The incident became a national story in part because of the way the images seemed to confirm first one sweeping narrative, and then another, opposite one: the first, that the heart of Trumpism is prejudice; the second, that anti-prejudice, abetted by the liberal media, has become a malevolent force comparable to racial oppression. But only one of these bears any resemblance to empirical reality, and that would still be the case no matter what unfolded in front of the Lincoln Memorial.
As the Covington students ascend to right-wing martyrdom, some perspective is in order. The disproportionate reaction to their behavior does not, as some conservative commentators have suggested, represent a new kind of oppression comparable to that experienced by historically disfavored groups. While all children deserve forgiveness and understanding, in America, children who are not white are often simply not seen as children at all.
The Covington students are not likely to have their summary executions by police officers justified; they will not be separated from their parents for the crime of seeking asylum; they are not disproportionately more likely to be charged as adults for crimes they committed as children; they are not likely to be stalked in the night and murdered by grown men who become folk heroes for acting out the violent, racist fantasies of others. The president’s campaign merchandise remains a favorite of white-supremacist groups, and his name remains a racist taunt for those seeking to antagonize people of color of any age. None of this has changed, and the disgraceful overreaction of some liberals does not change it. If the right extended the sympathy the Covington students are now receiving to children who don’t remind them of their own, this would be a more just society.