Friday’s inauguration might mark the final end of the long election season, but it’s just a moment in time for the madness — merchandise madness, that is. In a phenomenon as American as apple pie, elections propel the buying of stuff.
You can still obtain a JFK collector’s plate on eBay and other collectibles sites. Even one with Jackie, too, in pearls and flip. I still have a pair of gold-colored cufflinks somewhere that are little silhouettes of JFK someone gave me as a kid.
But the 21st-century presidency and the campaigns that preceded it have spawned a retail bonanza rivaling professional sports and Big 10 colleges.
The Architect of the Capitol gift shop and the Senate gift shop have nice items for sale, but they’re positively sedate compared to the walk-in and online politically oriented products bonanza.
President-elect Donald Trump, as a private citizen, already had a retail line of clothing. A few years ago I needed a necktie in a hurry, so I stopped into the Macy’s in Tysons Galleria. The tie I selected — a muted, dark blue pattern — happened to be a Trump tie. I didn’t think much of it at the time. It was on sale, and it went with the jacket and shirt I had on. The gold-tone metal keeper on the back is stamped “DONALD J. TRUMP.”
If you want a tie depicting Donald Trump himself, or Barack Obama, Hillary Clinton, Bernie Sanders or many other contemporary politicians on the front, you can choose from hundreds available online. Mostly imported, code for made in China.
Neckties are only the beginning. You can get past and future presidential imagery on literally everything you might wear. I mean everything. Men and women alike. Items you wouldn’t want emergency room staff to see if you dropped unconscious. More visibly, you can choose from T-shirts by the bazillion. But also: Hats, polos, jackets, socks and hoodies. Earrings, cuff links, belt buckles, pins and watches. Cigars, wine glasses and tumblers, mugs, decanters and coasters. Picture frames, bobble heads, Easter eggs, golf balls. Baby onesies, bibs and blankets. That’s for starters.
I don’t know about other countries, but elections and politicians in the U.S. have gone retail. (Although you can get shirts with Vladimir Putin, Kim Jong-un, Angela Merkel and Recep Tayyip Ergodan on the front). The lapel pin for your candidate has morphed into an array of merchandise such that you can dress head to toe and decorate your home.
Retailers deserve credit for remaining bipartisan, offering items from both parties. The famous White House Gift Shop (a dot-com), has seemingly endless stuff, including, inexplicably, a small bust of Eleanor Roosevelt.
Agencies are not immune to allowing a little promotion via T-shirt. I have no idea whether this is federally sanctioned, but the online FBI apparel shop presents a case in point. Some shirts say “FBI agent” on the front — the best way I can think of to make sure people know you’re not an FBI agent. No more than anyone thinks you’re Bryce Harper if you wear a $119.99 “official” jersey with his name on it. You can also get CIA and Drug Enforcement Administration tees. One online retailer even sells an FBI “Behavioral Evaluation Unit” T-shirt.
Never having been one to sport bumper stickers, pins or lawn signs, if I wear a shirt that says anything, it will say “USA.”