Thursday, January 24, 2019

Some Final Takeaways from the Covington Catholic Story: "Conservatives Have Realized They Can Construct a Parallel Reality and Have It Accepted," but "I Know What I Saw"

The Twitter gods and social media gurus and faux-liberal nannies have decreed that We Shall No Longer Talk of Covington Catholic. Since I have been out of commission due to my tooth extraction, however, I'm behind the curve. I still have things to say, and am of a mind to say more. Here's a selection of commentary I want to bring to your attention today:

The "Make America Great Again" slogan has become political code for an agenda that is often in opposition with the teachings of the Roman Catholic Church.

I am ashamed that the actions of Kentucky Catholic high school students have become a contradiction of the very reverence for human life that the march is supposed to manifest. As such, I believe that U.S. Catholics must take a look at how our support of the fundamental right to life has become separated from the even more basic truth of the dignity of each human person. 
Without engaging the discussion about the context of the viral video or placing the blame entirely on these adolescents, it astonishes me that any students participating in a pro-life activity on behalf of their school and their Catholic faith could be wearing apparel sporting the slogans of a president who denigrates the lives of immigrants, refugees and people from countries that he describes with indecent words and haphazardly endangers with life-threatening policies.

The new facts about this small encounter this weekend in Washington are important, and worth clarifying. But they don't change the larger story, the one that caused so many people to react so viscerally to the narrative's first, and simpler draft.

I don’t see how you could watch this and think otherwise unless you're willing to gaslight yourself, and others, in the service of granting undeserved sympathy to the privileged. Many were more than happy to do just that.

After the video spread on Twitter over the weekend, the teens' families hired a communications firm to launch multi-level public relations campaign to wage war against the press. … 
With each new video clip, right-wing hucksters alleged there was additional proof that the Covington Catholic boys should be exonerated for their display, despite the fact that none of the subsequent video clips prove that the boys did not demonstrate disrespectful behavior toward Phillips—rather, all video evidence reaffirmed that interpretation. What the clips did do, however, is provide documentation of verbal harassment of the boys by demonstrators from a Black Hebrew Israelite group prior to their encounter with indigenous activists. Despite the fact that additional footage showed the kids had been riled up before encountering Phillips, the clips do not change the facts of what happened after they did. 
A response to the viral video first launched in a part of right-wing internet that could be aptly likened to a landfill and ascended into the stratosphere. The pushback campaign first took off with fame-hungry media personalities like YouTube hoaxer Joey Salads, climbed through a mill of pro-Trump propagandists, thrust itself into 'respectable' conservative outlets, and eventually reached its cruising altitude at Fox News—an elevation where President Donald Trump encountered the narrative and tweeted out its message to the nation ... 
Right-wing activists created and spread hashtags like #VerifiedBullies and #StandWithCovington. Others began building a database of verified Twitter users who had criticized the teens—and in extreme cases provoked harassment and violent rhetoric against the students—and demanded that those users be suspended and, if they were media professionals, to be fired. So far, that campaign has cost at least one media professional their job.

The nationwide firestorm surrounding Covington Catholic has brought to light that one of the Greater Cincinnati high school's most prominent graduates happens to be President Trump's top White House attorney. 
Pat Cipollone, CovCath class of 1984, recently took over as White House general counsel. He had previously served as an informal adviser to the president on the special counsel investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 elections.

Almost as soon as the maltreatment of elder Phillips hit the Intertoobz, the shields snapped on. First, there was the "whole video" which did indeed include the antics of the Black Israelites, a notorious claque of semi-political crackpots familiar to anyone who has walked the streets of New York or D.C. some time in the past two decades. Miraculously, through the familiar magic of the conservative media, Phillips's actions are somehow conflated with those of the Black Israelites, because, I dunno, Not White. This is all the conservative Wurlitzer needed. 
Within 48 hours, people were deleting tweets, mournfully "reconsidering" their original revulsion at the behavior of these privileged jackeens, and one of them found himself on the TODAY Show, exhibiting his Internet stigmata to the nation. And all of this is the work of a Republican-connected PR firm run by a fixer who used to work with Mitch McConnell, and therefore was quite familiar with how easily earnest liberals can be mau-mau'ed. I'm sure that the only lawyer/consultant the parents of these embattled bros could find was one that was connected to the Majority Leader of the United States Senate. Yes, and I am the Tsar of all the Russias.

Conservatives have realized they can construct a parallel reality and have it accepted. … 
In making this happen, conservative media have normalized the boys' aggressive form of political expression, and tried to further discredit both fact-oriented media and high-profile liberals. Media outlets have been effectively gaslighted, and many climbed down from coverage which was based on the most clear and obvious interpretation of the boys chanting, making gestures and making tomahawk chops. 
What it tells us is that in 2019, conservatives understand they can construct a parallel reality and have it accepted. They can act in bad faith and prevail, using tried and tested tactics that liberal media continue to fall for.

Here's how we should know that what this young man [Nicholas Sandmann of Covington Catholic] is asserting above is nothing more than a weak attempt at revisionist history at best, and classic gaslighting at worst: 
I taught high school music for 10 years, and took more kids on more off-campus field trips, band and solo festivals, concerts, auditions, honor band weekends, football games, marching band competitions, jazz band festivals, musicals, all-counties, all-states, and other various and assorted events than I can remember. 
Under no circumstances, if we had been confronted while on a school-sanctioned field trip by a group of protesters shouting derogatory comments at us, would I have allowed or encouraged my students to respond in kind by shouting "school spirit chants" back at the protesters. All that does is escalate a potentially dangerous situation. It's basically "Field Trip 101" — when bad, strange, or potentially dangerous stuff starts happening, get out of there. 
Any teacher or administrator worth their school lunch would have quickly hustled those kids out of that location, making sure that no knuckleheads in their group started doing exactly what this kid says he asked his "teacher chaperones for permission" to do. I’ve seen other groups of kids pull this kind of stunt while on trips, and it always backfires–raising tensions, inflaming emotions, and egging on individuals with little impulse control to indulge their worst instincts. And it always seems to come from groups of students from "privileged" schools–kids who were born on 3rd base but are convinced they've hit a triple.

HuffPost also detailed more stories that have come out about Covington after Friday's incident: 
"One man said on Twitter that he was harassed by Covington students for being gay, documentarian Arlen Parsa said that members of the community said there “is an ingrained sexism problem” at the school and quoted black students who said they got bullied there, and many on Twitter pointed to a recent news report detailing rape charges against former Covington Catholic basketball player Jacob Walter, 18, after a student was caught on video shouting, 'It's not rape if you enjoy it.'"

"I was not surprised at all," Bales plainly told NBC News when asked for his reaction to last week's D.C. confrontation. "It was only a matter of time that something this school community did would blow up to this degree, and I think they need to be held accountable."

What I hear as I listen to this statement by the Covington Catholic teen — "Blackface is 'school spirit'":
We wear black face and MAGA hats, but we don't mean anything by this. 
We issue taunts and slurs to young women as we talk about how it's not rape if you enjoy it. We dance and whoop and make racist gestures to a native American elder. 
But — you've got it! — we don't mean a thing in the world by any of this. 
Because we are white, affluent, privileged young males connected to top conservative leaders in the U.S, and Catholic, we expect you to accept any lie we tell you about ourselves, to pretend you don't see what you see with your own eyes — and, oh, by the way, we're pro-life above all! 

As the Covington students ascend to right-wing martyrdom, some perspective is in order. The disproportionate reaction to their behavior does not, as some conservative commentators have suggested, represent a new kind of oppression comparable to that experienced by historically disfavored groups. While all children deserve forgiveness and understanding, in America, children who are not white are often simply not seen as children at all. 
The Covington students are not likely to have their summary executions by police officers justified, they will not be separated from their parents for the crime of seeking asylum, they are not disproportionately more likely to be charged as adults for crimes they committed as children, they are not likely to be stalked in the night and murdered by grown men who become folk heroes for acting out the violent racist fantasies of others. The president’s campaign merchandise remains a favorite of white-supremacist groups, and his name remains a racist taunt for those seeking to antagonize people of color of any age. None of this has changed, and the disgraceful overreaction of some liberals does not change it. If the right extended the sympathy the Covington students are now receiving to children who don’t remind them of their own, this would be a more just society.

After observing the ongoing national tragedy of countless migrant teens and young children being herded into internment camps by the Trump administration, its especially rich to see the president's disciples wailing and rending their sackcloth over the unfair treatment of a group of students from Covington Catholic High School.

I know what I saw. … 
Sandmann's family hired a well-connected PR firm to spin the story. RunSwitch, whose co-owner Scott Jennings is an adviser to House Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) and is a CNN contributor, pushed the story Sunday that Nick and his peers were the real victims. After neglecting to disclose its ties to RunSwitch, CNN shared Sandmann’s statement, and the rest of the mainstream media, with its bottomless mercy for white boys and bottomless suspicion for people color, gobbled it up. ...
Up is still up, down is still down, the truth is still the truth and the actions of the Covington Catholic youth are still racist and wrong. The media pundits who are tripping over themselves to appear neutral and balanced are feeding into gaslighting tactics that are becoming more common in the era of Trump and more effective as our national dialogue is anchored further and further away from the truth. 

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