Last weekend while skiing in Vermont with friends, I took quite the tumble down the mountain. After assessing the damage, I had broken my tibia in 3 places and fractured my ankle. The prognosis: a full leg cast for six weeks. Full leg casts are not fun and leave me basically bed ridden. So, with this newfound time I decided to pick up the old typewriter and not just ‘stick to sports’. Here goes nothing. Enjoy.
The video of a clamoring group of skinny, white teenagers from a Kentucky Catholic school surrounding, and seemingly mocking, Nathan Phillips, a Native American man, took the internet by storm last week. In the video that vent viral, the image that was seared into the brains of most Americans was a young teen, donning a ‘Make America Great Again’ hat, with a shit-eating grin on, obstructing Phillip’s path as he tried to peacefully put on a demonstration at the Lincoln Memorial. This was compounded by a gaggle of this young man’s friends surrounding him, all with varying levels of the aforementioned shit-eating grin and many whom were rocking the same notorious red pro-Trump hat, who, as group, seemed to add an additional level of mockery to the already tense situation.
As it was presented, this video was the perfect fuel to the proverbial fire burning in each and every Trump-hating, twitter Liberal. Should the kid’s lives be ruined? Absolutely not, they never laid a hand on Phillips and are just teenagers seemingly succumbing to classic high school mob mentality, albeit a rather unfortunate manifestation of this mentality. However, most reasonable people could undoubtedly see the leg that the Twitter brigade was standing on when they came after these teens: the video was disturbing and any person with a semblance of a heart sympathized with Phillips. And so it was; this incident was filed away on the side of the Left, again showing the monstrosity that is the Right and highlighting how this infestation of a world view has trickled all the way down to the youth of our nation.
This was until a few days back when additional footage of the incident was brought forward. Prior to the incident between Phillips and the boys, a group of African American Hebrew Israelites were filmed taunting both the group of students and the other Native Americans who were present. They called the teens “dirty ass crackers” and told them that their “day was coming”. Earlier in the video, they came after the Native Americans, they vigorously mocked their beliefs and told them that their lack of belief in the true God was “the reason this land was taken from you”. While this occurred prior to the previously under question incident, it can be reasonably stated that the stage set by the Hebrew Israelites was partially to blame for escalating the situation and created an atmosphere of hostility that contributed to the incitement of the subsequent encounter. Furthermore, it was also seen that Phillips was actually the one that approached the group of students, not the other way around. This point is fairly important. It takes the situation from a group of malintent-filled teens targeting a poor old man who was minding his own business. To a group of teens reacting (still inappropriately) to a man approaching them in demonstration.
Now it was the other side of the Twitter brigade’s turn to beat their chest. Instead of this being filed under the monstrosity of the right, the right countered, calling this to be filed as another tired case of the left trying to mistakenly vilify the right and pointed to their tendency to jump to conclusions and blame everything on Trump and his supporters. So, what was it? Which side ‘won’ this particular event?
Neither (and both).
Not often do we get to witness an event that so perfectly highlights the absurdity of today’s current political climate. This situation, and the public’s reaction to it, so wonderfully encapsulates one of our nation’s largest issues: identity politics and the ‘them’ vs ‘us’ mentality.
What makes this situation so particularly special is that both sides are very much so right about certain aspects of their claims, while being incredibly misguided on others. The kids were still absolutely mocking Phillips in the initial video. They also were approached by Phillips and did not appear to seek him out. The kids were acting like jackasses. The kids also were also insulted and harassed by adults who were acting much more inappropriately. Outspoken Liberals absolutely, and too quickly, used this as opportunity to put down all Trump supporters and demonized these children on a level they certainly did not deserve. Outspoken Conservatives also absolutely used this as opportunity to put down all Liberals and are completely turning a blind eye to the fact that the kids still deserve a share of the blame. The point is: all of the above can be true simultaneously.
Acknowledging that this situation is complicated, has multiple parties in the wrong and is not as cut and dry as it appears requires a nuanced opinion. Inserting nuance into our political opinions is what so many Americans desperately need. Anytime an event occurs with any sort political undertones, there is a race to ‘bucket’ it into a win, or loss, for either side. Each person involved is labeled as either ‘good’ or ‘bad’ depending on the side they, and you, seemingly conform to. The problem is, that’s not the way the world operates. Things aren’t black and white. Things (most things) aren’t simply good or bad. There are levels to every interaction, every person, every policy and every idea, that should be judged on the summation of these levels, not just what is convenient to pick out.
Let me provide an example – I think Donald Trump is surely a despicable human being, and by most measures, is not fit to be the president of the United States. I also try not to actively root against him and do not wish him to fail as our president. Let me make it even simpler: I do not like Donald Trump, but I hope he does well as our president. Ah, nuance. Rooting against a perceived political opponent is natural, almost instinctual, I am willing to concede that. But not only does that not mean we shouldn’t be mindful of this occurrence and work to dial it back. But today, the natural, benign satisfaction you get from an opponent’s failure is so frequently superseded by mocking, name-calling and ill-conceived moral posturing at the expense of others. What is logical about passionately hoping that our president fails? He is our president and has the ability to affect the well-being of the citizens of this country. I will vote against Trump in 2020, but I hope he somehow, someway improves the country as he finishes out his time in office. In my experience, this belief is not shared by most who would consider themselves Liberals. Why would that be? Why would millions upon millions of citizens actively root for things to go wrong in this country so their side can ‘win’ and they can prove the other side wrong? The answer: the desire for the affirmation of something that you believe to be a part you and the defeat of something that you believe to be the antithesis of that same part of you. This is identity politics.
Identity politics is defined as “the ways in which people’s politics are shaped by aspects of their identity through loosely correlated social organizations”. Inherently, it is not necessarily a bad thing. Fueling your political beliefs based on things you believe to be a part of your identity can be a powerful force when directed in a useful and productive way. Say if you are a gay man, fighting for gay rights, evoking your personal struggles and drawing from that passion can be a driving force for change. However, identity politics can morph into an issue, fast. Most notably when these beliefs become directed toward and against a perceived opponent. Let me lay it out for you: Person ‘Z’ believes ‘X’ that I disagree with. Lack of belief in ‘X’ in necessary to be a part of ‘Y’ group or cohort. Being a part of ‘Y’ group or cohort is an integral part of my identity and who I am. Because of this, person ‘Z’ is an enemy, everything they do and believe must be bad. Think that is a big leap to take? In the world we currently reside, it is not, especially on our social media platforms. Not only does this fuel hatred and disdain but it also pushes forward perceived superiority and an ill-formed moral high ground. ‘Because of my belief and your lack of belief in ‘x’ I am a more moral and thus, better person than you’. Does this statement get outwardly and explicitly said, no. But, it is internalized and felt by those on both sides of the isle. As politics continue to polarize, those who follow their parties to edges of those poles so often begin to dabble in this dangerous form of identity politics.
The antidote for this phenoma: nuance. Welcome nuance into your life. Being anti-gun does not make somebody a snowflake out to strip everyone of their liberties. Maybe if you grew up in a different place and time with different interests you’d think differently too. By the same token, supporting Donald Trump does not make you a bad person. Maybe if you were raised in a different family, with different values, you’d feel differently too. The point is, if you get truly worked up over somebody disagreeing with your beliefs, no matter the side of the aisle, you need to look inward and not out. The problem isn’t anonymous person X on Twitter, the problem is you determining somebody is an enemy because they disagree with something you feel is part of your identity. Next time you see something like the Covington Catholic Kids standoff, maybe take a step back and don’t let your beliefs take you over, look at this situation objectively and see how it feels. Welcome nuance.