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Covington Catholic and the Absolute Failure of Adults

As everyone knows by now, a group of high school boys from Covington Catholic attended the pro-life march in Washington and visited the Lincoln Memorial. There they were accosted by a group of racist Black Israelites —  [1]grown men who were yelling at 14-year-old kids, “you little dirty ass crackers, your day coming” and “I will stick my foot in your ass!” A Native American protester then marched towards the students while beating a drum.

Naturally, the national media did not report that this group of black supremacists had hurled racial epithets at children. Instead, the students were painted as racist villains. The media mob accused the kids of surrounding and mocking an elderly Native American veteran.

This whole event is beyond stupid. If the students hadn’t been wearing MAGA gear, this would not be a national news story. Yet the children’s church felt the need to condemn its own members. Their diocese sent out a bunch of “not our values” PR crap. Why didn’t they wait to get all the facts? The unedited two hour video shows a group of immature kids caught in a bizarre situation. [1] And it raises the great question of our age: where the hell are the adults?

Adults, whatever their political persuasion, should not be focusing on the kids in this story. Even if they acted disrespectfully, teenage boys will act like teenage boys because they are—gasp!—teenage boys. That wouldn’t exonerate their behavior if they did what they were accused of doing, but the full video shows that the narrative ran away from reality. What they actually did isn’t worthy of national attention. Even if you hate Trump, anyone with an ounce of perspective should understand that kids doing Fortnite dances is not malevolent. The real problem is that the adults failed to act like adults.

The most egregious adult failure came from the Kentucky diocese that threw its own children under the bus. Responsible leaders would have waited for more information before issuing a statement. These kids were violently threatened by deranged lunatics only to be threatened with expulsion from their school. Church leaders are supposed to be shepherds, but they’ve been so beat up by the child abuse scandals that they no longer have any fight in them. And by failing to wait for the full story, the Church betrayed its youth once again, along with the entire pro-life movement by legitimizing propaganda against it. In a culture that views Christianity as synonymous with bigotry, the Catholic Church needs to be able to withstand a little cyberbullying.

The other institution that failed is the media—but does anyone really expect better from them [2]? Everyone understands that American news is now political by nature. Choosing to cover a group of high school boys acting immaturely rather than the fact that 300,000 people marched against abortion is an act of bias prior to any intentional spin. Adults are media savvy enough to understand that we are quick to accept news that reinforces our views. Washington Post readers who painted these kids as a neo-lynch mob were beyond juvenile.

It is also incredibly idiotic to start banging a drum at a bunch of kids. What in God’s name is that supposed to accomplish? A grownup who antagonizes children for wearing MAGA hats is not a victim; he’s a clown. White liberals have an ugly tendency to portray those who aren’t white as children, which is how the adult in this situation ended up painted as the poor victim. He should be held to a higher standard. Native Americans are not perpetually stuck in anti-pollution ads with tears dripping down their eyes; they are adults with agency. This man had plenty of options open to him; he chose to accost kids with a drum, and then turn around and call them scary. Scary? Some of these kids look like smug jerks, but how is an adult scared of a 90 pound 14-year-old?”

Finally, where were the adults chaperoning these kids? What grownup lets teenagers chant school fight songs at a group of racists threatening violence? People should have diffused this situation. Instead they banged drums.

Nothing about this is morally complex. Adults need to be held to a higher standard than children, period. The problem is that we live in a deeply juvenile age. The people who run our institutions—those who organize political rallies, run church dioceses, and write our news—have all emerged from this immature cesspool. A new Solon will not emerge from a culture that thirsts to ruin kids’ lives just because of politics. So once again, we ask in futility: where are the adults?

James McElroy is a New York City-based novelist and essayist, who also works in finance.

109 Comments (Open | Close)

109 Comments To "Covington Catholic and the Absolute Failure of Adults"

#1 Comment By VikingLS On January 24, 2019 @ 11:23 am

“MM, None of us were there. I certainly wasn’t; I was stuck in bed in a Florida hotel room with pneumonia. So none of us know what really happened.”

Again this is real not true. The vent was heavily documented and NOBODY, not the students, not Phillips, presented your version of what happened.

“I don’t plan to engage this non-issue further, in any forum.”

Why don’t you just say you were wrong?

I see you often claim to be a Christian. Pride is a deadly sin.

#2 Comment By MM On January 24, 2019 @ 12:01 pm

JonF: “So none of us know what really happened.”

Right, thanks for confirmed an earlier point I made. You, and many on the left, came out early and believed Phillips uncritically, because of the color of his skin and the story he told.

Now that he’s repeatedly lied about the sequence of events, not to mention his war record, the default position is, “we’ll never know for sure.”

But in the court of public opinion, much like a court of law, when all relevant facts finally come out, the person who lied should be disbelieved.

Why is that so hard to accept for you guys?

And why have white, conservative Catholics, be they school boys or a Supreme Court nominee, generate such hatred and intolerance on the left these days?

Some might call that pattern of behavior evidence of bigotry…

#3 Comment By mrscracker On January 24, 2019 @ 12:58 pm

I sure hope you are feeling better today? Pneumonia is rough. I’ll say a prayer for your recovery.

#4 Comment By Theresa On January 24, 2019 @ 2:48 pm

RE; “I knew as long as I kept my composure and didn’t do anything that he might perceive as aggressive or elevation of the conflict, that it would hopefully die,” Sandmann said.”

Janwaar Bibi says: “It would hopefully die?? OMG, he hoped the Respected Vietnam Veteran Native American Elder would die!! Shriek. Notice also how this Racist White Male Teen dehumanizes the Respected Vietnam Veteran Native American Elder by referring to him as “it” !!! This must be condemned by everyone on Twitter, Facebook, Instagram and MySpace.”

I don’t know if English is your native or second language. Assuming IT (that is, the English language) is your second language, then a little lesson in grammar and syntax might be helpful. The “it” in the quotation you provided (above), refers back to the closest noun (that is, “the conflict”). It does NOT refer to the pronoun “he” as you have quite mistakenly interpreted it.

If English is you first language, then in order to prevent embarrassing yourself again, I would suggest a review of basic grammar and syntax that you should have learned in grammar school and again in high school.

To summarize, Sandermann was expressing the hope that “it” – the CONFLICT – would die, NOT Mr. Phillips. This same sentiment can be seen in the written statement he provided after the Media rashly judged him:

“I believed that by remaining motionless and calm, I was helping to diffuse the situation. I realized everyone had cameras and that perhaps a group of adults was trying to provoke a group of teenagers into a larger conflict. I said a silent prayer that the situation would not get out of hand.” (Sandmann).

Here, he refers to the “situation” – that is, the CONFLICT.

And BTW, Phillips never served in Vietnam. He lied about that, too, as he can clearly be heard in several interviews making that claim. Once it was discovered that he never served in Vietnam, he has attempted to claim that he said he was a marine during the TIME of Vietnam.

I hope this helps to clarify some basic grammar and syntax for you, as well as Mr. Phillips military service.

#5 Comment By Theresa On January 24, 2019 @ 2:59 pm

MM: “Now that he’s repeatedly lied about the sequence of events, not to mention his war record, the default position is, ‘we’ll never know for sure.‘“

Or else “that the events were much more complex than was initially reported.”

Anything BUT, ‘That our journalistic technique in this matter sucked because we based our JUDGMENT (which is a far cry from objective reporting) on a one minute video, without even attempting to get the larger context, and without even interviewing all the parties involved (such as, the CovCath kids) to get their side of the story.”

I never used to read the “supermarket tabloids” (National Enquirer, etc), because they had no credibility. Today, I consider most of the MSM to be in pretty much the same category as the “tabloids” – with one exception: at least the “tabloids” weren’t remarkable for their obvious bigotry, as the MSM is (and as you have noted well).

#6 Comment By Kurt Gayle On January 24, 2019 @ 4:44 pm

Once again, thank you so much, cka2nd, for writing this wealth of practical information and of movement histories. I wasn’t an active trade unionist until 1968 (my first steward’s job) and even then I missed out on a lot of the really good picket line workshops that other unions (UAW, Steelworkers, etc.) provided, when the union movement was still strong. I was told by some of the older men and women I worked with that back in the day the Communist Party had put on really excellent workshops that covered just about everything that could happen in interactions with police and strike-breakers on the picket line. (But by the late ‘60s the CP was just a shadow of its old self and, besides, for many of the rank-and-file the politics of the whole thing would have interfered with agreeing to attend even really well-run workshops.) The older, big-city Trotskyist groups put on good picket line workshops (I am told), but some of us (who had attended various Trot demos) had come to actively mistrust the Trots because we felt that they often deliberately maneuvered demonstrators into violent confrontations with police in order to “radicalize” them/us. (Thanks, but no thanks.)

You are an unusually empathetic person, cka2nd: “We could have attended an anti-police brutality demonstration together, especially after cops in Connecticut used pain holds on OR clinic blockaders to break their lines.” You’re amazing. I never thought you guys even noticed what they were doing to us. Actually the pain holds (“compliance holds,” “come-alongs”) were commonly used against OR by police in many cities, but in my experience they were used primarily to “break” the determination of a group refusing to walk to the paddy wagons after arrest. (We went limp in order to force the police to have to carry us and thereby take many times longer to clear the site). As you well know, the police hated to carry 100-200 limp adults from an abortion clinic entrance to a paddy wagon. Who could blame them? Police could easily be injured doing that kind of work. So, I understood the police pain holds and I never formally complained on behalf of OR. Our strategy was to put me (I was the one who communicated with the police) and a dozen young men on the front line nearest the arresting officers, so when they picked us up and bent our wrists down and pressed our fingers up under our forearms it was our job to put up with the pain and to refuse to stand and walk. (The first time they ever did the pain holds on me, I screamed. I was really embarrassed, because my shout might have scared other Rescuers. I did end up at the doctor’s, but I missed only two days work from my fork-life job—just badly-stretched tendons, nothing permanent. And none of the other Rescuers to my knowledge ever experienced any permanent wrist injuries.) In my OR experience the police would use pain holds on no more than a dozen Rescuers (normal the police, too, hated to hurt us) before they’d give it up and just begin carrying limp bodies. (Once at a pre-Rescue meeting a woman came up to me and said that the organist at her cathedral was in the group that day and she was worried about the pain holds ending her organist’s career. The two of us persuade the organist to stand and walk when she was arrested.) I once had an off-the-record interview with a senior police officer in his office to try to negotiate a way that we as Rescuers could stand and walk to the paddy wagons (no pain holds, no police back injuries) if the police would space out the arrests to equal the average time (timing from videos of Rescues) that it took the police to pick up and carry a limp body to the paddy wagon. The senior police officer agreed, but when he got back to us later he said that his political bosses had said no, that “it would send the wrong message.”

A younger member of my family has worked with one of the Jewish women’s groups that you describe near the end of what your wrote. In her (and my) experience nothing you can do–no strategy of standing stoically in front–will stop JDL members from physically attacking you. They don’t behave normally, I guess partly because they can attack women and draw blood because they know that most police forces won’t often make arrests. (I remember after the 1975 La Guardia bombing—during the time when the JDL was designated a terrorist group and was on the FBI’s 10 Most Wanted List—JDL was never really even talked much about in the media. JDL can do just about anything that the demented JDLers want to do!)

One more thank-you, cka2nd. I worry that your words may be sadly prophetic: “Training can impart most of these skills. My worry, possibly shared by Kurt [yes!], is that these skills are not being passed down to the next generation of activists.”

#7 Comment By cka2nd On January 24, 2019 @ 11:11 pm

Theresa, I am pretty sure Janwaar was going for satire when he wrote what he did and was mocking the liberal/progressive/MSM/twitterverse reaction to Sandmann’s interview.

#8 Comment By Mother124 On January 25, 2019 @ 8:09 am

Excellent article.

But I really wish people, especially those who write for a living, would learn the difference between “diffuse” and “defuse.”

#9 Comment By Theresa On January 25, 2019 @ 11:12 am


Thanks for that. I’m not familiar with the poster, so I’ll take your word for it that it was satire – and good satire it was! It not only satirized the “liberal/progressive/MSM/twitterverse reaction to Sandmann’s interview“ – but also all too many of my students (products of our failing educational systems) who make similar errors in their reading comprehension!

It’s so hard to tell in comboxes when someone is being facetious, so I appreciate the heads-up – and my apologies to Janwaar for my error. (Where is that “facetious font” when you need it)?