Depending on how old and how interested in politics your children may be, chances are the topic of Donald Trump has come up. And if it hasn't, it probably will. And if it won't, well ... you might want to bring it up, anyway. Because for the first time in our living history, a PROUD BULLY is winning his party's presidential nomination.
Don't get me wrong. I don't understand how anyone could support Cruz, either. His ideas are just as scary (if not scarier) to me than Trump's. But he doesn't deliver them like a frat boy before a hazing.
And surprisingly (but at the same time, not at all surprising) a large part of America LOVES that about him. Because he's toughand speaks his mind. Because he knows what it's like to be a rich white person struggling in America. Because bullies make you feel safe when they're your friends.
Bullies make you feel like you can do and say anything without consequences.
Racist things. Sexist things. Hateful things.
Trump is what happens when bullies are rewarded with attention, which is why I think Trump, in all his awfulness, is presenting parents with a FANTASTIC allegory to discuss and dismantle.
Like "The Emperor's New Clothes" in real time. Or Yertle the Turtle with a Combover.
Trump is a cautionary tale come to life. And I believe the ONLY good we have to gain from his presence is our willingness to discuss WHERE Trump comes from and WHY we must do what we can do to keep hate-built Frankensteins from rising to the top in the future.
And Trump? Well, he's a child. And it's VERY easy for a child to understand him because he is no different than the bullies on the elementary school playground. He's an insecure kid who is acting out violently because he KNOWS he will continue to get attention when he does.
Kids get that.
Hell, Archer got that within two seconds of hearing Trump debate for the first time.
"This guy is more like a toddler than a man."
The thing is, there are plenty of men (and women) who act like children. There are plenty of authority figures who say and do things that SHOULD be challenged — by us adults AND by our kids.
I've always felt it dangerous to teach children to "do as I say." Hell, even the idea that all children must respect their elders is bullshit, as far as I'm concerned. There are plenty of elders who do not deserve to be respected. There are teachers who get away with treating students like shit. And there are leaders in our nation who do the same.
Because challenging authority is sometimes the same thing as doing what is right. And Trump is a great example of what happens when the bully emboldens half the playground to join his team.
Last week, I read an article about a girl who recorded her teacher insulting her in class. HE WAS WRONG and she knew it, so she stood up to her bully, even though he was her teacher. Even though she (and every other student) is taught to LISTEN and RESPECT authority figures.
Yeah, except when, NO.
Just because you're a teacher with tenure doesn't mean you get to abuse your students.
Just because you're an officer of the law doesn't mean you get to kill people.
Is it possible that ALL OF US, even the most anti of anti-Trump supporters, helped build him? Yes. Yes, we did. And I think a big part of WHY we need to talk to our children about what is happening politically in our country right now is because they need to know that ADULTS are just like they are.
Growing up doesn't absolve a person—or group of people—of childish behavior. Children have just as much a right as anyone to challenge authority—to call out bully behavior whether it's from a peer at school, a teacher or a presidential candidate.
Trump is representative of what our country has ALWAYS tried to hide about itself—its systemic racism, classism, sexism and thirst for violence. He is, in a way, releasing all of the skeletons America has in its closet. Trump forces us to look in the mirror and to face our shit head on. ALL OF US. Children, included.
When we don't include our kids in the global conversation, we are saying that their voices don't matter, that their opinions aren't valid, that they don't have the agency to make change.
And they do. We all do.
So what can a parent do to raise a child who leads as an ethical dissenter? Be an example, for one. Respect a child's ideas. Stand with our youth when they say, "NO. THIS ISN'T RIGHT." Support our children for NOT DOING WHAT WE SAY all the time, especially when they believe wholeheartedly that they shouldn't. ASK QUESTIONS.
Asking children questions about tough issues is, in my opinion, the easiest and most age-appropriate way of going about ALL tricky subjects. A child will tell you with his/her answers what he/she is ready to KNOW and discuss.
Why do you think Trump is so popular?
Have you ever behaved like Trump?
Do you know others who have?
What did you do?
What will you do in the future?
Why is a bully so alluring?
Why do you think people are attracted to mean girls and/or mean boys?
Why does power feel exciting?
Why is it easier to follow the bully than it is to stand up to him? And how can we make it easier to STAND UP?
A great example of a child who was fearless with his dissent? Third-grader Jackson Wheeless, who last week wrote a letter to Trump about why he's a terrible example to children like himself.
"You should be someone that we can learn from and hope to grow up to be like. I do not think you are doing a very good job of this," Jackson wrote.
A blind follower is far more dangerous than a sociopathic leader, and we need to have THAT conversation. Trump is an asshole, for sure, but the Trumps of the world will always exist. It's the followers I am afraid of. It's ALL THOSE WHO BLINDLY FOLLOW that I am afraid of.
So, let this be a lesson to us—the parents who are raising the leaders and the followers—that WE CAN'T SAY NOTHING and expect everything to be OK. We have to have the difficult conversations with our children. We have to let them challenge us and ALL authority. We have to respect our children in the same way we do adults. Hold them to the same standards of kindness and strength, so that if and when the time comes to stand up to the Trumps of the world, of the schoolyard, of the frat party and playground, they will know WHY it's SO important that they do so.
Props to Shaniaya Hunter and Jackson Wheeless and all children (and their parents) who speak up and stand up and SAY NO to the authority figures who do not deserve ANY power in which to be authoritative.