What does the Covington story tell us?

I haven’t commented on the Covington/MAGAhat story, partly because I’ve been too busy.  I’ve also been unable to get traction on the thing, as conflicting stories have shot across the media ecosystem.  Hot takes have proliferated, backfired, and backtracked at a speedy and competitive clip.

Here I’d like to try and step back a bit by asking: what does this story tell us about America in 2019?  Further, what does it suggest about the near future?

My purpose in this post is to stir conversations and ideation, not to proffer my own take.  It’s like what I do with the Future Trends Forum.

If you would like help getting started, the Wikipedia page is fairly comprehensive and offers many links.  This On The Media program does a decent job of critically sketching the media firestorm.  Josh Rothman explores many viewpoints soberly.

Or consider some topics and hypotheses (to put it charitably) that have emerged in discussions around the event.  I don’t endorse these, nor offer them in any ranking, but instead to share them as evidence, to help prompt reflection:

  • Covington shows American partisan polarization accelerating.
  • It’s a sign of Twitter (and perhaps social media in general) corroding political discourse by forcing conversations that are shallow, frantic, and far too fast.  Will this story take social media down a notch, or will journalism’s reputation suffer?  Alternatively, will Covington serve as an object lesson to drive better Twitter usage?
  • It shows either the rise of racism, conservative religion, and hypermasculinity under Trump, or the growing intolerance of progressives, or both. (Were there any women involved in the event?)
  • It shows the rich religious diversity of the United States in a single scene, including Catholicism, some aspect of Native American belief, and the Black Hebrew Israelites.  Or it demonstrates various forms of interfaith conflict, which might rise (i.e., anti-Catholicism).
  • The possibility of multiple legal actions reminds us of how litigious Americans are.
  • The Twitter account which shared the first video that kicked this whole thing off is gone, and Congress is investigating its identity.  This could become another interesting case of anonymity persisting even in an age of widespread information and snooping, much as we still don’t know who invented blockchain technology or who came up with the idea of stochastic terrorism.
  • Does Covington point out tensions rising towards civil conflict, as Andrew Sullivan suggests? Or is it instead a watershed moment when Americans peer over the edge, stare into the abyss, and pull back? (I’ve been tracking this possibility since the 2016 election)
  • Are the high school students the sign of a new, post-Millennial conservative generation?  If so, does that break my generational pivot forecast?  Or are they such outliers that the generational shift may continue?

Those are starters.  There are more.

So, what do you think?  What does Covington mean?  The comment box stands ready for you.

(thanks to Laura Gibbs on Twitter, my Facebook discussants, and friends on- and off-line for thinking about this with me)

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8 Responses to What does the Covington story tell us?

  1. Vivian Forssman says:

    Mike Caulfeild’s Digital literacy and critical-thinking-in-webworld needs to be amplified way beyond his academic followers. As I read that excellent New Yorker article yesterday, I wished the author had referenced both Daniel Boorstin and @holden. Meanwhile it seems the bots have taken over the public sphere.

  2. Valerie Bock says:

    I kinda hate that kids from a Catholic high school were permitted to wear MAGA hats to a pro-life march. As a Catholic from a slightly more northern part of the country, I am appalled that the school might stand with the President based on his faux-pro-life stand, when so many other policies fall squarely in opposition to Christian theology and practice.

    I guess I would like to hear one or more of the students speak about their personal convictions, but I strongly suspect that those positions are not fully formed and that they were where they were because this likely was a school-sponsored outing which represented a chance to go to our nation’s capital.

    It is not the fault of the students that they were taunted by adults who should know better,. It’s not their fault that Mr. Phillips misunderstood what was happening. I heard a commentator on NPR suggest that there should have been much better supervision of the kids, and I don’t disagree — but they had to be where they were in order to catch their bus, and it would have taken a lot of initiative to decide to walk away from that spot to avoid the confrontation.

    I hope this incident sparks a lot of conversation about maybe slowing down and getting all the facts before forming an opinion. But honestly, I think the whole thing is serving a good purpose, as we broaden the sense of just how easy it is to get things wrong.

  3. Martin Booda says:

    Why do we call it “The Covington Story”, arbitrarily equating the boundaries of the “story” with the boundaries of the city? I’ve heard it referred to as the “Covington Catholic High School Incident(s)”, or just generally as the “Catholic School Students Issue” or the “MAGA attack(s)”. Cincinnatians seem to regard it as part of the “Kentucky Problem”. Some generalize it even further as a”Republican Problem”, a White People Problem” or just an “American Problem”. If you restrict the limits of the “story” to an area or group you’re not part of, it makes it look like you’re able to observe and comment on it objectively, as a nonpartisan bystander.

    • Bryan Alexander says:

      Good question. I don’t know the rationale for different names.

      Wikipedia uses the name “2019 Indigenous Peoples March Incident.” It also mentions the even as “also known as the Covington Catholic March for Life 2019 incident.” The page’s discussion tab include this proposal: “Why shouldn’t this be called instead the ‘2019 Covington Catholic incident’ or ‘2019 Black Hebrew Israelite incident’?”

      I think the event’s boundaries are pretty clear: a certain time on the Lincoln Memorial, a certain group of players. I haven’t seen a name that captures that well yet.

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