Believe it or not??
As News Club advisor at my sons’ elementary school, I lead a group of students that produces a newspaper twice a year. “Ghost Busters on Campus” is one blockbuster story this semester, along with “The History of Snookies Cookies.” When News Club convened the day after Donald Trump won the election, I thought it a perfect opportunity to speak to these kids about bias. “Sometimes a journalist must take a step back and analyze information,” I began. “Who knows the difference between opinion and fact?” A nine year old with strawberry blond hair and an irresistible little lisp raised his hand.
“I have a new nickname for Trump,” he said, ignoring my question. “It’s Hitler The Second!” The students found this hilarious but while I’m no Trump fan, comparing the incumbent president to an insane dictator responsible for millions of deaths didn’t seem all that funny. A bright-eyed 6th grader jumped in next. “Trump won’t be president for long,” she said. “He raped someone and he’s going to jail.”
“What’s rape?” This question came from my kid–a 4th grader–and suddenly I’m standing dumbstruck in front of 16 pairs of curious eyes.
The ease and depth of the kids’ vitriol feels deeply dismaying. They surely didn’t decide to talk smack about Donald Trump on their own; these little seeds of hate were sown most likely by their parents, their most trusted adults who either underestimate the power of words or just don’t know when to shut up. This is how racism, prejudice, bigotry, and sexism are passed on, generation to generation like a mutant gene. This is how words can create a world view in direct opposition to what most parents want for their kids–for them to grow up wise, tolerant, and happy, kind, compassionate, and safe. The Donald Trump I saw on the campaign trail doesn’t seem to embody any of those adjectives but what does it say to our kids if we get down in the mud with him?
Hitler. Monster. Rapist. Thug. Little kids often don’t know the difference between opinion and fact. Rhetoric is still an SAT word waiting on some future test. Mom and Dad are Gods who speak The Truth. The last boy to raise his hand in my class had tears in his eyes when he said that his best friend was absolutely, for sure moving to Canada. Those Clinton campaign ads that showed kids watching a feral Donald Trump on TV had it partly right; our kids are watching. But the examples set by parents are a far more powerful influence than anything he could ever say.
When I got home from News Club, Ethan told me about call from a friend of ours who lives on the West Side of Los Angeles, an area that is home to at least some of those celebrities who’ve also pledged to leave the U.S. now that President Trump is coming soon. When that friend left for work the morning after the election, an effigy of the president-elect was hanging from a neighbor’s tree. I wondered how many kids had seen that on their way to school and whether their take away had been that if you truly hate someone passionately enough, go right ahead and string them up from the highest branch.