Millions of people experienced a thrill of outrage watching the viral video of protesters outside the Lincoln Memorial last week. The smug, smiling white boy in a "Make America Great Again" cap, who came on a school trip to attend an anti-abortion march, was blocking a Native American elder who had come for the Indigenous Peoples March.
Other boys danced, mockingly, as the older man sang and played his drum. The whole scene seemed to sum up the overt racism and triumphant arrogance of white Trump supporters.
Except that, in a longer video you see that the boys were not blocking Nathan Phillips, the Native American man. Instead, Phillips approached the boys. And the entire scene, as various marchers converged on the National Mall, was more circus than standoff.
Now that circus has metastasized into a war over the reactions to videos of the incident. Sandmann is on national TV to defending himself, and Donald Trump is blaming the "fake news" for victimizing the boys. First there was the messy, ambiguous encounter, then the rush to judgment, and now both sides scolding each other and retrenching. It's a microcosm of everything that is wrong with our national politics.
In the longer, 107-minute video (now deleted from Facebook), you can see that a handful of Black Hebrew Israelites, members of an obscure sect, spent more than an hour spewing bizarre, bigoted religious theories at the boys, calling them sinners, homosexuals and school-shooters, and supporters of a "faggot president."
The Black Hebrews also provoked participants in the Indigenous Peoples March, calling them "Uncle Tomahawks" and "$5 Indians." At one point, Shar Yaqataz Banyamyan tells the indigenous marchers that they are on the wrong side of God, and that's why their land was stolen from them.
What can we learn from all this?
The first lesson is that the social media outrage machine is leading us all by the amygdala. Our instant, fight-or-flight responses to news stories are not to be trusted.
Secondly, a lot of us are suckers for stories that cast white males in Trump hats, as aggressive, loutish, entitled jerks - in other words, as mini Donald Trumps.
That's not good, because if we are ever going to undo the damage of the Trump era, we are going to have to allow for the possibility that even Trump supporters could be better than Trump.
The president, who constantly stokes fear and outrage with his alarmist and bigoted remarks, bears a lot of responsibility for our toxic political culture. But he's not the only force pushing us into destructive, thoughtless, warring camps.
The only way we are going to recover some sanity and intelligence in public life is if we stop freebasing news and commentary that bypasses reason and goes directly to our id. We badly need to develop some practices to deal with the epidemic of online road rage. For a lot of us, that means checking our impulse to see young white men as evil.
Self-righteous, public shaming of kids is almost certain to backfire. The whole job of teenagers is to figure out who they are. They do this by venturing out into the world, unprotected by parents and teachers, to learn about others, and about themselves. If we stereotype them as sociopaths and predators right out of the gate, we push them toward the very qualities we dread.