The dramatic interaction between a drum-beating Native American and a MAGA-hat wearing white teenager has been all over the Internet and back again. Based on a video that went viral, the public initially assumed that a group of high school boys had somehow approached the Native and got into his face. It’s usually considered antagonistic to get into someone’s face. The imagery from the video was powerful and seemingly iconic. The story ended up in many major media outlets.
The narrative was obvious, after all. So obvious that the boys’ school, the Covington Catholic High School (and the Diocese that oversees the school) issued this statement on January 19, 2019, the day which saw immense viral activity of the video:
We condemn the actions of the Covington Catholic High School students towards Nathan Phillips specifically, and Native Americans in general, Jan. 18, after the March for Life, in Washington, D.C. We extend our deepest apologies to Mr. Phillips. This behavior is opposed to the Church’s teachings on the dignity and respect of the human person.
By the next day, more taped footage came out and a clearer picture arose about a minimal interaction between the students and a smallish group shouting biblical rants to all within earshot. And it was also clear it was the Native who approached the teenagers. I’m not sure why the Native thought he could “diffuse the situation,” as he claimed, since there wasn’t much of a situation. Besides, beating a drum and loudly chanting in the faces of the teenagers isn’t a typical first approach to retrieve calm. It’s usually considered antagonistic to get into someone’s face. News stories from those involved are consistent with the various videos. Suddenly, millions of Americans were engaged in analyzing motives. Were the teenagers reacting to the whole situation like a goof? Were they mocking Native American culture? Just like that, we have a Rashomon-like situation where what is perceived is based upon an initial mindset.
What happened next was predictable. Those who support the current administration went on-line with full smug. But you can’t talk about fake media when the President you support rose to political power on the claims that his predecessor wasn’t a United States citizen. You can’t talk about lying media when the first press conference from the current administration blatantly and insistently lied about the number of people attending the inauguration.
At least you can’t without being an extreme hypocrite.
And that’s just the beginning of the make-believe with this administration. We must still acknowledge the sheer number of the President’s provable lies, which now number in the thousands.
So if you’re getting apoplectic and righteously indignant for the shoddy reporting on a single viral video, at least get equally upset that the media didn’t do its job in accurately contextualizing the repeated and known dishonesty of Presidential candidate Donald Trump for months because he was “good for business.” One cannot support this President and still claim the high ground of truth and objective reality. That turf was ceded long ago by those who voted for him.
And if one wants to claim the additional video changes absolutely nothing about the original narrative? This, too, is a problematic position. Remember: it was the ignoring or spinning of data that gave us a President whose Administration literally invented “alternate facts.” Ignoring or spinning this new footage isn’t exactly changing the tenor of the current political dialog. In fact, it reinforces the worse parts of it.
That’s the problem in most political discussions today. With information overload, the sifting of all that data is both overwhelming and exhausting. We get lost in minutia, good energy is wasted, and nothing changes. Every legitimate outrage becomes a relativistic mess, a game where no one’s point of view will be deemed “inferior.” We lose sight of the large picture.
And, for the boys of Covington Catholic High School, that large picture is quite clear.
The teenagers from Covington Catholic High School were in Washington, D.C. to participate in a protest against reproductive rights. The protest, the March for Life, is listed on the Covington Catholic High School website as a yearly planned event. The event is listed in the “Spiritual Life” section, right under the schedule for Masses. Rick Flesch, the school’s faculty moderator states with pride in a letter to parents that
On a daily basis our students are given opportunities to live their faith. They include inserting the words “born and unborn” at the end of the Pledge of Allegiance…
Messing with the Pledge in that way is a basic indoctrination against a very fundamental American idea of the separation of Church and State. Flesch continues in the letter with a humblebrag that school participation in the March for Life protest has grown from 84 students in 2008 to 213 students in 2017. In other words, the Covington Catholic High School has had a decade of experience with this march. The school’s officials are well-versed in how it works and the students, no doubt, are taught how to behave during the trip. It’s a well-organized affair. Again from Flesch’s letter to the parents:
Once again this year we offer our students the opportunity to participate in this most worthwhile event, the 46th anniversary of the March for Life, demonstrating our support for all Life, “born and unborn.” Upon our arrival in Washington D.C. we meet with Bishop Foys and other diocesan pilgrims to celebrate Mass before joining the hundreds of thousands of people from around the nation to march in support of all life, ending the march in front of the Supreme Court building as a means to express our opposition to the Roe vs. Wade decision.
For the students, January 18th was supposed to be the day when they represented their beliefs and high school in a well-orchestrated national March for Life protest. And what was the public dress of those students on that day of national protest when they had the unexpected encounter with the Native?
Hats and hoodies emblazoned with “Make America Great Again” aka MAGA, the slogan of President Trump and his most ardent followers. This is the slogan of the President who said it was okay to “grab [women] by the pussy.” This is the slogan of the President that said he “could stand in the middle of 5th Avenue and shoot somebody” and not lose any voters. The slogan of the President who repeatedly has used racist and bigoted terms to advance his causes by fear.
This is the logo that the teenagers from Covington Catholic High School – a Catholic school – were allowed to wear, as a group, in public. In a protest that was designed to attract national media coverage.
Now, it turns out the Covington Catholic High School is very particular about how its students dress. Again, from the high school’s website:
Our students wear a collared shirt and solid color, 4 pocket dress pants. Students must wear a belt, socks and either gym shoes or dress shoes. On special occasions and all-school Masses, our students are required to wear a white dress shirt, khaki pants, and their CCH issued tie. Students may wear sweaters or CCH crew sweatshirts over shirts at any time. Hoodies or non-CCH sweatshirts are not permitted during the school day. Hair must be kept neat and trimmed above the shirt collar.
All that institutional concern about specific clothing. It is hardly seems logical that the school would suddenly be blind to the meaning of the attire during an officially sanctioned school trip to our Nation’s Capitol where the national media was sure to show. After all, the majority of the students in the videos were sporting the exact same MAGA logo on their hats and hoodies.
In other words, for an institution that is very specific about student attire, the Covington Catholic High School demonstrated tacit approval of the MAGA slogan with all its associations of the President’s blatant racism, violent sexism, and arrogant hostility.
That’s the big picture here: An official Catholic school that is comfortable with a display of MAGA “values” on its student body.
Naturally, Bishop Roger Foys, the Church official who oversees the school in his Diocese and was scheduled to meet with the students during their stay in Washington, D.C., has announced an “investigation” over the events of the interactions. But this is merely the biblical tradition, first mentioned in Leviticus, of the scapegoat: the animal to be sacrificed for others. By keeping the public’s focus on the interactions of the students, people will miss the fact that a Catholic School Administration has no problem being tied to the toxic slogan, MAGA.
In Genesis, the Bible reminds us that to wipe out evil, we must crush the serpent’s head. The teenagers, even if found guilty by the school investigation, represent only the tail. What must be investigated is why the Catholic Church allows itself to be associated with the Covington Catholic High School. Unlike the various evangelical groups that have supported MAGA, the Catholic Church has a wider base and is very much an establishment unto itself. The Church must decide whether to jettison the school or completely replace the entire administrative structure that created such an environment – and that structure involves Bishop Foys himself. Indeed, the toxic values demonstrated by the High School happened under his watch.
Or the Church can decide to ignore the whole affair. It has, after all, chosen that course in the past.
If we want to crush the serpent’s head, we must not have that evil supported by one of the most populous churches in the world. This is where protestations must be registered: not at the school but at the Church itself. Complaints to local priests or even these American bishops will likely be taken seriously. Bishop Foys works from the Diocese of Covington located at 1125 Madison Avenue, Covington, KY 41011 (859-392-1500). Of course, His Excellency might not be so eager to sever or radically alter relations with the High School he is already overseeing. In that case, there’s always his boss: The Pope.
Bishop Foys’ coat of arms contains the motto: “Luceat Lux Vestra.” Translated from the Latin: “Let Your Light Shine.” By shining a light on the larger picture, perhaps we can convince a prominent, world-wide religious institution to rid us of evil.