To Wake up the Most Despised Person in America



Lincoln Memorial Washington DC

Did you ever get caught doing something really stupid when you were a kid? If you are anything like me then you have so many that you have had to construct another memory room in your brain to hold them all. If you anything like me, then you completely ignore this room. If you are anything like me, then you sometimes wake up in the middle of the night and think to yourself: yeah, I should write to that guy and apologize.

When I was in the eighth grade, I think, I got called out for not only telling a bunch of people a secret that had been given to me, but also for lying about it. That is, not only had I handed over a friend’s secret, I had decided that it wasn’t jazzy enough, so I edited in some embellishments that I found really spicy, and then I told people that.

Yeah, I wasn’t the sharpest tool in the shed. Yes, I am aware of my verb tense.

Well, you can imagine what happened next was something out of a bad 80s teen movie. I got caught, of course, and when I got caught everyone decided to share notes and so not only was I disloyal and not to be trusted, I was also a liar.

The Sunday night before having to face my class I remember thinking how crazy it was that my mother was so cheery at dinner. Didn’t she know the world was coming to an end? But everyone did normal things all day; my dad watched an Eagles game, my siblings played in the woods and talked about Halloween costumery. My life was over. Everyone at school, i.e. my whole world, hated me, and I was going to have to deal with it the next day. I slept about 4 minutes that night.

Now, social trends and tendencies of late grade school being what they are, I was humiliated, outcast, mocked, and made a pariah. For a while. It passed. People forgot. People forgave. By Thanksgiving, most people didn’t remember anything happening.

Times have changed.

Today I woke up to nineteen million different sources showing the same picture: the smug face of a white teen in a MAGA hat mocking Native American activist Nathan Phillips while a bunch of smug white faces cheer him on. The subtext is all there. Hate. Racially motivated aggression. A massive amount of disrespect. Trump’s America. The divide. A face of white privilege smugly taunting a native American Vietnam veteran.  

The boy, whoever he is, has become one of the most reviled people in America. His face has been visually likened to those of the aggressors in the lunch counter sit-ins in the 1960s. Overnight, he has captured the attention of the country (and world) and is being bashed by hundreds of thousands, politicians, athletes, and celebrities. I imagine that some of these celebrities he loves. If I woke up tomorrow and learned on Twitter that Nick Offerman or Neil Gaiman hated me, I would honestly cry.

This kid has woken up today the most despised person in America.

Does he deserve it? Arguable. There are a couple of different sides to this story, and both of them on video, but he’ll likely be the pariah at someone’s hands. He could be the visual link to the bad guys of this time period, not to mention the bad guys of other time periods (cue 1960s lunch counters comparisons). He might be expelled as his school tries to play damage control for their image. Already on Facebook the pictures of these kids are up with a public message for those who know them to hand over their names so we can (ironically) “make them famous.”

But what are we doing? He’s an asshole kid in a MAGA hat, so we’re going to crucify him for it? Did he do something wrong beyond that and are we going to ruin a kid’s life because he was an asshole as a teenager?

Come on, people. We’re the adults, which means two things. First, as adults we should be conveying the message that these actions have consequences – unpleasant, sometimes damaging consequences. But we should not be vindictive towards a teenager. Why? Because it doesn’t work. And you know how we all know that? Because we’ve been there!

Who reading this didn’t do something terribly regretful as a teenager? If you got caught and if it wasn’t a felony, then you probably suffered for it, either within your family and community, legally, or all of the above. And you know what? Life went on. You learned a lesson. People forgot and people forgave. You grew as a person. The rest of your life wasn’t dictated by a foolish action. It is part of growing up.

I am not suggesting that we forgive this sort of ignorance to the world of “oh he’s just a kid” but let’s be honest, openly trying to destroy young lives is something we never had to deal with until recently. If it had been a possibility to do such grand damage when we were younger and stupider, do you think we’d be a little more forgiving in our social sentencing? Maybe.

For all we know this kid would be stuffing a bong in a tie-dyed T-shirt at Boneroo in a few years telling people how he used to wear a MAGA hat and how much he was an asshole. For all we know he may still do that. For all we know, this will be the reason he does go on to do that. Take away the MAGA hat and made Boneroo a Phish show, then you have me. How many times we look back at our young selves and wince. But we are more fortunate, as we don’t have permanent reminders captured for the world to see. 

We, the adults of the world, have a responsibility to dole out punishment in a reasonable fashion. We need to be more compassionate. We have to allow the possibility of redemption. Because if we keep going in the direction we’re going in, then what kind of world and society are we looking forward to.        

Also, I really hope Neil Gaiman still likes me even after my story of eighth grade intrigue.

  1. No comments yet.
(will not be published)