Friday, January 20, 2017

What Trump's Election Taught Our Children

Image by B. Kenley
When my children were small a wise older parent told me, “Don’t worry so much that children do what you tell them to do, worry that they’re watching everything YOU DO.”

There is great truth in that maxim. If kids ignored our stated values and simply watched our behavior, what did they learn from Donald Trump’s election?

Your Vote Does Not Matter
At least in presidential elections.

Twice in the past 5 presidential elections, the candidate that a majority of Americans chose didn’t get to be president; Al Gore in 2000 and Hillary Clinton in 2016. In fact, Clinton got 2.5 million more votes than Trump, but Trump will be president.

When supporters of the Electoral College argue that all those red states show a country that didn’t want Hillary Clinton and that highly populated coastal cities shouldn't be allowed to pick the president, American teenagers in government classes across America know that’s bullshit. They see through the suggestion that reds states are totally red. In Michigan, Trump got 47.60% of the vote over Clinton’s 47.33%. So virtually half of the voters in Michigan wanted Clinton as president, but because it was a quarter of one percent less than those who wanted Trump, they’re votes were not added to those of the big coastal cities. It’s like they never voted at all. In my state of Indiana, 43% of presidential votes (Clinton votes) were thrown in the trash and likewise, not added to those of the coastal states.

Our young people know that the Constitution once forbid women from voting and enshrined slavery in its text. It was far from an infallible document. The Electoral College has the power to erase the will of the majority and has done so in 40% of the presidential elections since 2000. Our children know that, too, and it’s the most powerful evidence any cynic ever needed to argue that voting doesn't matter.

The Truth Doesn't Matter
Politicians have been called liars from the days of ancient Greece. But with Donald Trump there needs to be a term bigger than "pathological liar." To Trump, the truth is a matter of expedience. What is the most manipulative version of reality he could express in a particular moment? He just says it. If he needs to say something utterly contradictory later in the day, he will. And he never, ever, admits he lied. You could literally spend a day watching YouTube videos of Trump saying one thing and then another video in which he claims he never said it.

Adults develop beliefs and get emotionally attached to them, the beliefs become part of our identity, such that we'll relentlessly ignore proof we're wrong. Children are less stone and more clay. They watched their parents ignore Trump's relentless contradictions and hipocracy and internalize that incongruity as an acceptable norm.

Our children were watching and saw this: What is true does not matter. Say whatever serves your personal needs and never, never admit you're wrong. Then, attack, defame, insult anyone who catches you in a lie. That's called, "Tellin' it like it is."

Sexual Assault And Bullying Don't Matter
It’s not surprising that a politician would have multiple accusations of unethical or illegal behavior. But Trump is markedly different in a unique way. From the “Swift-boating” of John Kerry to many of the accusations about Hillary Clinton, there were no confessions or video-taped hard evidence to verify the accusation. They were simply accusations with varying amounts of conflicting evidence. But in Trump’s case, most of the ugliest accusations about his character can be verified in a video clip of him on YouTube, IN HIS OWN WORDS!

So when you hear someone say Donald Trump is disrespectful toward women, worse yet that he’s repeatedly committed sexual assault. You don’t have to believe them. Just go to YouTube and watch an endless stream of videos of Trump across three decades, bragging about womanizing, mocking older women for not being young and sexy, or offering a bizarre endless stream of leering sexual comments to women, such that he makes Bill Clinton look like a virgin choir boy.

In fact there is such a breathtaking mountain of evidence of Trump’s disrespect of women online as to make denial idiotic. This all culminated in the release of a recording in which Trump bragged about sexually assaulting women. Today, there are a total of 16 women who have publicly accused Trump of sexual assault.

Yet, American parents still elected him president.

Consider this troubling statistic: 1 out of every 5 women is sexually assaulted while in college.  I have a daughter in college, so this isn't idle supposition. I wonder about the boys who sexually assault those girls. How did they come to believe that if you're attracted to a woman, you just wait for the right moment, then reach out and grab her? And rape? It's the most under reported crime. Afraid of the turmoil and embarrassment of pressing charges, girls often remain silent. It's heartbreaking. There's a thread in our culture that whispers to boys, "You know she wants it." Companion strands in the same thread tells our girls, "You better just keep your mouth shut about it." 

A new, big strand in that thread is the election of Donald Trump. You can admit to sexual assault and 16 witnesses can confirm it, and American parents will still elect you president.

A friend told me her 8-year-old granddaughter had been watching TV this fall when her kid show ended and the news came on. Without her mother realizing, the little girl listened to a news report that played the tape of Trump bragging about assaulting women, and then interviews with several women who claim he assaulted them. When that little girl woke up the day after the election and found that Trump had won, she was inconsolable and sobbed, "Why would people choose him?" 

That little girl learned her lesson; "If it happens to you, you better just shut your mouth." And what her male contemporaries learned? Well, we know what they learned.

Our Children Are Watching
We wife and I don't preach politics in our house, but the news is on from various sources. Kids listen, often not when we want them to, and other times, they're listening when we think they're not. As we know, that's how kids learn.

In church one Sunday in the months before election day, our pastor was explaining Revelations, reading through a list of human qualities that God detests. "The arrogant. The self-satisfied. Those who love money above all else" he ticked down the list on a video screen. "Narccissits who see themselves at the center of the world . . ." My wife's 11-year old son leaned toward us and whispered, "Donald Trump."

Oh my, how our children are watching.

Buy a copy of Kurt's latest novel, The Salvage Man

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