Mainstream media, to the extent such a beast still exists, got caught. Erik Wemple did a side by side comparison of the initial stories on the young, MAGA-hat-wearing, smirking (or not) Nick Sandmann who perpetrated the “facecrime” on Nathan Phillips, whose stories fluctuated with his veteran status. Then the story expanded, not to fill a void but to defend against the exposure of the media as defending its legitimacy in the face of failure.
The expanded video showed the interaction with a group that calls itself the Black Hebrew Israelites, which had nothing or something to do with what happened afterward. Then there was a shirtless kid. One of our new members of Congress saw them “taunting 5 Black men” which was about as bizarrely false as possible.
Then came the series of irrelevant revelations, designed not to address the original incident but to create a secondary means of salvaging the ruined dignity of those who needed to justify their abuse of a child.
They were in blackface — It was a “black out” themed game for school spirit
They flashed the white supremacy sign — It was the 3-pointer sign
They chanted in favor of rape — One kid did so, and he wasn’t a student at Covington Catholic
But none of these had anything to do with the interaction at the Lincoln Memorial. When your reason to hate fails, do you go in search of alternative reasons to hate, seize upon anything that creates smoke so you can scream “fire”?
See? See?!? I told you these kids were evil, even if the original reason wasn’t actually a big deal. But I’m not abusing a high school student; Covington Catholic is a cesspool of racism, misogyny and evil. I was right, even if my reason was off.
Reading my twitter was brutal, watching smart people, good people, release their inner-liars to rationalize their desire to hate this kid, this school, by seizing upon these irrelevancies. But not merely irrelevancies, but irrelevancies they didn’t even know to be remotely accurate. Yet they clung mindlessly to these claims rather than let go of their hate.
Among the many claims that failed to bear out was that the group was chanting “build the wall” as Sandmann and Phillips stood face to face. Perhaps this answer is the most telling, truthful and dangerous possible.
Going out on a limb here, but for the hat this wouldn’t have happened. The image of Sandmann and Phillips, sans MAGA hat, would have gone nowhere. It was the hat. And the hat talks to the woke. The hat says “build a wall.” It says white supremacy. It says hate me, as I am whatever evil you project onto me.
The social justice view is that there is no legitimate disagreement between people who support Trump, support conservative or libertarian positions, and certainly with anyone who wears the hat. And if you don’t see it, don’t hate anyone wearing the hat, then you approve of them, the hat, Trump.
The kid didn’t need to be wrong in what he did, even if there is a legitimate dispute over whether he was a jerk or right to stand his ground when Phillips got into his face. The kid was the personification of white supremacy because he wore the hat. The school was evil because it brought students to Washington to protest abortion. There is no legitimate disapproval of abortion either, but that too was a secondary rationalization for the hat.
It’s a struggle to maintain that people who disagree with you aren’t evil. It’s even harder when people you like, friends, blame you for not hating as much, for not signalling your team spirit by hating the right people. When I first wrote of this incident, I called it a litmus test, and that proved more correct than I imagined.
You may never don a MAGA hat. I know I won’t. But if someone does, is that “all you need to know” to make him a white supremacist, deplorable, evil, deserving to be punched? Many journalists believe so, and revealed themselves with clarity this time. It doesn’t make Trump’s lies any less false. It doesn’t make their lies any more true.
Ross Douthat calls this a “scissors” event, an algorithmically calculated occurrence that cuts through the fabric of society.
When you start arguing with someone over a Scissor statement, Alexander’s narrator explains, “at first you just think they’re an imbecile. Then they call you an imbecile, and you want to defend yourself. … You notice all the little ways they’re lying to you and themselves and their audience every time they open their mouth to defend their imbecilic opinion. Then you notice how all the lies are connected, that in order to keep getting the little things like the Scissor statement wrong, they have to drag in everything else. Eventually even that doesn’t work; they’ve just got to make everybody hate you so that nobody will even listen to your argument no matter how obviously true it is.”
Douthat then plays out the argument, him attacked for trying to be “even-handed.” It’s a curious device and will ring familiar with many, even though he oddly chose to make his antagonist alt-right in his scenario. His purpose is to show how the sides vilify each other, and vilify those who refuse to vilify, leaving no safe ground except within the bosom of the tribe, whichever tribe that may be for you.
This isn’t about some kid or his high school. While the hat was a trigger, it’s not about a hat. This could have been a wake-up call to the smarter of the woke, that they weren’t standing on top of higher moral ground, but they cared no more about the facts, or even the lesser failing of proportionality, than their evil deplorable enemies. And not only did they conclusively demonstrate their slavish bias, they left no middle ground unscorched.
Whether anyone who isn’t an SJW will go out and put on the MAGA hat is doubtful, but they now know their choices are to join the woke tribe or be hated for not hating whom they tell you to hate. This was a chance for people, especially in the media, to let go of their hatred, their bias, and see that they had gone off the rails. They chose not to do so. And they chose not to let you (or me) do so either.