Martin Luther King Jr. Day, 2019 was marked by two trains running, at top speed toward each other.
The phrase, borrowed from the August Wilson play “Two Trains Running” from his Pittsburgh Cycle of 10 plays portraying the African American experience, painfully depicted the powerful forces at work around the Civil Rights movement in the mid-1960s, at the time of the assassination of Malcolm X. Its title is appropriate for describing what happened this month, more than 50 years after Dr. Martin Luther King’s own assassination.
A group of predominantly white Catholic boys from a Catholic High School in Kentucky traveled to Washington, D.C. to participate in the March for Life — an annual gathering of opponents to the Roe v. Wade Supreme Court decision of Jan. 22, 1973, which protected a women’s right to privacy on the enormously personal issue of deciding under what circumstances (for example, rape) and when (or if) to abort a fetus.
The students made the trip with the full support of their Catholic school, which provided adult chaperones, and did nothing to discourage the teenage boys from wearing Trump Campaign “Make America Great Again” hats, which have become a symbol of intolerance, misogyny, and racial and ethnic hatred, as Trump’s rhetoric on issues of race, women rights and keeping Mexicans and Muslims out of the USA has become more and more incendiary — reminiscent, in fact of the intense anti-Catholic, anti-immigrant hate speech of the KKK during the last century.
This particular weekend of the MLK holiday 2019, the annual rally to protest Roe v. Wade — where Christian churches bus in thousands of protesters — coincided with the Women’s March , and with the 30th day of the Trump partial shutdown of the U.S. government, over the issue of building a border wall on the Mexican/American border to keep non-whites out of the country.
Taking place simultaneously around the Lincoln Memorial, long a symbol for racial equality, was a rally of Indigenous Peoples, attended by several prominent Native American leaders. As is frequently the case during major demonstrations in the nation’s capitol, fringe groups pop up to spread their vile messages, like the so-called “Black Hebrew Israelites,” purveyors of homophobia, anti-Semitism and racial hatred.
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They’ve been showing up in New York’s Times Square for decades where they scream into a portable PA system and insult everyone who walks past them. No one — blacks, Jews, gays or law enforcement personnel — takes them seriously, since they are little more than deranged street theater.
The trains traveling in opposite directions ran into each other on Martin Luther King weekend in Washington, D.C., and the image that rocketed around the nation was of a pink-cheeked white boy from the Kentucky Catholic school, wearing a “MAGA” hat, smirking at a Native American elder, Nathan Phillips, and surrounded by his laughing Catholic school classmates, all sporting red and white MAGA hats, taunting the non-white Native American elder.
I’ve watched at least a dozen different videotapes on the encounter, read countless stories, and have been barraged by the blather put forth by the PR firm (yes, PR firm) hired by Catholic white boy’s family, that he was a good, tolerant kid, just trying to keep the peace, encouraged by his adult chaperones to do so.
That message simply doesn’t square with the fact that he and his all-white friends from their privileged religious school, kept their MAGA hats on throughout the entire encounter, with not one student — nor an adult guiding them — recognizing that to non-whites in this country, MAGA hats have become the symbolic Swastika or Confederate Flag of the 21st century. To whine for sympathy while continuing to wear those symbols of hate, is to throw sand into the eyes of the nation.
Still worse, is the fact that none of these teenage boys — nor their adult chaperones from the Kentucky Catholic school, nor the school administrators — seem to have learned or understood the Apostle Paul’s First Letter to the Corinthians, 13, where he writes:
“Love is patient and kind; love is not jealous, or conceited or proud; love is not ill-mannered, or selfish, or irritable; love does not keep a record of wrongs; love is not happy with evil, but is happy with the truth. Love never gives up: it’s faith, hope and patience never fail ... Meanwhile, these three remain: faith, hope and love; and the greatest of these is love.”
Perhaps if these good Catholic boys studied and understood the words of Christ and his Apostle more, or read the Twitter feed of Trump less, they might become better humans, and truly make American greater and more humane than it has ever been.
Or, they could just follow the peaceful, love-driven actions of Nathan Phillips, who was fulfilling the dreams of Martin Luther King, Jr., and the teachings of Paul on a holiday weekend intended for service to others — an inclusive message at the center of Catholicism.
Steve Villano is a Napa-based blogger. He was a director of Gov. Mario M. Cuomo’s New York City press office, and is the author of “Tightrope: Balancing a Life Between Mario Cuomo and My Brother.” This originally appeared on his blog.