Religion

The Covington Affair

Native American Nathan Phillips confronts a student from Covington Catholic High School in Washington, D.C., January 18, 2019. (Kaya Taitano/Social Media/via Reuters)

‘A  fuller and more complicated picture emerged.” Just so.

  For an overheated few minutes, the world (meaning the world of people engaged in producing and consuming nanosecond-by-nanosecond commentary on the Internet) was rapt with revulsion at the sight of a group of smirking high-school boys — Catholic-school students, some in red “Make America Great Again” caps — menacing an older Native American man beating a drum as part of a protest in Washington, where the students were visiting as part of the annual March for Life. The condemnations were vitriolic, including here at National Review.

A word on the Nick Frankovich Corner post. As longtime readers know, the Corner is our group blog that encourages real-time, unfiltered reactions by our individual writers (it was basically Twitter before the advent of Twitter). There is always a peril in that. Occasionally, we’ll get something hastily and spectacularly wrong. Nick was operating off the best version of events he had on Saturday night, and writing as a faithful Catholic and pro-lifer who has the highest expectations of his compatriots, not as a social-justice activist. As soon as better evidence emerged, we deleted the post.

In this business, all we can do is own up to mistakes when they happen. We apologize to our readers and especially to the Covington students, who didn’t need us piling on.

What happened to them, unfortunately, is very familiar: The boys were vilified and threatened, while the partisans of what is cynically and inaccurately described as social justice began the work of hunting down the boys’ parents’ employers in the hopes of ruining those families economically. The tone of the commentary was—well, here’s how one writer for Vulture put it: “I just want these people to die. Simple as that. Every single one of them. And their parents.” The students were, in this estimate, only “white slugs.”

Because the culture wars are approached as a zero-sum game, many of the most committed progressives are now desperately trying to formulate a reason to continue slandering them and attempting to chase their parents into unemployment and penury. That speaks to the sorry state of our democracy: Why bother trying to persuade or convince your fellow citizens when you can simply make them into pariahs? The Times, in articulating the “fuller picture,” went so far as to suggest that to invoke the name of Donald Trump — or to simply wear a hat bearing his famous slogan — constitutes a “racially charged taunt.” These are not, for the most part, ideas offered in good faith: They are stratagems deployed to delegitimize certain political points of view. If supporters of the president are to be condemned as engaging in racial provocation for simply saying his name, then the conversation has nowhere to go.

All of this exposes a larger and more serious deficiency: in citizenship. Good citizens with proper respect for themselves, their neighbors, and their country do not seek to destroy the lives of a couple of teenagers in the pursuit of a transient and petty political advantage.

Errors can be forgiven, and the occasional tendency to get carried away with rhetorical excess can be received with charity — especially by those of us who suffer from the same temptation from time to time. But political psychosis and deceit are something else. They can be forgiven only contingently — and never forgotten.

The Editors comprise the senior editorial staff of the National Review magazine and website.

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