Dad, I know Trump is bad but I was talking with my friends and when the illegal people come to the wall, we really should shoot them because that means they’re terrorists.
Perhaps the most insidious thing about Donald Trump’s presidency is the sheer pervasiveness of the hate, ignorance, and mean-spiritedness that is choking our country. And if you think it’s relegated to political pundits or our Facebook walls, I’m here to tell you you’re sadly mistaken. It’s everywhere, and it filters all the way down to the monkey bars at your local elementary school.
My 9-year-old son uttered the above quote to me not long after Trump was elected. And I’m a liberal. A liberal who talks openly and honestly with his kids about what’s happening in the world. A progressive from the deeply blue bubble of Massachusetts who has always been in favor of gay marriage, believes affordable health care is a right and not a privilege, very much hates the xenophobic idea of a wall, and believes in common sense gun control. Point being, I talk to my kids about current events and explain that 99.9 percent of refugees are not violent terrorists and are just looking for a better life.
Yet it all came unraveled because kids at school – no doubt influenced by their parents – parroted Trump’s rhetoric and convinced my son Mexicans trying to get into the country are terrorists who need to be shot in order to keep us safe.
I don’t know about you, but I’m tired of having conversations I should NEVER have to have concerning the office of the President.
Don’t get me wrong, I’m not talking about shirking my parental responsibility to talk about tough topics with my children. I’m all for that and that’s normal and necessary as a parent. But what’s happening with Trump and the subsequent conversations stemming from his unhinged rants? Not normal. Not even a little.
I had always planned on talking about the importance of consent with my boys, but I never thought I’d be pointing to the Oval Office and telling them it’s not OK to be a self-described pussy-grabber who takes what he wants, like our President.
I knew one day I’d have to level with them about the hardships of war and point out the importance of honoring our military heroes who survived years of torture, but I never dreamed I’d have to warn them not to disrespect POWs like our President does.
Their aunts are happily and legally married, so they know love is love and two men or two women who pledge their lives to one another are every bit as legitimate as heterosexual couples. But I also had to explain why our President doesn’t think that should be the case, and how we need to be better than our leader who wants to treat gay people as less than.
My boys know discrimination is wrong, yet I’m left to drive that home against a backdrop of the leader of the free world banning transgender people from voluntarily serving our country and barring people from coming here based on their religion.
Trump is the reason my son was near tears one day after school when a Hispanic classmate told him she and her family might get deported. Kids who should be thinking about spelling tests and what to play at recess now fear their friends and loved ones might be kicked out of the country.
The world was already cruel and mean, but Donald Trump and many of his zealous supporters have ratcheted things up a few notches. Trump tapped into a reservoir of hate and venom that has further propelled bigotry, ignorance, and racism into the mainstream. But that’s not the worst part.
The worst part is the parents passing this intolerance and ignorance down to their children. Who then spread it across the cafeterias and playgrounds of schools all over America.
And it’s all so inescapable. That’s the truly depressing part. Every one of his ugly tweets leads the news and they never stop coming. Neither does the 24/7 media analysis and headlines that swallow us up and desensitize us until it becomes the new normal. That’s my biggest fear – normalizing the utter ugliness of Donald Trump.
As parents, we should never let this become the status quo.
I understand Trump makes these conversations borderline unbearable, but he’s also the reason they’re more vital than ever. Kids are sponges, which is great, but if they’re soaking up awfulness then we’re in a lot of trouble and it’s up to parents to keep hammering home what we know is right and good.
Did I ever think I’d have to reassure a teary 9-year-old that our President won’t deport his friend or that refugees are not terrorists who should be shot at some giant, ridiculous border wall? No. I don’t think anyone could’ve predicted the wretched circus that is the Trump administration.
Yet here we are.
It’s easy to get discouraged and give up, but while average folks like us can’t fix everything all at once, we can start small. Tiny but important acts which will gradually grow bigger and eventually start to heal us and make us whole. Little acts of kindness and generosity to counteract Trump’s narcissism and selfishness.
For us, that meant giving our oldest a mission. We tasked him with doling out a compliment to a classmate every day. Whether it’s commenting on a cool Minecraft shirt or sitting with a kid who usually gets picked on at lunch, we asked him to report back to us what he did and what he learned. It was slow going at first and he grumbled about it, but in the end he started to see how he was making a difference, and he even admitted it felt good.
Stand up for the bullied even though our President uses social media as a bully pulpit. Listen to those who don’t have the power to be heard even though Trump does nothing but talk about himself. Seek to be inclusive even when our leader is trying to wall us off from the world. These are the values we’re instilling in our sons, because ensuring a kinder future through our children is hands down the most effective way to reclaim our humanity and fix what ails us.
Kindness and compassion are normal. Empathy should be our baseline. Our kids need to know they shouldn’t get suckered into believing Trump’s toxic nonsense is all we have or deserve.
Contributing Editor: Aaron Gouveia
Aaron Gouveia is a father of three boys too cute to be his, a husband of a wife way out of his league, and an award-winning former journalist who has appeared in TIME, Parents magazine, Huffington Post, and more. He started daddyfiles.com in 2008 to chronicle life as a new dad, and works as a PR director in Boston.