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Covington Catholic and the Failure of Political Dialogue

Did you see the headline?

“Trump Supporting Teens Harass Native American Elder at Indigenous March.”

Wait, no, I think it was: “Innocent High School Students Vilified by Online Lynch Mob.”

Call it “The Dress” moment of American social politics.

Despite owing to the same video evidence, two opposing narratives solidified, distinguished easily along the lines of partisan politics.

In the words of Goethe, “A man sees in the world what he carries in his heart,” a sad commentary on a nation jacked up to see the worst in its neighbors.

Like most, I took an early stand against the behavior of the Covington students towards Native American elder Nathan Phillips.

Frankly, nothing I have watched or read since then has led me to reverse that stance.


“Politics, being built on imposition and power over others, naturally disincentivizes empathy, understanding, and fairness…”


Yet if anything is clear from this, our remarkably early social media meltdown of 2019, to the extent anyone is out to be justified over being informed, we all lose and the conversation is over before it begins.

Indeed, therein lies problem with the national political dialogue, not that we have forgotten how to talk to each other, but that we simply do not care to.

How genuinely difficult would it have been just to rebuke the disrespectful behavior of the teen boys, condemn the Hebrew Israelites (once they entered the picture), admit most of us were wrong in thinking Nathan Phillips was the one approached by the boys at the march, and just vow to all do better as a whole?

The answer is not difficult at all. However, this line of thinking assumes the point of our cross-talk is something absurd like mutual understanding or growth, rather than the mortal combat it really is.

Politics, being built on imposition and power over others, naturally disincentivizes empathy, understanding, and fairness, especially when said power can be more easily gained through demonization, straw-manning, and cheap shots.

Political dialogue, by extension, is not so much dialogue at all, but carefully crafted performance art designed to make sure your side comes out looking better than the other guys, no matter what.

So by the time enough information had arisen to counter the initial account of what happened at the Capitol, most supporters of Nathan Phillips or the Covington Catholic students simply selected which story fit them best and what self-servingly titled “news” articles they were going to drop in the comments sections of their inevitable social media debates.

This is what the Bible calls having a stiff neck.

As we approach the 2020 presidential election, we can only expect this condition to worsen as every issue or event of national importance is weaponized for use as political litmus tests to separate the “good guys” from the “bad guys.”


“While worldly political dialogue can be curbed, reformed even, it cannot be saved, because at its core it operates on principles opposite the politics of Jesus.”


It seems then the way forward is not a better political conversation, but a conversation that transcends our politics altogether.

Followers of Jesus must speak to the issues in ways that disentangle them from the spider’s web of worldly politics.

It was Jesus himself who mastered turning the socio-political flashpoints of his day into opportunities to point people to a completely different kind of politics in the “Kingdom of God.”

The politics of Jesus was to serve and not be served, to sit with the lowly, to go against the grain, to refuse to be dragged down, to lift up the marginalized, to love the enemy, and to give oneself wholly and completely to the will of God.

Few people listened to Jesus then, and while many claim his name today, few still are truly listening to and following his example.

But for those who do, they are all the better off for it.

While worldly political dialogue can be curbed, reformed even, it cannot be saved, because at its core it operates on principles opposite the politics of Jesus.

So when Twitter blows up with the next partisan melee, whose politics will you be preaching?

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Eric J. Miller
Eric J. Millerhttps://calltoawareness.blogspot.com/
Eric J. Miller is an avid religion nerd, Mexico enthusiast, and undergraduate preaching major at Cincinnati Christian University. He blogs at Unpretentious Spiritual Musings.

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