Mark West | United States
Last weekend was a bit of a blunder for me. I watched several viral videos surrounding what happened at the National Mall that spread on social media. Angered at what I perceived as disrespect, I made a snap judgment. I shared the first meme I noticed concerning the issue on Facebook. I had to partake in the political discussion on this controversy, right?
The narrative pitted the Covington Catholic High School students, many of which were white, male, and sporting MAGA (Make America Great Again) hats, against a group of Native Americans. The two groups had been involved in separate rallies on the National Mall that day. The Covington Catholic students were leaving a March for Life rally while the Native Americans had just finished an Indigenous Peoples March.
Both were about to intersect in a manner that would spark an unintentional national controversy.
A scene consisting of a what appeared to be a stare-down between Covington Catholic student Nick Sandmann and Native American activist Nathan Phillips immediately split the national audience into regiments. The still shots from the video cast Sandmann in a negative light, with a smug, disrespectful smile on his face.
The Mainstream Media Story
We were incessantly informed by the mainstream media that Phillips heroically confronted the students as they chanted “Build That Wall” at the Native American protestors. An image serving to reinforce the narrative that racial motivations and anger are the motives for support of the southern border wall.
Erroneously, I believed the mainstream media reporting and shared the meme I mentioned previously. However, a close friend cared enough to hint that a full-version video was accessible on the internet. I found it, watched it, and I realized I was dreadfully wrong. Of course, I also deleted the meme I ignorantly shared.
The Hidden Story
Now, I’m not here to tell you what happened at the National Mall. Most of us have already decided our version of the timelines and our judgments of the intentions of the participants. What I am here to report is the hidden story of the MAGA hat kid.
The hidden story of the MAGA hat kid is the tribalism that drives each of us to ignore context while making snap judgments that fit our own narratives. I’ll pull a little gospel principle in by quoting D.A. Carson who said, “a text without a context is a pretext for a proof text”. In other words, if you ignore the context you will get the wrong message.
I got the wrong message, initially, because I was lacking the context to make sense of what was going on. There is an unfortunate occurrence in political conversation in our society. Far too often, we use pretexts and proof texts to reinforce our tribal view.
Our failure to contextualize is contributing to the erosion of political debate. We should thoroughly examine the context and all the information available to us. An opinion should be formed based on the previous. Instead, we almost always have our pre-disposed opinions. Consequently, we seek only the facts that offer support. The stare-down at the National Mall highlights just that.
I’ve witnessed the anti-Trump crowd attacking Sandmann and his school over racism, as well as doxxing he and his classmates. Simultaneously, the MAGA crowd is attacking Phillips’ character and motives. The tribes are at war even though I’m not convinced that the principles themselves ever were. Through all of the back-and-forth, the demagoguery hurled by the Black Hebrew Israelites, which served as the flashpoint that escalated the tense scenario, has been largely ignored.
My first exposure to the tribalism that dominates our political process came as I listened to President Obama’s supporters chanting, “Yes We Can”, at campaign rallies. I spent the next eight years trying to have reasonable policy conversations with people who could never hold the man they supported accountable. They had their pretexts and ignored any contexts.
During the 2016 campaign, I saw a new emergence on the other side. Watching President Trump’s campaign rallies filled with chants of, “Build That Wall”, and “Lock Her Up”, I realized that I would spend President Trump’s tenure trying desperately to have the same conversations with folks who are out to get the Democrats back for President Obama’s term. They also have their pretexts and ignore any contexts.
So, instead of discussing what really happened and using the lessons as instructive to the society around us, we’re instead hedging into our tribes. We are devoting our energy to ensuring that we prop up those in our tribe while viscerally attacking those of the other. The tribalism is driving the context out of the conversation.
I’m Just as Guilty as You Are
Disclaimer: I’m not speaking from an ivory tower. I’m not exempt in my own tendencies to fall into tribal politics as well, as noted earlier in this column. However, my goal is to objectively focus on facts in their appropriate context, as best I can.
If we are going to secure a society of liberty for future generations to enjoy it is vital that we restore contextual facts to the political debate. Our tribes are not always right, and the other tribes are not always wrong. Our tribes haven’t cornered the market on patriotic fervor any more than the other tribes have un-American sentiment.
The Dire Consequences
Now, tribalism itself isn’t the issue, that’s not the takeaway here. The problem is ignoring reality in order to preserve the ideals of our tribe. In a way, our tribes become more important to us than our nation. When we allow our national fabric to be ripped apart for the sake of our tribe winning, we all lose.
We are all people and we bring a variety of perspectives to the same set of facts. Hence the necessity that we appropriately contextualize the facts at hand. Otherwise, we just continue the evisceration of political dialogue in our nation and become further polarized against our neighbors. If we don’t improve talking through our differences, our differences will manifest into the very things that will threaten the future of liberty in our nation.
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