Before I jump into the meat of this post, I want to do some throat-clearing: yes, the topic of this post is inspired by the coverage of Covington Catholic school and the highly-debated, highly-polarizing events that transpired at the March for Life. But, no, I am not jumping into the well-trod fray arguing about who started the confrontation, who bears the most culpability for it, the role of social media in perpetuating it, or any of those questions currently filling the Catholic corners of the internet. I am honing in on one, key element of that video, one which arguably shaped and prompted the confrontation captured on video, but also one which I imagine is not isolated to Covington Catholic’s presence at the march: “Make America Great Again” hats.
Within the video and various stills that have been captured and posted online, the bright red MAGA hat stands out, both in the foreground and the background. A not insignificant number of the students attending the March from Covington Catholic made a clear and conscious decision to bring and wear the MAGA hat for this event. In an interview Jill Hamlin (a chaperone on the trip), commented: “If you were in the March for Life, you saw a lot of Make America Great again hats and sweatshirts and attire…But they were also wearing Covington Catholic shirts proudly.” The implication being, of course, that the school gear was more important to the students’ identities than the hats. The hats, then, don’t need explaining – they were only accents to the Catholic identity.
I disagree. I think the pairing of MAGA hats with clothing that openly identifies yourself with a Catholic institution is a decision that begs explanation; pairing MAGA with “Catholic” makes a strong demand for explanation, not a weaker one. Maybe the wearers genuinely believe the Trump administration is pro-life, and making strides in that direction; or maybe (perhaps most likely) the decision was made somewhat impulsively, perhaps without much thought at all. And, if Hamlin is to be believed (and I very much believe her) Covington Catholic was not the only group in which we could find Catholics wearing MAGA hats.
So I address these following questions to any Catholic who marched under a bright red brim:
Were you thinking of the seamless garment of our Church’s teaching on life and human dignity when you decided to wear the hat?
Were you thinking about how Trump has appointed two seats on the Supreme Court in this administration, even though there is no case pending that could challenge abortion law precedent, and even Kavanaugh has offered only an ambiguous position on Planned Parenthood v. Casey?
Were you thinking about the Hyde amendment, which Trump has not passed, and has not been made anywhere close to the priority that he has made funding for the wall?
Were you thinking about the government workers currently unable to feed their families because of the shutdown, which Trump has initiated because of his desire for the wall?
Were you thinking about the families that Trump has separated on the border, an action which our Bishops have denounced, asserting (in line with the seamless garment, in rhetoric that permeates the March), that “Children are a gift from the Lord, the fruit of the womb, a reward. (Psalm 127:3)”?
Were you thinking about how immigration is an issue integrated within the seamless garment, and that our Bishops (including the Bishop of Lexington himself) have repeatedly criticized this administration for policies that run counter to the dignity of migrants? Policies that are not just limited to immigration, but also to race and our relationship with indigenous persons?
Were you thinking about how the European Catholics you likely descended from were themselves once the immigrants deemed un-American by politicians and others concerned for the proper whiteness, I mean, “greatness” of America’s character?
And, most importantly, were you thinking about what it means to be catholic, little-c? Were you thinking about how our Church is not bound by national borders?
Were you thinking about how “making America great” is not a Catholic concern, was never a Catholic concern? Were you thinking about how being Catholic means we are called to attend to the poor, oppressed, exploited – to be in spaces deemed anything but “great?” Were you thinking of all the warnings we have received about making a county, a flag, an ideology our ultimate concern instead of God?
MAGA hats sit as a crown upon the head; they become the most visible part of how you present yourselves to the world. When you are claiming to act as a Catholic, under convictions formed by that faith, do you really want to wear the crown of another prince?