Union League attire, and why Trump runs

Since I announced last month in a column that I changed my voter registration to Republican so I could vote in the Donald Trump referendum, a.k.a. the Pennsylvania primary election, my friends and family have been treating me like Kramer on Seinfeld.

You know, the kook who lives next door and who comes and goes as he pleases and who leaves the toilet seat up, no matter how many times he's been told, nicely, not to.

My liberal progressive Democratic friends reacted the way Jerry and Elaine reacted to Kramer's announcement that he'd settled his jockey vs. boxer dilemma by going commando.

"Ewwww," said Elaine, stepping away, while Jerry said with just a tinge of awe, "There's nothing between him and us but a thin layer of gabardine."

And my reaction to my liberal friends is a lot like Kramer's. "I'm out there, Jerry. And I'm lovin' it!"

For one thing, I get to dress like a Republican. And I mean dress like an ain't-too-proud-to-show-it, stars-and-stripes-waving American who just wants his country back. Which means I can wear anything I want in any combination so long as the colors are red, white, and blue.

This former Democrat happens to own a red, white, and blue star-spangled American flag sports coat, the official supporters jacket of the USA Eagles, the American national rugby team, in the 2015 Rugby World Cup.

I already owned a pair of red and white wing-tipped shoes and a bright red snap-brimmed fedora. So obviously I've been a closet Republican all along.

A couple of weeks ago I found the missing link to complete this patriotic ensemble - a one-size-fits-all red, white, and blue American flag cowboy hat - at the 7-Eleven at Second and Christian.

The hat was made it China. Buying it and coffee I got back change from a $20 bill. The clerk was an immigrant from the Middle East named Muhammad. Nice guy. Working on his English. Wants to go to college here someday.

Something in that early-morning exchange tells an important story about America and Philadelphia in 2016. The Republican part of me sees ruin and chaos. The former Democrat sees an awesome affordable hat and a hard-working future citizen.

In the days leading up to the April 26 primary I wore this outfit several times as a sort of political lightning rod to gauge public opinion.

I wore it on the hipster-crowded el-darkened sidewalks on Front Street in Fishtown. I wore it to a luncheon meeting of a visiting urban planning convention group on the 45th floor of the Comcast tower. I wore it to class, where my students didn't even blink. I wore it to a Hillary Clinton campaign event, where a 12-ounce plastic bottle of water cost $4. I wore it to Famous Deli on Election Day among hobnobbing pols and sound-bite noshing journos.

But the real test of my flag hat and coat came when I wore it to Philadelphia's iconic bastion of GOP conservatism on South Broad Street, the Union League.

I had been invited there to be part of a cable TV panel discussion of Democrat-turned-Republican primary voters for the CNN talk show hosted by my fellow Inquirer columnist Michael Smerconish.

Producer Catherine Brosseau had warned me of the Union League's "no jeans, no sneakers" dress code, and I was armed with my official Republican voter registration card in case there was a loyalty test. But I was turned away at the front desk because I wasn't wearing a dress shirt.

As I was sputtering ineffectively "But I'm supposed to be . . . who walked up but my old friend Bill Marimow, editor of the Inquirer, a man of considerable tact, wisdom, and influence. I was expecting Bill to part the velvet rope with a few well-chosen words but heard, "Clark, why don't you go next door to Banana Republic and buy a shirt?"

Once I was upstairs, Smerconish quickly established that Trump was the focus of his 11-person panel's decision to switch parties before the primary. Some of us switched to vote for him, some to vote against him.

Perhaps inspired by the august old-money setting - the Union League was used as the location for the exclusive private men's club in the 1983 hit movie Trading Places - I voiced my conspiracy theory regarding the truth behind Trump's candidacy.

"I don't think Donald Trump really wants to be president," I said. "I think in the end we'll find out that this was all over a $1 bet he made with another rich guy to prove he could win the Republican nomination."

My guess is that Trump made the bet with one of the Koch brothers. Wouldn't that explain a lot?

Clark DeLeon writes regularly for Currents. deleonc88@aol.com