pipeline: Energy Transfer Partners, L.P., began construction on the underground Dakota Access Pipeline through North Dakota in 2016 despite strong objections from the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe. DAPL became a symbol for the effect of oil extraction on Native people and the environment, drawing international protests that led to a halt on drilling by year end.
- Khizr Khan holding up the U.S. Constitution: Khizr and Ghazala Khan, whose son Humayun was killed as a U.S. Army captain in the Iraq War, appeared on stage at the Democratic Convention. Addressing Donald Trump via television, Khizr Khan said, "have you even read the United States Constitution? I will gladly lend you my copy," while holding it aloft. Sales of pocket Constitutions skyrocketed.
- a bottle of water from Flint, Michigan: Ryan Garza's photo, published by the Detroit Free Press on January 15, captured a bottle of dirty water from Flint. The bottle and the ongoing Flint water crisis signify a breakdown in government, as well as an inability of media to focus sufficient public attention on important issues that affect people's daily lives.
- PolitiFact's Truth-O-Meter: The Truth-O-Meter is a graphic depiction of the judged truth of stories analyzed by PolitiFact. "Truth" was regularly debated in 2016. Political stories were often contested, from sources with a potential interest in particular outcomes, and/or were outright falsehoods. Pulitzer Prize-winning PolitiFact is a worthy attempt to address this problem.
- the 2016 U.S. Electoral College map: Visualizing a U.S. presidential election by coloring each State blue or red has been common practice since 1976. Such maps may contribute to political polarization, by promoting a false view of states as monolithically blue or red that encourages further sorting of like-minded voters. The red-blue map of the U.S. was once again ubiquitous in 2016.
- the Poké Ball: A symbol of the location-based game Pokémon Go, which launched in July, the capture device known as the Poké Ball and its variants drew the eyes of hordes of mobile game players who were visible on the streets of cities for a few months in 2016. The Poké Ball heralded a new era of augmented reality in public spaces.
- "This Is Fine" dog: Two frames from KC Green's webcomic showing a dog who says "This is fine," as he is surrounded by flames, were Tweeted by the Republican Party during the Democratic Convention, and resonated across the parties. Subsequent commentary compared "This Is Fine" to other memes spread through social media. Green followed up with a "This Is Not Fine" comic.
- Hillary Clinton's 2016 Primary campaign logo: Hillary Clinton became the first woman Presidential nominee of a major U.S. party, and her 2016 campaign logos reflected some of her campaign's ambiguities. Versions varied, but her most commonly used logo was controversial within the Democratic Party: Its rightward-pointing red arrow invoked the color and direction associated with Republicans.
- Hamilton musical and logo: Lin-Manuel Miranda's musical Hamilton revitalized interest in the U.S.'s founding, shattered records on Broadway, and saved Alexander Hamilton's place on the $10 bill. The Hamilton logo evoked the Statue of Liberty, reflecting the musical's elevation of Alexander Hamilton as a symbol for immigrants, New York City, and historical ambition.
- the pantsuit: With Hillary Clinton's presidential candidacy, the pantsuit became a symbol of women leveling the playing field with men. In the days leading up to the election, a Facebook group called "Pantsuit Nation" was created, growing rapidly to nearly 3 million members, many of whom donned pantsuits when they went to the polls to cast their ballots.
- the White Helmets: White Helmets are a symbol of (and alternative name for) Syrian Civil Defense (SCD), a Western-funded nongovernmental organization that operates amidst the war in rebel-controlled Syria. SCD's stated mission is "to save the greatest number of lives in the shortest possible time and to minimize further injury to people and damage to property."
- the glass ceiling: The glass ceiling is a symbol for invisible barriers that exist to the advancement of women and minorities in organizations. In 2016 Hillary Clinton often referred to the Presidency of the United States as the "highest, hardest glass ceiling." Ironically, she held her election night party at New York's Javits Center, under a transparent ceiling.
The 19 recognized symbols were chosen from 43 nominations submitted between December 19th and 25th, with voting taking place December 26th through December 30th. Nominations appeared on the ballot in the words of the nominators. Selection indicated only that the symbol had been significant during the year, rather than an endorsement of any point of view associated with it. One hundred and fifty-two alumni/ae, students, faculty, and staff affiliated with the Program cast ballots in a system in which each voter could vote for any nominated symbol as Symbol of the Year, Other Notable Symbol, or neither.
All of the program's alums, current students, and faculty/staff were eligible to vote. The ballot stated that the purpose of the vote was "to recognize the important role that symbols play in our world" ("as affiliates of the Symbolic Systems Program").
The idea for a "Symbol of the Year" was inspired by the many annual "of the year" designations and awards that are put out by various organizations, especially the American Dialect Society's annual "Word of the Year" vote. Stanford's Symbolic Systems Program focuses on human and computational systems that use symbols to communicate and to represent information.
For "Criteria", the ballot stated the following:
"The Symbol of the Year need not be new to this year, but should have achieved widespread cultural importance during the year. A symbol is both used and understood to represent a concept, object, location, event, or linguistic unit. Types of symbols include the following:
- a flag or emblem (e.g. the Olympic flag, the AIDS awareness ribbon, a police badge, a union label)
- a costume or garment (e.g. a graduation gown, a cowboy hat, the Guy Fawkes mask)
- a grapheme, written character, or glyph (e.g. the '+' sign, the lowercase 'e', the Helvetica 'A')
- a hand signal or gesture (e.g. the 'A-Okay' sign, a military salute)
- an iconic object or animal (e.g. the Statue of Liberty, the black cat)
- a symbolic place (e.g. the agora, the Kremlin)
- an ideogram (e.g. the peace symbol, the caduceus symbol of commerce)
- a logo (e.g. the Red Cross logo, the Apple Inc. logo)
- a shape (e.g. the crescent, the upside-down triangle)
- a pictogram (e.g. the International Symbol of Access, the Universal Recycling Symbol)
- a screen icon (e.g. the magnifying glass/search icon, the trash icon)
- an auditory symbol or acoustic signal (e.g. the train whistle, the Intel bongs, the SOS prosign)
- a tactile symbol (e.g. a braille character, a TSBVI Standard Tactile Symbol)
- a symbolic action or event (e.g. the lighting of a candle, the sun setting)
- an iconic photograph or image (e.g. Migrant Mother, Guerrillero Heroico)
- a symbolic work or performance (e.g. the Star Spangled Banner, Romeo and Juliet)
- a color or pattern (e.g. Navy blue, the Royal Stewart tartan)
- a posted sign or signal (e.g. an exit sign, a red light)
- an abbreviation or acronym (e.g. 'lbs.', 'USA')
- an iconic person or group (e.g. the Pope, the Freedom Riders)
- a name or nickname (e.g. 'Betty Crocker', 'Joe the Plumber')
- a word or phrase (e.g. 'email', 'Win one for the Gipper!')
- a mascot or mythical/imaginary character (e.g. Ronald McDonald, Aphrodite, Yogi Bear)"
"Lots of things can be symbols," said the program's Associate Director, Todd Davies, after the first Symbol of the Year vote four years ago, "but relatively few things actually are. Being a symbol is an acquired status, that gets established through use. Symbols can obviously become notable because the things they represent are notable. But we wanted to draw attention to the significance that symbols themselves have, as symbols, beyond what they represent, and to get ourselves and others thinking about the role they play in contemporary life."
The photo above shows a hat that reads "MAKE AMERICA GREAT AGAIN",from https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Make_America_Great_Again_hat_(27149010964).jpg, license: https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0/
Previous Symbols of the Year:
- The 2015 Symbol of the Year: #BlackLivesMatter
- The 2014 Symbol of the Year: the hands up gesture
- The 2013 Symbol of the Year: the equal sign
- The 2012 Symbol of the Year: the percent sign
- Twitter: "Symbol of the Year" Stanford
- Twitter: #SymbolOfTheYear
- Symbol of the Year and Other Notable Symbols: Annual Vote
- Stanford Report's The Dish: "'Make America Great Again’ hat wins Symbolic Systems’ symbol of the year for 2016" (Jan. 9, 2017)
- Danielle Kurtzleben, "With 'Pussyhats,' LIberals Get Their Own Version of the Red Trucker Hat", NPR.org (Jan. 21, 2017) [mentions Symbol of the Year 2016 vote]
- Abigail Hess, "Trump Caps and 'Pussy Hats': Here's Who Benefits When Your Purchase Is Political", CNBC.com (Feb. 7, 2017) [mentions SOTY 2016 selection]
- Hilary George-Parkin, "MAGA Hats Are the Newest Form of Pre-Teen Rebellion", Racked.com (June 15, 2017) [mentions Symbol of the Year 2016 selection]
- Casey Mendoza, "President Trump's MAGA Hats Are a Bigger Deal Than You Think", Newsy (February 19, 2018) [mentions Symbol of the Year 2016 selection]