The Covington, Kentucky, high-school students who wore “Make America Great Again” caps at the recent March for Life in Washington may wish they had chosen different head-gear. Caps with pro-life slogans would have harmonized with the March’s goal, and they would not have antagonized everyone who is anti-President Trump—currently a huge group in our country. By wearing pro-life caps instead of MAGA caps, the Covington students could have avoided the harsh, unfair, and unforgiving media coverage that they soon received.
Yet they did have a right to wear those caps. The Covington Catholic High School story also underlines the importance of defending every American’s constitutional right to freedom of speech. This is a bedrock right; without it, America wouldn’t be America anymore. Moreover, huge numbers of people on both right and left would like to make America greater—and happier—than it is at present. It’s just that they don’t agree on what our worst problems are and how to address them.
Another key point: The political left in this country used to stand up for free speech consistently, and very strongly. The old “liberals” were much better about defending free speech than today’s “progressives” are. Stomping all over free speech is a first step toward tyranny. There is nothing progressive about it. Yet many progressive writers rushed to slam the Covington students without bothering to ask for their side of the story. Several conservative writers did as well.
The best analysis I have seen of the Covington students’ confrontation with a Native American (Omaha elder Nathan Phillips), was written by Robby Soave, an associate editor of a libertarian website, Reason.com. Mr. Soave’s account is available at: https://reason.com/blog/2019/01/20/covington-catholic-nathan-phillips-video (This links to a video of the event.) He notes that, before Mr. Phillips came on the scene, the Covington students had been subjected to verbal abuse by Black Hebrew Israelites. The video evidence supports this statement.
Mr. Soave says that Nathan Phillips (an elder of the Omaha tribe and a military veteran) “put himself between the teens and the black nationalists, chanting and drumming . . . What followed was several minutes of confusion: The teens couldn’t quite decide whether Phillips was on their side or not, but tentatively joined in his chanting. It’s not at all clear this was intended as an act of mockery rather than solidarity.” Soave also says that one student was in the way of Phillips and gave him “a hard stare and a smile that many have described as creepy.” This apparently is a reference to Nicholas (Nick) Sandmann.
Sandmann said in a Jan. 20th statement that he was “startled and confused as to why he [Nathan Phillips] had approached me. We had already been yelled at by another group of protestors [apparently referring to the Black Hebrew Israelites], and when the second group approached I was worried that a situation was getting out of control . . .” He also said that he smiled because he wanted Phillips “to know that I was not going to become angry, intimidated or be provoked into a larger confrontation.”
By the way, I didn’t find Sandmann’s smile creepy at all. I think he was just trying to keep a potentially dangerous situation from getting worse. He was brave to keep standing there in the face of the loud drumming by Mr. Phillips. And much that Phillips said to reporters about the incident was proven wrong by the long video of it that surfaced on the Internet. I don’t think the students were trying to mock Mr. Phillips; but they may have viewed his drumming as an invitation to celebrate a bit before they boarded the bus for the long ride back to Kentucky. Another possibility is that, because a chaperone had given permission for the kids to chant school cheers to counter the Black Hebrew Israelite attacks on them, what looked like a response to Nathan Phillips was actually a response to the black group.
Nicholas Sandmann later said that “I have received physical and death threats via social media, as well as hateful insults. One person threatened to harm me at school, and one person claims to live in my neighborhood. My parents are receiving death and professional threats because of the social media mob that has formed over this issue.”
The situation had been made even worse the day after the March for Life, when Covington High School and the local Catholic diocese issued a joint statement of apology for the students’ behavior. As the old saying goes, with friends like these, who needs enemies? Their apology opened the floodgates for more attacks on the students. A few days later, however, Bishop Roger Foys of the Covington diocese apologized for the first apology, saying that “We should not have allowed ourselves to be bullied and pressured into making a statement prematurely . . . I especially apologize to Nicholas Sandmann and his family as well as to all CovCath families who have felt abandoned during this ordeal.” Better late than never. (The diocese has commissioned its own investigation of the matter by a third party, the bishop said.)
If you check the “March for Life Store” at the group’s website (marchforlife.org/mfl-2019/store/), you’ll find some nice March for Life shirts, jackets, a mug, and a button—but no caps! There is a message, though, that says: “If you can’t find what you’re looking for, let us know and we may be able to create a custom product.”
So the logical answer to the MAGA problem is for the March to produce an attractive cap that features its own logo—and then to advertise it widely before next year’s march. It might be especially popular in Covington, Kentucky.