A National Tragedy: The Election of Donald Trump Through My Child’s Eyes
Be encouraged. That is very first thing I said to my 14 year old daughter the morning after the election because I already knew the answer to my usual question: “Are you okay?,” was a resounding, “No”. She wasn’t okay. She had already cried a couple of weeks ago as a result of the intolerance that Trump espoused, the anger he displayed, and the fear he infused into American politics and society. Never before has there been more attention and concern around the impact of a presidential election on our children.
Why? Divisiveness, intolerance, fear and hate have been ratcheted up so much that it hard to see a way out. And it’s not just adults that get that the idea of “othering” and our throwaway culture.
Children may not grasp the specifics of politics, they may not know jargon, or even the differences between our two political parties but they can distinguish the difference between hate and love, inclusiveness and exclusiveness, safety and danger, grace and insolence, civility and disrespect, and freedom and subjugation. They understand the idea of shaming and casting people out for not being seen as worthy whether it’s because we look different, have different beliefs, or we’re born in a different country. And they know these things, if only through the frame of bullying and cliques.
That said, the question many people have asked is: “What do I say to my children about Trump’s election”? And while that question must be answered, the bigger question is really: What does it mean that an event, the presidential election, that used to be important yet not central to how children experienced their everyday life now for many holds the gravity of a national tragedy?
It means that this country is in crisis. It also means those individuals who are in denial about this crisis are a central part of the problem. At the same time, it means that any person who is unwilling to be open to conversation or have empathy for those who are on the opposite side of this issue are not truly committed to tackling the underlying issues of bigotry that inconspicuously (and sometimes not so inconspicuously) find their way into policy.
And yes, children understand this too even if at a very elementary level. You see, it becomes hard for marginalized groups to fathom that there is any reason to select a candidate who does not value the contributions of all Americans, objectifies them, and seeks to discard “undesirable” individuals at the first opportunity. So the fear that many have over the possibility that many will have their rights retracted is not just real, it is justified.
And not just that, as represented by the surge in hate speech and hate crimes since the election, there is a clear threat to the safety of marginalized groups and children are not immune to it. What’s more is that children now have to contend with the resurgence of hate speech and intimidation as well because it is occurring in our schools. So, if you’re thinking that the election of Trump is not a national crisis let me just say this: Any person or event that causes widespread stress, concern and fear is a national tragedy. Likewise, any person or event that promotes ideas of hate and bigotry that ultimately results in a surge in hate speech and hate crimes is a national tragedy.
That said, we need to start viewing what occurred in this presidential election for exactly what it is. Because like many other national tragedies, there has been a moral failure of epic proportions. So, while there may be no dead bodies lying in the street, for many the election of Donald Trump represents the death of a commitment to American because every ideological weapon that white males have historically employed to maintain dominance was espoused by Donald Trump. That said, this threat is very real for those groups who traditionally have been disempowered.
So, what should you say to your child about this? Well, I can tell you what I said to my daughter. I told her to be encouraged and to not let the disappointment of this national tragedy overwhelm her because we have a gift: living in a democracy. This means that she can find solace in her power and voice as well as the power and voice of other like-minded individuals. I told her to be encouraged because together we can make a positive impact and ensure that the country lives up to the values we hold dear. I say all of this with a childish kind of hope that depends not on the promise that our leader-elect will necessarily change his perspective but rather in the belief that our shared humanity will remind every American that we all have the right to be free, safe and included.