San Diego — I don’t know who had the bright idea of mixing social media with race and politics at the expense of making our minds narrower, our fuses shorter, and our habit of jumping to conclusions stronger than ever. 

But whoever it is, they ought to be put on trial at the Hague for crimes against humanity.

In a country where half the people can’t stand the other half, where no one listens to opposing views, and where everyone assigns sinister motives to everyone else, look at the kinds of debacles we’ve had to endure. 

Take, for instance, “Smirk-Gate.” Of course, I speak of the firestorm that has erupted on talk radio, cable news, Twitter, and dinner tables over a group of maturity-challenged students from Covington Catholic High School in Covington, Kentucky, and their not-so-excellent adventure in Washington, D.C. 

At issue: whether the Covington students, who traveled to the nation’s capital to attend a pro-life rally, were — in a farcical encounter in front of the Lincoln Memorial with a drum-beating Native American activist named Nathan Phillips and the controversy that ensued — the villains or the victims.  

Before you answer…

Wait, of course, you can’t answer yet because you don’t have the facts. 

But that’s the point. Why should you be any different from your fellow Americans? Many on the Left made up their minds instantly before knowing much at all about the incident or what caused it. 

All they needed to see were a few seconds of video to pick up on four details that, in their minds, declared the students guilty until proven innocent:  The teenagers were white. They were wearing red caps with white lettering that read, “Make America Great Again.” They were attending a pro-life rally. They were all male. 

It was racial-, gender-, and political profiling all wrapped up in one big package of snap judgment with red, white, and blue on top. 

As to what those few seconds of video showed the young men doing, well, it was ugly teenage misbehavior — the sort that signals to the world that, growing up, someone got too much entitlement and not enough spankings.

We see about 10 young white males in MAGA hats whooping and hollering, smiling, and laughing — and seeming to mock Phillips and his drum-beating. They seem to be joining in Phillip’s Native American chant, and not in respectful way. Quite the contrary. They were making fun of him.

Some have said that some in the crowd appeared to mimic the kind of “tomahawk” chop made famous by fans at Atlanta Braves games. But, in the videos I watched, I didn’t see that. The chop is cut-dried racism. I saw mockery.

And, in front of the crowd, we see, wearing his MAGA cap, a Covington student who has been identified as Nick Sandmann. The young man is just standing there, about a foot away from Phillips, smiling. 

Actually, when you stare at it for a few seconds, you realize that it’s not really a smile. It’s a smirk. I know smirks. I’ve given my share of smirks. That was a smirk, and it was meant to tell Phillips, “You don’t bother me. You don’t intimidate me. Who are you? You’re just an old Indian guy with a drum.” 

Ironically, Sandmann said later in a statement that his smirk — er, I mean smile — was intended to “defuse” an otherwise tense situation. 

Apparently, this high school student isn’t taking any courses in common sense. You know what really defuses a situation? Walking away.

What many of the first batch of videos didn’t show — and what Phillips, left out of media interviews about the incident — was that one reason the situation was so tense was that the Covington students who were clowning around weren’t the only folks acting like what former Sen. Al Simpson used to describe as “the south end of a horse headed north.” 

There was another group. And it was made up of African-American radicals who insulted and verbally assaulted the MAGA kids, before Phillips ever wandered over.

Presumably, the Covington students were picked on because of their choice of headwear. Welcome to “cap-ism,” America. Like we needed that. 

The media mangled the story, and a bunch of people were too quick to pile on the students by painting them as entitled white brats with a possibly racist streak. 

That’s terrible. But it’s also wrong to over-correct and go 100 mph in the opposite direction by canonizing the little twerps. 

They may not be sinners, but that doesn’t make them saints. Everyone in this story — Covington kids, Phillips, black protesters, absentee chaperones — they all behaved badly. And what about those of us who weren’t even there, but still rushed to judgment in either direction fueled by our biases?

We behaved worst of all.  


Ruben Navarrette, a contributing editor to Angelus News, is a syndicated columnist with The Washington Post Writers Group, a member of the USA Today Board of Contributors, a Daily Beast columnist, author of “A Darker Shade of Crimson: Odyssey of a Harvard Chicano,” and host of the podcast “Navarrette Nation.”

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