Anytime you happen to flip past CNN and see that Angela Rye’s on, it’s worth staying put and watching to the end. Maybe she’ll call for tearing down statues of George Washington and Thomas Jefferson, maybe she’ll make the case that America was never great. Maybe she’ll … compare anyone who wears Trump’s MAGA hat to a Klansman.

You never know what might get said on America’s most ostentatiously non-ideological cable news network.

There’s a germ of an interesting point here, though. Would the Covington fiasco have gone fully nuclear if kids like Nick Sandmann hadn’t been wearing the famous red hat? Imagine it plays out exactly the same way — same participants, same sequence of events, no hats. What’s the reaction? John Ziegler wondered.

If Nick Sandmann, the student from Covington Catholic High School in Kentucky who was part of the key face-to-face “confrontation” in front the of the Lincoln Memorial, had not been wearing a red MAGA hat, the original video would get a few thousand social media views. If Sandmann was not wearing the hat, and also was not a white male, it’s unlikely anyone would even bother to post the episode online.

If Nathan Phillips, the adult male who stepped into Sandmann’s space while beating his drum, was not a Native American who reminded liberals of the majestic Indian who shed a tear in those famous anti-pollution commercials from the 1970s, the video would never go viral and news outlets would never feel compelled to cover this non-event. If the Covington Catholic kids were not pro-life and from Kentucky, there would be no gasoline poured on the original brushfire of what looked like something no more dramatic than the prelude to a Florida/Florida State football game…

I think Ziegler’s underestimating how viral the clip would have gone even without the MAGA hats. The racial politics of a group of white teens disrespecting an older Native American would have guaranteed an audience. It’s hard to imagine any circumstance in which a confrontation between those participants wouldn’t produce outrage in defense of the latter among America’s chattering class. It’s also part of the reason why so many on the left have tripled down against the kids even after new video emerged. Several centuries of American history mean to them that it’s not just a safe assumption that a Native American is being victimized when he confronts whites, it’s a moral duty to believe that he is.

But Ziegler’s right that the MAGA hat was gasoline on the fire, if perhaps not the spark that lit it. I think the left accepts that many Trump voters supported him reluctantly in 2016, whether because he was the “lesser of two evils” or for bottom-line reasons like shifting the Supreme Court to the right or for kitchen-table reasons like bringing manufacturing jobs back to the white working class. Rye even acknowledges her friendship (however strained) with Trump supporter Andre Bauer in the clip. But it’s one thing to vote for him and another to promote him; to the left, wearing the hat is a provocation. No “reluctant” Trump supporter wears one. You wear the hat if you’re enthusiastic about him and want everyone around you to know it. It’s an act of assertiveness, if not defiance.

For a kid to wear it is even more provocative. Who knows how politically savvy Nick Sandmann or his classmates are for their age? Maybe their affection for POTUS runs no deeper than “build the wall,” maybe it’s as simple as admiring his personal style. Maybe they wear it for the same reason some kids dye their hair green, because some find it shocking. Rye seems to sweep all of those possibilities aside: They wear it because they’re racists and want to communicate that fact as efficiently as possible. Such is the advanced level on which America’s televised political discourse operates.

At least she’s judging Sandmann based on his hat and not by the expression on his face, as so many dumber liberal critics did.