Let’s talk about the elephant in the room. Don’t ask which elephant. You know exactly what I’m talking about. I mean the elephant causing all the other elephants secretly to fear they are a dying species, while the rest of the animals wonder on a daily basis if they’re going to have any habitat left when all of this is over.
Okay, so I took the metaphor to extremes. But that seems appropriate, doesn’t it?
This election. Good God. Where to begin? This is a parenting blog, so let’s focus on parenting one’s way through Election 2016.
I have a set of principles I try to follow as I guide my kids through learning about the world. As they get older, I try to expose them to more news according to their age and readiness. One kid is more sensitive to images and stories than the other, so age alone is not a sufficient determinant for what each kid can handle. I make sure they know and understand the fundamental values I think are important, but I try to leave room for their own opinions, too. They don’t need to be news junkies, but they do need to know and understand the most important events and issues of the day or week and why those stories matter. I endeavor to present everything in a way that increases knowledge, but doesn’t produce fear. The cardinal rule and value in our house—respect—must be observed by all in these discussions the same as it would be in other contexts.
Election 2016 has thrown this all to hell.
I’ve encouraged my kids to follow this election from the beginning. After all, we live in New Hampshire, home of the first-in-the-nation primary and where, consequently, politics is the state sport. It’s difficult to ignore presidential politics when every four years, you more or less run into presidential candidates or their surrogates everywhere you go. Not only that, but fourteen-year-old “Jack” will vote in the next presidential election. This is now a practical education in citizenship for him. “Emmie” is eleven. Both kids are old enough to understand the process and begin to form what will be their adult views toward maintaining our democratic republic.
And this is why I have changed my practices with regard to my kids’ viewing and understanding this election. To my mind, there can be no impartiality. The stakes are enormous. With Donald Trump as the standard-bearer for the Republican party—a bigoted, misogynistic, narcissistic, fundamentally dishonest, thin-skinned, authoritarian demagogue who understands neither the foundations of our country nor the meaning of concepts like “foreign policy,”—the future of our country and indeed the world is at risk. I have tried not to frighten my kids as I’ve talked to them about the election, but I haven’t lied to them, either. I’ve minimized talk about nuclear weapons, but I have discussed Trump’s disregard for our Constitution and for just about every human who is not a white male. And while I have tried to answer each of my kids’ questions, I have been unequivocal in my statements, because there is no room for doubt: Donald Trump cannot become President. The GOP has failed the nation by letting things go this far. I might have opposed another GOP candidate, but this goes beyond mere opposition. This is a question of right and wrong, and there is only one answer.
Not everything about the election has been bleak. For example, I insisted my fourteen-year-old watch Hillary Clinton’s convention speech because it was history in-the-making. He did not appreciate the gravity of the moment then. But I smiled at him even as he rolled his eyes when I told him that someday, his kids would roll their eyes when he recounted to them how he’d watched on television as the first woman president delivered her nomination speech.
This election, when you think about it, is all about our kids. This is, of course, a standard line of all politicians, all the time—and there’s something to it. What sort of world do we want to leave to our kids, and to their kids? So many decisions affect the answer to that question.
But this presidential election will move that answer more than most. Pick any policy question you like, and it fits in there. Pick any question about human respect and responsibility, and it’s contained in the presidential election, too. Basic understanding about who we are as a nation, our values, our Constitution, who constitutes “We the People,” and the meaning of a democratic republic—it’s all going to be answered by who wins in November. Even the question of nuclear warfare might be determined by a man who reportedly asked a foreign policy expert what the point is of having nuclear weapons if you can’t use them.
So yes, this election is about our kids. And their kids. And all Americans who live here, live abroad, and don’t even exist yet. So we’d better get it right.