When your child’s introduction to American politics is Donald Trump

“Dad, who do you think would make a better president: Kanye or Drake?”

These words came out of my child’s mouth. Granted, I believe it was somewhat facetious, but this was the moment when I realized that Trump is the turd in America’s presidential punchbowl. It’s ruined. Soiled. There is no going back.

Ashley L. Conti | BDN

Ashley L. Conti | BDN

My children are currently living through the first presidential election that they are old enough to understand. This is remarkable, seeing as it is the first presidential election that I don’t understand.

It’s also sad. Their introduction to the election process includes a candidate who has a long history of poor treatment of women and minorities, who regularly re-tweets white supremacists, who talks about his penis on the debate stage, and who publicly bullies anyone and everyone who challenges him — hurling crass insults that would result in detention if he were in a school yard.

Imagine, if you will, that ‘Star Wars: Episode I — The Phantom Menace’ is the first Star Wars movie your child ever sees. For that poor, poor child, the Star Wars universe, and the franchise, has been woefully misrepresented. Their introduction into a wonderfully vast universe has started out horribly wrong, and it may take a lifetime to undo such damage.

Now, I have taken great care to explain to my children that this election (like Episode I) is not normal. “We don’t normally elevate crass reality show stars to presidential status in this country,” I said. Yet this is precisely what America has done with Trump. We have given the airwaves over to Trump 24/7, signaling America’s tacit approval of the very behavior that we discourage in our children.

To be clear, politics has never been entirely civil. American politicians over the past 200-plus years have lied, cheated, stolen, and worse.  Unfortunately, politics are inherently nasty. And to be fair, Trump’s foes during this election cycle have certainly exhibited untoward behavior.  But is it too much to ask that we at least retain some level of dignity in the very public road to the White House?

Can’t we at least ask that our debate candidates be held to higher expectations than our third graders?

From an early age, we tell our children to “use your words” to navigate situations when they might resort to aggression. We teach them that words like “liar,” “loser,” “cheater,” and “fraud” are strong negative accusations, and that we should temper our language to be more constructive. We teach them not to bully, and to stand up to those who do. We teach them to be accepting, tolerant, and kind. How do we reconcile these important life lessons with successful presidential candidate Donald Trump?

Fortunately, my children seem to get it that Trump is an anomaly. They have noticed his hypocrisy and have pointed out (on their own) his intolerance and xenophobic comments, and the back-pedaling or doubling-down that usually follows. I credit this awareness to instilling in them a sense of morality, encouraging empathy, and well, basic human decency.

The problem is, however, that there are many children who aren’t fortunate enough to have proper guidance, or to be exposed to positive role models in their homes and communities. There are also many children whose parents are big fans of The Donald, and who value his ability to “say it like it is,” and who deride “political correctness.” To these children, Donald Trump has set the tone for their political lives. And it’s gonna leave a mark.

We can hope that the election will blow over, that Trump will lose and return to reality television, and eventually becomes a Trivial Pursuit question, a bizarre footnote in American history.

We know better, however. You can’t un-ring a bell.  Trump has forever changed the landscape of political discourse in America. It is no longer unheard of to discuss genitalia on the debate stage. It is now normal for our leaders to circulate white supremacists’ tweets to millions of followers. It is now fair game to say that a debate host has “blood coming out of her wherever.” It’s no longer unusual for a presidential candidate to want to propose a ban on Muslims entering the US.

When I heard the “Kanye or Drake” presidential question proposed by my son, I was initially bummed out. I asked myself how it was possible that my child might think that Kanye or Drake could be president. The more I thought about it, the more I realized that what was actually sadder was the fact that either of them would be more compassionate, more tolerant, and more eloquent than Trump.

We can’t wait wait 16 years for our “Force Awakens.” We have to start repairing the damage today.

Eric Shepherd

About Eric Shepherd

Eric is a marketing professional working and living in Portland, ME. His writing on politics, science, and culture has appeared on NPR.com, Babble.com, and other national and regional outlets. Eric is also a public speaker on topics related to branding, social media, and cause marketing. He spent 10 years as a recording and touring musician. He has lived up and down the East Coast, but loves Portland the very most.