Covington, MAGA, the Simpsons, and the Gomer Pyle Axiom of High and Low Expectations

Covington, MAGA, the Simpsons, and the Gomer Pyle Axiom of High and Low Expectations January 21, 2019

Watching the shifting narrative over the past three days reminds me of this:

People responded to the initial videos of the Covington kids with outrage, including me. Then the Right Wing media rode in with a bigger picture and an even bigger agenda, backed by a right wing PR firm. The bigger picture pointed out that the biggest villains of the piece were the Black Hebrew group shouting really vile stuff at the kids.  Very true.

More than this (and this is really the heart of the Right Wing Lie Machine’s response), it was made clear that the kids in MAGA hats had not aggressively approached Nathan Phillips, but that he had put himself between the kids and the Black Hebrew group.  This too is very true.

However, on the heels of that, the Lie Machine immediately attempted to shift the narrative to “Innocent MAGA Victim Souls Viciously Slandered by Hysterical Liberal Media”.

The idea here is to suggest that any assumption of racism attributed to any MAGA-hatted crowds at any time in the past two years is an outrageous slander 100% attributable to vicious liberal lies.

Um, there’s plenty of MAGA history here without the Covington story:

And this is just scratching the surface. When you see a crowd of white guys in MAGA hats facing one skinny old man with a drum, the assumption (based on a ton of history, but in this case an erroneous assumption) is that they are the aggressors. Hence the initial the reaction to the kids. As Trevor Noah notes, even conservatives responded with Backpfeifengesicht:

Now we are in the middle of the MAGA Media Reaction to the Reaction. The Right Wing Lie Machine is in full gear shrieking that the kids are spotless victim souls of Left Wing Media. The basic narrative is that because they were not as awful as the Black Hebrews and because they did not walk up to Nathan Phillips but he walked up to them, they did nothing wrong at all and their critics should be filled with shame as the persecuting harpies and liars they are.

Yeah. Not feeling that.

Here’s the thing. I used to have a boss who was a poli sci teacher. He liked to talk about the Gomer Pyle Axiom of High and Low Expectations. For those of you who are young and don’t remember the show, Gomer Pyle was a country bumpkin who joins the Marines and has various comic adventures:

You get the picture.

Anyway, on a couple of occasions, Gomer winds up singing and to everyone’s utter astonishment, he breaks forth in, not a great voice, but still way more than anybody would expect from Gomer Pyle:

Result: everybody is astonished because the expectations were so low.

Conversely, when somebody expects greatness and a great singer gives a merely adequate performance, they boo him off the stage because the expectations are much higher.

With the MAGA crowd, we frankly expect aggressive mob behavior and racist thuggery. Why? Not because we are vicious liberal hysterics, but because as those videos above demonstrate, that is what the MAGA crowd themselves, beginning with Trump himself, have trained us to expect.  “Beat the hell out of him!” “Carry him out on a stretcher.” “I’ll pay your legal bills.” MAGA mobs are, as a rule, dangerous goons inclined to aggression against Outsiders and the Brown.

But on this occasion, our expectations were not entirely fulfilled. The Covington kids were taunted by an aggressive group of Black Hebrew weirdos and were approached–approached, mind you, not attacked–by Nathan Phillips, who sought to intervene and defuse the escalating conflict.

But here’s the thing. The fact that the Covington kids did not aggressively initiate the encounter with Phillips does not make their behavior was particularly creditable. They did, as I think is obvious, mock Phillips and behave rudely and disrespectfully toward him. The MAGA media who are trying to paint the response to the videos of them as nothing but persecuting fury of spotless victim souls is making heavy use of the Gomer Pyle Axiom. They know the history of MAGA mobs. They know the very many times such mobs have been the aggressors. And they are trying to claim that merely because this crowd of white guys in MAGA hats were not aggressors, that means they were not rude, disrespectful, smirking, and mocking.

Here’s the thing: Covington has a real problem. Not merely in the way they behaved this weekend. They have an institutional problem. They were chaperoned by adults who thought it would be great for the kids to swan around in MAGA swag: swag that sends the racist bullying message of all those videos above (and countless more I don’t post). Those adults thought it would be fine to let those kids behave that way toward Nathan Phillips.

And those adults have, in the very recent past, thought it would be just swell for Covington kids to go to school games, dressed in blackface.

Note the adult standing there with Covington Catholic sweat pants on.

So no, I’m not feeling it as the MAGA media swings into Full Shriek mode to transform these kids into martyrs and innocent victim souls of monstrous liberal hysterics. There’s a real problem at this school and there was a real problem with their behavior at the March. That the problem was not quite as bad as what MAGA mobs have taught us to expect of them is no reason to declare every critic of these kids and their school to be persecuting monsters. That school has some serious ‘splainin’ to do.

As I have said all along, I think the “crucify them!” reaction is absurd overkill. Discipline should be ordered toward mercy and redemption, not destruction. But discipline first needs to be addressed to whoever is in charge at that school. The kids’ behavior is a product of what that the institution has permitted. Such behavior is “foreign to the mind of Christ” according to the Church.

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