The first time I saw the snippet of the MAGA kid / Native American drummer video, my reaction was about the same as most other people’s.
“What a jerk that kid is.”
“Somebody needs to teach him a lesson.”
“I hope the school punishes him.”
Now, some 12 or so hours later, my opinion on the matter is decidedly different.
This will be very unpopular, I know, but I think that the kid not only shouldn’t be expelled, but that his only offense is not de-escalating.
He should have backed up or walked away. No question. There’s a respect factor for elders that wasn’t in play there, and it should have been. That’s something that should be addressed at once by his parents and the school. I’m certainly not attempting to portray this kid as a hero.
But he said nothing. He did nothing. There was no violence. No threat. There were no harsh words exchanged. There was, at most, a smirk.
While I don’t agree with the content of this tweet, the video is instructive. It’s a longer cut than what we’ve seen on the news. It shows the Native American protestors approaching the group of students, the students laughing and jumping in time with the music a bit, and the leader of the group, Nathan Phillips, walking up to the kid (who admittedly doesn’t budge).
But nothing happens. No conflict. No screaming. No “surrounding” of the Native Americans. Nothing. Everyone actually seems to be in fairly good spirits. I saw a half-dozen videos from the Women’s March today that were far more tense and confrontational.
Point blank: I think a lot of people still haven’t been able to wrap their minds around the fact that Donald Trump (for whom I did not vote) is president. This, naturally, is an understatement. They object to him on a personal and ideological level, and I’m not questioning the validity of those objections. I share some of them.
But what I’m also saying is that many people are so obsessed and angry about Trump’s presidency that they bring that emotion with them when they view the video. They see the young, affluent, white boys in MAGA hats and ascribe all the negative group characteristics therein to that gaggle of students. That’s their starting point.
They see the smirk. They see the refusal to move. Instantly, this becomes something else in their minds. It fits the pattern they need to see in the world, which is a perpetually regressive society packed with racists at every turn. It’s the segregationist South revisited—and ubiquitous. And, whereas I see a smirk, they see a physical attack.
This, again, is the “two movies, one screen” phenomenon. We are so charged up by our own preconceived notions that it is difficult—sometimes impossible—to absorb what we are actually seeing in front of us and achieve an escape velocity sufficient to extricate ourselves from confirmation bias.
People read the Washington Post account, for example, and accept it at face value (after the Post, in turn, has accepted Phillips’ account unquestioningly). The New York Times says that the boys “mobbed” Phillips. They accept these accounts because they fit their preconceived notions about how evil anyone wearing that hat must be.
Thus, when they watch the video, they see what is described above, and not actually what the footage shows. And a teenage boy acting like a teenage boy suddenly becomes the leader of the Hitler Youth. Factor in that he attends a religious, all-boys school, and that he has a tangential connection to the March for Life, and certain outlets or commentators become even more motivated to craft a particular, familiar narrative.
But there’s something else here beyond selective or decontextualized reporting. There’s also an element that’s close to a mass delusion effect, created by the way we absorb information, particularly via social media.
To use a different example, I always think back to that Packers – Vikings playoff game in which Randy Moss pantomimed dropping his pants after he scored a touchdown for Minnesota in Green Bay. Again, he didn’t actually drop his pants, he just made a gesture with his hands at his hips as if he were doing so.
However, Fox’s Joe Buck reacted so indignantly, calling it “disgusting” twice in the span of a few seconds, that not only did Fox not show the replay, but other networks wouldn’t show it for 24 hours—before the delusion finally wore off.
Today, that exact gesture is the thumbnail for the YouTube video.
Something similar is happening here, with high-profile celebrities openly calling for expulsion—or even violence—against the kids in the video.
Again, I’m not suggesting those kids didn’t act rowdy or even foolish. But, if there’s no redemption to be had for high-school kids who do something silly or stupid, if people feel comfortable trying to dox minors because of a smirk, if the penalty for mildly dumb behavior should be permanent forfeiture of employment, then we’re probably already doomed.
I’d like to hold out hope. But hope requires a lot more societal grace than is being extended tonight.
I’m left to wonder if we’re fresh out.
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Thank you for writing a well reasoned, thoughtful, and ethical perspective on this debacle. I did not want to agree with you. I was raised to treat my elders with deference and respect and I raised my daughter with the same values so I am discouraged and I’ll admit it, a little bit angry, to see young people (regardless of skin color or choice of fashion accessories) being obstinate and arrogant to an elderly gentleman. You are absolutely correct though. This is strictly a parenting issue not a legal one. There is nothing here that warrants academic or legal repercussions. The pendulum swings both ways and while I adamantly believe children have a moral obligation to defer to the elderly out of respect and kindness, I also believe as adults we have a moral obligation to forgive the transgressions of children when they make choices that fall short of ideal.
That being said, I sought out the comments section to express my genuine appreciation for your fair and civil take on the latest polarized trigger event and was greeted with multiple comments reminding me why everyone is so mad and exactly what the big deal is. There is a growing lack of respect, civility, and ethics among the citizenry of America that has led to dialogues both online and in person that are tribal and combative from the first words to the last. It is straight “Lord of the Flies” tribalism meets ruthless gangbanger turf war.
Expecting youth to show deference and respect to seniors regardless of race, political ideology, or social class should not be labeled and derided as a liberal or Democrat trait, or worse yet, a Democrat tactic. Nor should it be viewed as weak or “backing down”. Teaching our children to show respect and civility for others, especially the elders, even in the face of opposing points of view should be an American trait. The non-stop litany of name calling and unsupported character assassination of the opposing party is damaging to the future of this country not making it great again.
Thanks very much for reading – and for your thoughtful comments. I really appreciate it!
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The NY Times is backpedaling in their follow-up “reporting” but yes – like many others, their confirmation bias was too powerful at first.
Progressives demand you back down, back up, and retreat – because they feel they have an exclusive license on the “truth” and “justice”. And a white youth? Well, he is evil and wrong for existing, unless he is also a progressive liberal.
It is what they demand when they try to pass confiscatory gun laws, no parental notice for teenager abortions, and everything else. It is the foundation of Alinski’s rules.
The kids were approached – the adult is wrong in this situation, and worse, lied.
“He should have backed up or walked away.” Bull. Fucking. Shit.
Legally speaking, you’re correct. From a deferential standpoint, as well as a strategic one, it probably made more sense to move. The guy wasn’t worth it. I respectfully disagree.
Deferential? To some “elder” of whose tribe the kid isn’t a part of? Why does he need to do anything?
Thank You. The voices of reason regarding this video are so few and far between. I just read the comments about it on two different pages and I feel like I just took a dunk in filth. Its literally a Five Minute Hate going on right now towards this kid for standing there smiling. There are people threatening to kill him and/or beat him to a pulp. There are people actively trying to ruin his future, his family’s livelihood and his school. All in the name of being a more loving society. The hate being directed towards this 18 year old kid for just standing there is at completely insane levels and not one person has even asked him about it. There are also people saying that they won’t accept any apologies from him or his parents or any alternate versions of the story. There is to be no forgiveness for him based on a video with all context edited out and the narrative of only one side of the story.