anne mikolay 2018On Friday, January 19th, a group of Covington Catholic High School students from Park Hills, Kentucky attended the March for Life and the Indigenous People’s March in Washington, D.C. and unintentionally set social media ablaze with controversy.

Cameras were rolling as the students, some clad in “Make America Great Again” sweatshirts, mocked a group of Native Americans, which included Vietnam War veteran and Omaha elder, Nathan Phillips, who was performing a religious ceremony. In what has been construed as intentional intimidation, one young man sporting a red MAGA hat and a particularly arrogant smirk, positioned himself eye-to-eye with the drumming, chanting Mr. Phillips, and in so doing, triggered immediate social media backlash. The Covington students were promptly accused of discrimination, and the kid in the hat emerged a symbol of prejudice.

The offender’s mother, however, tells a different story. According to her, “black Muslims” provoked the incident by hurling racist and anti-gay insults at the Covington High School boys. In mis-reporting the event, she claims, the media is once again spreading “fake news.” A Covington student supports the woman’s claim. In an articulate, clear letter accompanied by substantiating video, the student explained to a local news station that his buddy in the MAGA hat was merely reacting to Mr. Phillips’ verbal abuse, an alleged publicity stunt.

What we have here is more he-said, she-said rhetoric, more liberals versus conservatives, more Trump supporters fighting Trump detractors. And it’s all because of one thing: that red MAGA hat.

If the Covington high school student at the center of the controversy had not been wearing a “Make America Great Again” hat, his smirk would have been dismissed as adolescent arrogance rather than considered bigotry, and the entire incident might have been viewed as nothing more than teenage shenanigans. Nowadays, the hat, or any Trump-supporting attire, is a magnet for insult and argument. President Donald Trump, who cavalierly hurls insults at his opponents, has unleashed intolerance, legitimized animosity, and made societal division common. Courtesy and empathy are dwindling. Thus, shouting insults at Catholic school students in Trump-gear is not discouraged, nor is retaliation against diverse ethnicities and cultures. The red hat the boy was wearing, once representative of a hopeful campaign slogan, has been reduced to a symbol of our nation’s rancor and decline.

Listen, kid, no matter how smart you and your peers believe yourselves to be, you are too young to comprehend all that red hat implies. Consider the message you are sending. If you want to be taken seriously, if you truly want to “make America great again,” start by taking off the hat.