Charles Brian Orner
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The Sostenuto Blog

Blame the "Educators" First

Donald Trump destroys everything he touches; directly, indirectly, by fiat, by implication. It is the supreme irony of a man who claims to build things.

The latest victim of his carcinogenic malaise is the Covington Catholic High School, who saw fit to enable a nascent mob of young men with the express purpose of disrupting the Indigenous People’s March with ostensibly pro-life sentiments (and school chants!) Now, what abortion rights have to do with indigenous people on the political spectrum is an utter mystery, but clearly it’s a learning opportunity for a privileged all white-male school three states distant—far more important, it seems, than three days of ordinary classroom instruction that a nation full of less privileged students undertook. I’m all for field trips, of course, and it is certain that the students and the school itself learned a great deal, but I do not think this is what was intended, and the blame for the ugliness that ensued lies squarely at the feet of the “educators” who are responsible for this mess. It was a stupid idea, poorly executed, poorly supervised, and a recipe for trouble on its face.

The first problem, of course, is that the school is parochial, which means that indoctrination is at least as important as an actual education. Indoctrination at this school appears to extend beyond religious alchemy and reproductive rights and directly into the political sphere and outright racism. Contemporaneous videos have surfaced showing Covington boys wearing blackface and taunting African American basketball players from other schools. Others have surfaced in which female passers-by are taunted in distressingly ordinary fashion, and of course the MAGA hats are self-explanatory. No doubt school officials will denounce these factors as aberrations in what is otherwise a fine education, and, you know, boys will be boys. But to pull that off, you have to explain away the MAGA hats. There is no explaining away the MAGA hats.

First of all, the fact that they were wearing them at all identifies these young men as—let’s be kind—exceptionally clueless, suggestible, impressionable fools. Boys will be boys, of course, and every high-school teenager I’ve ever met is clueless, suggestible, and impressionable—even those who have benefitted from a genuinely exceptional education—and on the basis of the evidence at hand, Covington Catholic does not remotely qualify. This is in the nature of the teenage years, as the human brain continues to develop at least into the mid-20’s. To a large extent, then, the purpose of any educational institution is to guide impressionable youth through these years with as little self-inflicted damage as possible. It is not to exacerbate their worst instincts, as this excursion was clearly architected to do.

Secondly, I have long been under the impression that private schools, and parochial schools in particular, institute and maintain dress codes. There are a variety of reasons for this, and these reasons are debatable, but the idea that any official school function would permit the wearing of MAGA hats—or any overtly political clothing of any kind—is utterly inexplicable. It’s an invitation to confrontation. It’s an implicit directive to participate, rather than to observe. It betrays utter disregard or ignorance of the aggravated political tensions that Donald Trump’s presidency* has sought to exacerbate. The “educators” who made this decision, either by action or inaction, are idiots.

Third, and by far most important, is the MAGA message itself. MAGA is not an ordinary statement of Republican fealty. It is not simply a supporting sentiment for the president*. MAGA is a claim about the alleged state of the country, and a wish to return to different (medieval) time of institutionalized white privilege, female disenfranchisement, blinkered ignorance about the spectrum of human sexuality, and ahistorical immigrant-free racial purity. It is an overt statement of the elimination of the fourth estate, the superiority of oligarchy, the moral imperative of wealth, and the support of overt facism. This is distressingly consistent with the history of western religion, but in the context of an Indigenous People’s March, these sentiments are perfectly horrifying, and perfectly obvious to everyone but the “educators” at Covington Catholic and the student victims of their institutional stupidity.

Religion and politics are no strangers to hypocrisy, but the the evangelical (and, it seems, Catholic) embrace of Donald Trump gives new meaning to the term. Trump is anathema to everything the church ostensibly teaches. He is by almost any measure among the most depraved human beings on the planet, and the embodiment of everything that Christ inveighed against. Embracing Trump gives the lie to the alleged moral superiority of the religious life, and it would seem that the “educators” at Covington Catholic, like many of the religious luminaries on the national stage, are too craven or blind to care. It’s not just that they were permitted the hats; they were permitted these hats. You have to be ensconced at Covington Catholic not to see the obvious outrage.

None of these kids are old enough to understand any of this as a matter of mileage and life experience, and one presumes that some of them will never learn it at all. They are, after all, students in an institution that is designed to indoctrinate them not to the primacy of free thought and rational evaluation, but to the imprimatur of belief for its own sake. In this most important sense, then, the “educators” at Covington Catholic are nothing of the kind.

In this larger context, the behavior of the students is entirely predictable, but it must be said that they are also due some of the blame. Some have claimed, as the central student in the viral video has, that they did the best they could under what they regarded as “confusing” circumstances. Perhaps this is true. But it is also true that they chose to wear the hats. They chose to invite the confrontation. The student in question chose to wear a smug smile of arrogant entitlement that betrayed his utter ignorance of, and apathy toward, the larger context in which he found himself. He chose to exacerbate the confrontation, rather than to give way to an elderly man who clearly meant him no personal harm, who demonstrated no personal threat, and who did not even seek to maintain eye contact. In the final analysis, these students are responsible for their actions, and their actions were deplorable.

Setting aside acts of egregious criminality, none of us should be defined by our worst moments, and the lives of these children should not be destroyed because of one moment of stupidity. But make no mistake, it was a moment of exceptional stupidity by all concerned, and the lion’s share of the blame lies with the adults at Covington Catholic.

We will, inevitably, see the right-wing propaganda machine, the school, and the parents of these children rise to their defense and attempt to explain away the situation as nothing more than the bad behavior of an ostensibly left-wing media, and a larger video context has emerged that muddies the socio-political waters to a not inconsiderable degree. But in the final analysis, the students and the school have aligned themselves with Donald Trump, and no contemporaneous video can explain that away. Donald Trump destroys everything he touches. He represents the worst of America. No Catholic—no Christian—no person with any moral fiber at all—can tolerate, much less support Donald Trump, and no amount of spin-doctor handwringing can explain away the hypocrisy at the center of this controversy.


Brian Orner