Parenting in the Trump age is a challenge – Detroit Free Press
It was time for the news, and once again, the networks were leading their evening broadcasts with the latest exploits of the new president.
My friend, who had voted for the new president’s Democratic opponent a few months earlier and pronounced himself devastated by his favored candidate’s defeat, was able to watch only a minute or two before he found himself on his feet, shouting idiotically at the smiling image on the screen.
He barely noticed when his 6-year-old son descended the two steps into the family room and sat down beside him. A few minutes later, after my friend’s tirade subsided, the boy looked turned quizzically to his father and asked, with genuine curiosity:
“Daddy, is the president a bad man?”
Opponents and enemies
The year was 1981, and the new president was Ronald Reagan.
A few months later, when my friend related the incident I described above, he was still embarrassed to recall the confusion his contempt for Reagan had stirred in his young son, and at pains to describe the steps he had taken to allay it.
“Well, no, he’s not a bad man,” he told the boy. “I think he’s wrong about a lot of things, and I think a lot of the things he wants to do are going to be bad for the country. But I think he probably means well, and I think he wants for his children the same things I want for you.”
I’ve long since lost track of my friend and his children, but I’ve thought about this exchange often In the three decades since — an interval in which I acquired children of my own and struggled, as my friend did, to delineate the boundaries between morality and politics.
I’ve thought about it especially since last November’s presidential election, in which Donald Trump’s victory evoked anger and disappointment at least as keen as the despair Reagan’s election evoked in my friend. And I’ve often wondered how he, or any conscientious parent or teacher, should answer the same question if it arose today.
Confronting a bad example
In 2017, of course, no one has to confront such parental dilemmas alone. And among the multitude of websites, chat rooms and online spleen-letting vehicles that have sprung to life since Nov, 8, 2016, one — “Parenting During a Trump Presidency,” a “secret” Facebook group whose membership has climbed beyond 35,000 — endeavors to address the challenge faced by moms and dads appalled by Trump’s ascendancy.
While other online coalitions bird-dog political initiatives their denizens find especially alarming — the campaigns to eviscerate environmental regulation and Planned Parenthood, for instance, or the demonization of immigrants — PDTP endeavors to address a more practical problem: How should parents, grandparents and teachers and grandparents respond when the most visible man on the planet displays, on a daily basis, precisely the behaviors and character traits they hope to discourage in their children?
This is not about policy, you understand, not about whether the new administration’s proposals to de-fund “Sesame Street” or medical coverage will adversely affect the nation’s youngest citizens.
This is about averting the behavioral crisis that would ensue if America’s schoolchildren were to adopt the standards of personal conduct embraced by its 45th president.
Don’t lie to me.
“But President Trump lies …”
It’s cruel to make fun of a person’s physical appearance.
“But President Trump does it …”
Tell your sister you’re sorry.
“But President Trump says only weak people apologize … “
Not as he does
Acknowledging the foibles of adults in general, and objects of public veneration in particular, has always been one of the more delicate parental challenges. Long before Trump, parents were constrained to reconcile their insistence on respect for the president’s moral and legal authority with Richard Nixon’s perjury and Bill Clinton’s adultery.
But seldom have grown-ups defending the fundamental standards of civilized behavior — honesty, accountability, compassion and respect for the the rights and dignity of others — confronted such a formidable opponent in the Oval Office.
Revelations of Nixon’s mendacity and crudity, and of Clinton’s a generation later, were shocking in part because they stood in such sharp contrasts to both presidents’ public conduct.
Trump’s bad behavior poses a different challenge because he tends to celebrate it rather than conceal it, memorializing his pettiest, ugliest impulses in public tweets that instantly reach millions. When his own imagination fails, he, or his staff, retweets the puerile taunts posted by his supporters (“If Hillary Clinton can’t satisfy her husband, what makes her think she can satisfy America?“)
Worse, his bad behavior takes place around the clock, leaking into social media late at night and early in the morning. This makes parenting in a Trump presidency exhausting as well as dispiriting, a challenge that requires 24/7 vigilance.
Like the scattershot president who inspired it, “Parenting in a Trump Presidency” is often unfocused or disjointed, straying from its putative mission to generalized attacks on Republican policy or posts promoting Democratic candidates and initiatives.
But at its best, it offers parents earnestly trying to defend democratic values and civility in the face of hostile presidential fire a platform to exchange strategies, share resources and find succor.
Sooner or later, every parent confronts the reality my friend encountered when his son saw him screaming obscenities at the newly elected Ronald Reagan: Kids, not parents, pick the teachable moments.
The challenge for parents now as then is to remember what the newest occupant of the White House so regularly forgets: When a president speaks, no matter how thoughtlessly, cruelly or dishonestly, someone half as tall is bound to mistake him for a role model.
Contact Brian Dickerson: firstname.lastname@example.org