This week was a turning point in the United States. I don’t know if it’s being taken as such, though. Too much has been happening too quickly for too long for people to keep up. That’s the point of all the Trump administration’s outrages and the paroxysms of protest that follow. The transgressions come hard and fast with the purpose of fatiguing the opposition, and, more importantly, normalizing the chaotic state of affairs. Chaos is essential to the expression of megalomania, whether interpersonally or institutionally. Unmoving rigidity isn’t the bedrock of totalitarianism; capriciousness is. The rules are enforced uncompromisingly but against only certain groups — who is in and who is out can change overnight, and the rules themselves can be altered or tossed out entirely on a whim. The uncertainty that results is essential in destabilizing any meaningful resistance. The events of this week and how they have been reported have made it uncomfortably clear that the gaping holes in the corporate media’s resistance to the Trump administration’s dishonesty will continue to yawn. They are complicit. They are collaborating.
During times of instability, people rationally seek to cling to something stable, something that has lasted, something they hope will continue to persevere. That thing for much of America — conservative and liberal — is Whiteness. Don’t fall for the line that it’s only Trump supporters and Fox News viewers that are holding down this fort. The handling of the reporting of the aftermath of a throng of White, MAGA hat-sporting teenage boys from Covington Catholic High School taunting Nathan Phillips, a Native American elder, with tomahawk chops and chants of “Build the wall” was an object lesson in the how the machinery of White supremacy mobilizes to protect itself. The hub at the center of the spokes of the most important wheel of that machinery is White innocence.
Nick Sandmann, the White boy smirking at Phillips in the images that were blasted all over social media has wealthy, connected parents. They hired a Republican-affiliated crisis management firm to draft a statement that told anyone who read it not to believe what they’d seen with their own eyes and heard with their own ears in the videos of the incident (of whatever length) that were posted online. The statement wasn’t picked apart for misrepresentations or elisions. It was taken at face value by some of the most powerful news organizations in the world and reported credulously. This is a serious matter. Random people on Twitter who care about the truth did more due diligence than CNN and NBC. It was on social media that the legacy of racism and homophobia at Covington Catholic was uncovered. It was on social media that images of students at the school in blackface at a basketball game turned up. A teenage girl shared a video of some of the Covington Catholic mob jeering her and her friends, telling them, “It’s not rape if you enjoyed it.” What was the reward for this? An appearance on The Today Show for Sandmann and an invitation for students from the school to visit the White House.
The villainization of a Native elder and the rehabilitation of the Covington Catholic gang is deliberately crafted propaganda. People who want to change the subject are missing the point. This isn’t a distraction; it’s a mission statement. It is a demonstration of who runs things and who will be running things decades from now if they get their way. They are showing us the conveyor belt between the past they long for and the future they wish to create. They are telling us there’s nothing anyone can do about it. They are also telling us that Whiteness is at the core of their project, and it will be defended. It is Whiteness and the instinct to protect it at all costs that’s keeping this project on its legs. Reassuring White people that they’re still number one is the reason The Today Show ran that interview. It’s the reason NBC hired Megyn Kelly. They’re trying to find the right line with this new incarnation of Savannah Guthrie, who disgracefully questioned Nathan Phillips’s military service in her interview with him.
This story is important and should be discussed because of how blatantly dishonest the propaganda was that was spread this week. Calling it gaslighting makes it seem like an interpersonal slight. It is much bigger than that. We were all asked not to believe what we saw and heard. We were lied to. The world should be concerned by who participated in spreading this propaganda and how they went about it. A White boy who racially abused a Native elder was given a platform to spread self-serving misinformation, show pride in his disgraceful actions, and declare that he had “nothing to apologize for.” NBC didn’t stand up to a teenager. His dissembling went unchallenged. His insolence isn’t surprising. Neither was Native Americans being thrown under the bus. We all know who is and isn’t believed in America. We all know who is given the benefit of every last doubt. We’ve all seen the script before, but the stakes are higher now. The United States is two years into the Presidency of a fascist. MAGA is a fascist project. Its goal is to turn the country back into a full-fledged White ethnostate. De jure apartheid is where they want this to go. The reflexive defense of Whiteness we saw this week by “neutral” media should chill the blood of everyone who understands what has happened and what could come next.
The camps for the “undesirables” have already been built. They are already being euphemistically called “facilities” (the ones for small children are “tender age facilities”). Families are already being separated. Some of the detainees are already unaccounted for. Given the reports of sexual abusers among the guards, precious little has been said about the fate of the older girls. In addition, a significant portion of America’s Black population, which was engineered to be an underclass, has already been concentrated into prisons and urban ghettoes. I use that word “concentrated” intentionally. I mean to invoke the weight that comes when you put it next to the word “fascism.” I mean to identify mass incarceration as a form of ethnic cleansing. I mean to get you to consider what might come next. The precursors to genocide are all in place. Those red hats and those goonish kids wearing them aren’t something to brush off. The events they’ve precipitated aren’t an irrelevance. They are signs and portents. What we saw is always a part of the story of how it started: with gangs of thugs wearing emblems of their allegiance (like those red hats) intimidating their targets in the streets free from consequence and egged on by their Dear Leader and the machinery that supports him.
The table is set. They really are fascists. Every horror associated with the ideology is on the menu. Elite American media will never admit “it can happen here” until it’s too late. Covington Catholic should have been a layup, but still, even after all this time, after all that’s happened, they can’t even properly identify racial abuse and stand up to it. Do we really expect them to name “fascism” and challenge it in any meaningful way? What much of the mainstream reporting on the Covington Catholic story demonstrates is that any historical context that challenges White America’s notion of itself as “the good guys” will continue to be swept under the rug, no matter the cost. The “boys will be boys” excuses that stretch into middle age for White men will continue to be served up. Racism will continue to be described as “racially tinged,” or some other responsibility-dodging phraseology will be employed. In these shadows, where all of White America secrets its White privilege, fascism will grow unchecked.
This week isn’t just about Covington Catholic, though. The story happened against a backdrop of a deeper, wider American collapse. The federal government remains shut down, and federal workers are standing in literal bread lines to feed themselves and their families. Some are rationing their medication. Some are being told to return to work without pay or risk being fired. Isn’t this what they told us Communism brings? Is there any other wealthy democracy where it’s an expected tactic for government workers’ wages to be taken hostage and essential services withheld from citizens in games of political brinksmanship? In any of America’s peer nations, would government services as fundamental as food inspection and air traffic control be compromised during a political standoff? All this is happening in service to a wall that will never be built and that wouldn’t be effective if it were. It’s all an empty monument to avoid hurting the feelings of Whiteness, a way of reassuring those that hold it that, yes, you’re still in charge. A hobbled government also ceases to be able to fight back against those who wish to undermine it irreversibly.
That Whiteness that was being defended this week? It is married to fundamentalist capitalism. This week, billionaires are making hysterically out-of-touch defenses of it in Davos, Switzerland, where the ultra-rich gathered to explain to the rest of us why allowing them to continue to hoard their wealth like dragons inures to our benefit. These stories are connected, because that sneering White entitlement we saw from the Covington Catholic students gains much of its power from the fundamentalist capitalism whose Vatican is Davos. Capitalist calculus also drives the kid glove reporting of both stories.
Context. That’s what’s missing. It is deliberately stripped away to prevent shining a light into certain dark corners. I say this week was a turning point, because it has become clear that the news organizations that inform the vast bulk of Americans will never provide them with the context they need to understand the moment we’re living through. They couldn’t muster the backbone to tell a smug, impudent teenager to go to his room and think about what he’d done. That battle has been thoroughly lost.
Missing context makes one of the most important stories that happened this week the Supreme Court upholding the Trump administration’s effective ban on transgender people serving in the military. This follows other policies targeting the trans community, including requiring the gender on passports to match the gender on birth certificates. I’ll leave discussing the intricacies of the outcomes of these policies to trans writers who have the range. However, I would like us all to remember the Institut für Sexualwissenschaft, a private institute for the study of human sexuality that was the foremost repository of scientific research on transgenderism until it was destroyed by arson. Its archives were consumed by the fire. It was burned to the ground by the Nazis.
They know to begin with people on the fringes, with people not enough of us care about, with people society is comfortable throwing away. They never stop where they start. The patterns are repeating themselves clearly. This isn’t subtle. We are being bludgeoned by the similarities. But protecting Whiteness and capital is more important than putting a stop to what’s happening. None of this is a distraction. This isn’t a drill. Something has been unleashed, and it’s something electoral wrangling to return to the status quo can’t address. It’s also something that can’t be pinned solely on Donald Trump. America is being given yet another opportunity to face up to its sins. It’s looking less and less likely that it will, and I fear the outcome could be truly catastrophic.