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The left’s naive trust in media

A day before the 2019 Women’s March, a confrontation between Covington Catholic High School students and Nathan Phillips, a Native American Vietnam veteran, took place in front of the Lincoln Memorial in Washington D.C.

A clip circulated online showing the high schoolers – dressed in Make America Great Again (MAGA) hats – sneering at Phillips, who was beating a drum and singing an indigenous protest song. Outrage ensued online, and Twitter users expressed deep contempt for those whom they perceived to be racist, Trump-supporting, private Catholic school-attending kids, all the while voicing  sympathy for Phillips who was protesting for his peoples’ rights.

“The left needs some series cold water splashed on its face to focus on what will actually hep further its cause.” – Mihn Nguyen ’22

A few hours after the outrage, a longer video was posted from a new perspective – it revealed that prior to the confrontation, the Black Israelites were protesting against the indigenous protest, spewing hateful rhetoric against the Native Americans. Later, the Covington students encountered the Black Israelites, prompting the gathering as the video shows. According to Phillips, he approached the crowd with his drum as an attempt to diffuse the situation. Most of the kids were confused, some were entertained and some moved to the rhythm. Many pulled out their phones to record the event. As a result, the successfully created a narrative wherein rich Catholic school kids mocked a Native man.

My point in writing this piece is not aimed at the MAGA kids, Phillips or the Black Israelites, but rather at the subsequent outrage that resulted from the political left’s horrible naivety. I consider myself to be influenced by many politically left thinkers, am personally sympathetic to many politically left causes and, from my own personal experience, believe St. Olaf College is a place with a rather large politically left-identifying population. The left needs some serious cold water splashed in its face to focus on what will actually help further its cause, instead of unquestionably following media narratives.

There is little reason for a political group that aims to radically change society to be supported by a profit-driven, sensationalist media – this would make them a part of what philosopher Louis Althusser termed “the ideological state apparatuses.”

Althusser conceptualizes institutions which preserve capitalist societies as apparatuses that maintain oppression. Hence, the left becomes an ideological state apparatus that sensationalizes events to fit a progressive narrative – not out of sincere commitment to change but out of a thirst for profit and public attention.


Minh Nguyen ’22 (nguyen32@stolaf.edu) is from Hanoi, Vietnam. He is a philosophy major.