Last week I decided it was time to have the conversation. I wasn’t sure my son was ready—he’s only seven after all, but how do you ever know? NPR was on the in van. Commentators were analyzing Donald Trump’s ever increasing viability as they seem to do every hour of every day. As we drove to pick up Smoke’s little brother up from preschool, I sat there weighing the consequences. Should I talk to him about Donald Trump?
I didn’t want to give my kid information that would complicate his life on the playground. I thought about Smoke’s friends at school and the possibility that some of their parents are Trump supporters. From my own childhood, I remember how kids can so easily internalize their parents’ politics, how those politics can divide them from one another long before they truly understand what’s at stake in any given election. I remember how profoundly disorienting it was when, in grade school or middle school or even in high school (hell, maybe still), I learned that a grown-up I respected didn’t see the world in the same way as my parents. I would learn that a teacher was a lifelong Republican, and my brain would hurt trying to figure out how they could be so nice, and yet vote for a person that my parents had told me was the bad guy. Now that I am a parent myself I struggle to identify the line between orienting my kids to my values and indoctrinating them.
But Donald Trump has been haunting my thoughts after sweeping Super Tuesday. On Wednesday I watched this video, where a young African American woman was shoved, pursued, and harassed at one of his rallies, and the image ran on a loop in my mind. When I watch this footage, I see the same flavor of vitriol that I see in old footage from Klan rallies or neo-Nazi parades. It’s not that I thought this brand of blatant racism was dead, but I didn’t expect to see it play out so transparently at the rally of a leading candidate in 2016. I didn’t expect that a candidate who encouraged this would gain traction.
Some months ago a small part of me wanted Donald Trump to win the nomination because I thought it would allow Bernie or Hillary to win by a comfortable margin. But after viewing that video, I saw how wrong I was. Trump’s candidacy has already cost our country greatly; it has legitimized racism and hate. For me Trump has become more than a candidate I wouldn’t vote for—he’s become a cultural force that terrifies me.
I turned the volume down on the radio and said to Smoke, “Do you hear that they’re talking about this guy named Trump?”
“Who is he?” Smoke asked.
“Well, he’s this guy who’s running for president and I think he would make the worst president ever.”
“Why?” he asked.
“Well,” I said, and started in by explaining how a president’s job is to work with other leaders, to listen them to understand their perspectives, to make circumspect decisions to avoid needless war. “But this guy Trump is actually pretty mean. Like if someone disagrees with something he says, he just calls that person a loser.” As I said this I was struck by how literally true it was. “Loser” is Donald Trump’s go-to rebuttal. I wasn’t having to dumb this down at all to get a seven-year-old to understand.
“He sounds awful,” Smoke said. I had parked the car by now and we were walking towards the daycare center. A grin crossed his face. “Well at least no one will vote for him,” Smoke said. It was a logical conclusion, but I couldn’t let him believe it.
“That’s why I’m nervous,” I explained. “I don’t think he will win, but lots of people ARE voting for him. More and more people.”
“Are you voting for him?” Smoke asked me.
“No, I’m voting for anyone but him.”
“You’d vote for anyone but him?”
I thought about this. Certainly there were people out there who were as bad or worse than Donald Trump. I mean there were actual neo-Nazis. But of all the people who would conceivably run a presidential campaign, Trump was at the very bottom of my list. There is a person in my town who runs for City Council every year under the name Prophet Atlantis. I would vote for Prophet Atlantis over Donald Trump in a heartbeat.
When we got home that day, the sun was out and both of my sons wanted to ride their bikes around the block. As they put on their shoes and helmets, Smoke kept asking me questions about Donald Trump and politics. We talked about how women didn’t always have the right to vote, and how neither did black people. We talked about how weird that was, and how stupid that was, and how terrible it would be to move backwards rather than forwards. Stump, my three-year-old, half-listening in the background, did a crazy little dance and chanted “Donald-Trump-Donald-Trump-Donald-Trump.” For a moment I was comforted. One of my sons still knew nothing about Trump’s growing political power. To him Donald Trump was just three meaningless syllables he was hearing way too often.
Image credit: original drawing by Smoke. (Something about it just reminded me of Trump.)