Michael S. Miller: “Teaching Trump to the Kids”
Our morning routine starts with showers, coffee and a quick TV scan of local weather, followed by a few minutes of CNN to catch up on national and global events. During a recent Saturday morning, as “the most trusted name in news” offered its digest of headlines, our kids wandered downstairs with a sleepover guest, a 9-year-old boy we describe as one of the most polite and honest of our kids’ friends.
“You know, Mr. Miller, you really should have that on FOX News,” he said, as I set the table for a fresh waffle breakfast. “That’s the only place to get the truth.”
Our prejudice wouldn’t allow us to run FOX News on a regular basis any sooner than we’d turn on the Playboy Channel or a “Human Centipede” marathon on Turner Classic Movies, but I wasn’t about to engage another family’s child in a discussion on relative journalistic integrity and current events. Without a word, I smiled, pointed him to the table and muted the TV at my first opportunity.
At church the next day, our pastor’s sermon centered on the recent New York City subway incident, in which a train car was smeared with swastikas and hate message graffiti but was cleaned by passengers using hand sanitizer and tissues.
“Doesn’t it often feel like we are all in such a train car, but when we start to clean away the hatred, we realize the train is a never-ending series of cars, and will require constant work and education to protect our most vulnerable citizens from the most evil hatred?” she said.
The weekend interactions set in motion some reflection on what our kids are hearing and learning about President Trump, where they are learning it and how this turbulent era will impact their lifelong beliefs.
ASSAULT ON STANDARDS
We are not a Trump household. I say that with the same straight-faced lack of irony I would employ to say, “We are not a pro-slavery household,” or “We are not a pro-heroin household.” Our independent, moderate, Libertarian-leaning politics veered further to the left in reaction to Trump’s rise to power, and his assault on our nation’s standards of civility, tolerance and basic kindness.
Bully attitude? Check.
Disrespect to women? Check.
Overt racism? Check.
Intolerance of LGBT rights? Check.
Liar, liar, pants on fire? Check.
Everything we have tried to teach our children, ages 10 and 9, about Christ’s Golden Rule, has been subverted and mocked by Trump and his hoards of dog-whistle followers. We tell them to freely discuss anything that troubles them with us, in our home, but to keep their opinions to themselves when they are guests with other families and to listen and counter respectfully when others disagree. We tell them a lot of what they hear is distorted or unproven, so to be extra careful before they repeat or insist on a point. Despite our extreme dislike and fear of the man, we have tried to present our kids with a civil approach to those with whom we strongly disagree.
Or so I thought.
As we grow more frustrated with Trump and his reckless, uninformed and T. Rex-in-a-china-shop approach to “making America great again,” I see our concern and anger reflected in our kids’ comments, jokes and references. We want them to understand political differences and the crucial element of respecting other opinions, but that stance is crumbling as wave after wave of Hurricane Trump’s rhetoric and actions smash against it.
An entire generation of young hearts and minds are in a crucible, forming opinions and habits that will shape our country for generations. I believe Trump’s red-faced (orange-faced?), blowhard, anti-everything-that-isn’t-white-and-male politics are planting seeds of discrimination and disregard for truth that are going to make our kids grow up hyper-cynical or hyper-intolerant, and the divide will be catastrophic for our culture, society and global standing. It’s not hyperbole or snowflake panic. When you breed division; when you preach an “us” and “them” mindset; when you define people as “lesser” and turn that bigotry into policy; when you treat reality and truth like Silly Putty; you are normalizing the worst human traits and dragging America’s already waning morals into depths from which they may never recover.
When you drain a swamp, all that muck and mud has to go somewhere. It doesn’t evaporate; it gets displaced and stains whatever it touches.
At 9 ages and 10, our kids and their friends can live in households where one watches CNN with healthy skepticism and the other watches FOX News as “truth” and still get along. But as Trump’s vitriol metastasizes into our lives and culture, will they be able to do that in four years? In eight? If they can, parents will have achieved something miraculous. I fear we cannot, no matter how much tolerance and respect we try to instill.
But we will try, with determination and righteousness. We will try to scrub every element of hate away, no matter how many train cars we must clean.
And maybe, hopefully, that effort will be lesson and example enough, even if the message drowns in emotion.