From the infamous red Make America Great Again (MAGA) hats to the “Feel the Bern” stickers, it seems like now more than ever capitalism has taken control of politics. Or has it?
It definitely feels that way with former Vice President Joe Biden’s “Will you shut up, man” and President Donald J. Trump’s “Stand back and stand by” lines from the 2020 presidential election debate landing on people’s Amazon searches almost overnight.
But presidential campaign merchandise is nothing new, and it goes back further than you might think.
During the 1840 election, former President William Henry Harrison sold log cabin-themed items like buttons, brooches, china, printed handkerchiefs and even replica log cabins in an attempt to seem relatable to the public because … sure, he was rich but he was also born in a log cabin. Relatable, right? Well, it definitely worked back then, forever changing the nature of campaigning for the presidential election.
When women got the right to vote, presidential campaigning now had to include them. Former President Richard Nixon's election merchandise included a paper dress, also known as the “Paper Caper,” with Nixon’s name printed all throughout it. It didn’t last in popularity very long, just in time to get Nixon elected, but they did sell half a million dresses.
“Campaign merch combines two very American ideas: passion for politics and shopping for stuff," according to Racked. “But there’s something deeper that investing in campaign merch — designing it, creating it, selling it, buying it, flaunting it — touches on, too. It makes everyday people feel like they’re a part of the race.”
It makes sense. I want (and need, at this point) to know who supports Trump and who doesn’t, and a quick way to tell is to see if they’re wearing a MAGA hat. I want to interact with people who support Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) or those who support Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.). Buying a sticker or a pin that shares your values is a great and effective idea!
But there’s a limit. Last week, Biden Beauty launched with unknown founders, and 100 percent of the proceeds go to Biden's presidential campaign. So far the brand has four items for sale: a makeup sponge, a hoodie, pins and stickers and a tote bag.
Everything from the branding (Glossier, anyone?) to the choice in the product (the Beautyblender dupe costs $20.20! What?) screams pandering to the Generation Zs and younger millennials.
This is beyond ridiculous.
It’s obvious that the Biden marketing team recognizes the voting power of Generation Z and younger millennials, especially on the internet. But we don’t want an aesthetically pleasing beauty brand: We want real government change and policies.
We don’t want a brand that screams about inclusion. We want our future president to respect LGBTQ+ and Black, Indigenous and people of color youth, and for his actions to reflect that.
Capitalism and freedom of the people to create and distribute their own products has always been a part of this country since its founding. Nothing about that has changed. Capitalism didn’t just suddenly get worse.
The internet has simply made it easier for corporations to take advantage of people at a larger scale, and for the same large group of people to become better informed of those manipulation tactics.
The reason why people get stickers, pins, shirts or hats of their favorite candidate is because they agree with that candidate’s ideals, values and policies. That’s why so many far-Left Generation Z and millennials have Sanders merch — because they agreed with and believed in him.
Creating a beauty brand with only one “beauty” product and secret founders a month away from the election says absolutely nothing. The design of the tote bag and the font choice is beautiful — I congratulate the team behind it because it really knows its audience. If it wasn’t tied to Biden, I would have probably bought that tote bag.
It’s obvious that the plan was to go viral on TikTok or Instagram. I don’t think that’s going to work. Generation Z and younger millennials are smarter than that.
Biden’s team needs to know that the only reason far-Left Generation Zers and millennials are voting for him is because the other option is Trump. Biden is not a great choice — he’s just overall a pretty awful and subpar candidate. But he’s better than Trump.
"Candidates are interested in winning elections and moving numbers. And it’s unclear whether these kinds of things move numbers. But it does, I think, strengthen American democracy to have these things, and to have a citizenry that participates in the process in ways that go beyond voting. They really are an important tool of civic engagement," said Harry Rubenstein, chair and curator of political history at the Smithsonian National Museum of American History, according to Racked.
Personally, the farther away the U.S. government moves from capitalism, the better. But what do I know? I’m just a young millennial planning to vote in the coming election. If capitalism can’t sway me, will it sway you?