My 4-year-old twin daughters like to hum Katy Perry. That’s because my husband listens to pop stars while driving home. It’s cute when a preschooler with pigtails is singing “Firework.” Not as cute when they’re worried about Donald Trump.
Everyone knows to be careful what you say within earshot. To communicate with my husband about sensitive topics, we long ago became those people who spell “I-C-E-C-R-E-A-M,” which is triggering for children.
But talking about the election at the dinner table gets especially treachorous. After that filthy tape of Trump bragging about sexual harassment, my husband and I vaguely exchanged astonishments.
“What did Donald Trump say?” asked Audrey, sitting on her knees on the bench.
She caught me by surprise — first, because I didn’t think she was listening, and second, because she really wanted an answer. Those big brown eyes looked up at me with sincere concern.
I couldn’t tell her a candidate for president talked about hurting women. She’s already aware that growing up will make her a woman. I’ll break it to her, one day, that women are paid 70 cents on the dollar and rapists aren’t punished. For now I want the world to seem absolutely filled with possibilities.
So I told Audrey that whatever Trump said couldn’t be repeated, that it was something naughty her father would never say.
Audrey assumed he’d said “what the heck” — which is admittedly a high bar set solely so we can make a point about bad language. The girls will one day be allowed more idiomatic outbursts, but for now, even an errant “what the heck” is a useful chance to explain that some expressions are considered impolite. We talk about why it hurts people’s feelings to “hate” and that it’s important to “include people.” From there, I’ve somehow engendered a Hillary Clinton voter.
“I hope Donald Trump doesn’t win,” Audrey told the table.
That surprised me too. My husband gave me that silent look that says, Well, that’s a new one.
It always troubled me whenever kids spouted opinions that are beyond their years. Kids are too easily influenced, so having political views always struck me as evidence of manipulation.
Then came Donald Trump. And I learned that parents can’t avoid discussions about American values when they’re so constantly challenged. Someone is going to teach your kids principles, and I don’t want to leave the job for the likes of Trump.
It was the first question of the debate on Sunday: “The last debate could have been rated as MA, mature audiences, per TV parental guidelines,” said Patrice Brock, holding the microphone during the town hall. She noted that some kids were probably tuned in because they’d been assigned debate-watching as homework.
I was watching for work. But I remember joining my parents in the living room to take in the presidential debates back when it was Bill Clinton behind the podium. It’s probably a factor in how I wound up a journalist, with elections fostering my inclination to argue and care about issues.
Brock asked the candidates whether they are “modeling appropriate and positive behavior for today's youth.”
The short answer to that question is “no.” We live in California, so the debate started at 6 p.m., which is after dinner but before bedtime for our girls. As I was at home live-tweeting and taking notes for my column, my husband kept the girls safely cloistered upstairs in their bedroom watching The Nut Job — which is a movie starring Will Arnett as an animated squirrel, not a euphemism for the debate.
I caught myself virtually holding my breath throughout the 90 minutes of back-and-forth, because it was so tense, because Bill Clinton’s accusers were in the audience, and because I wanted to close the curtains and keep the entire rest of the civilized world from observing what felt like needed to be a private moment among Americans. At any turn, someone might accuse a former president of rape, or note Trump saying he wants to “grab them by the pussy.” The whole thing was gross.
The Trump strategy appeared to be humiliating Hillary Clinton. Three women who say they had sex with her husband looked on in the audience, even as her daughter was seated on the other end of the room. Millions watched her every move on television. He threatened to put her in jail, called her the "devil," pointing his finger and saying "shame." Clinton kept her composure, though, despite Donald Trump lurking a few feet behind during any answer to the audience.
I don’t want Donald Trump as president for the same reason I scan the Spotify playlist in the car. You have to skip the not-safe-for-children songs marked “expletive.” Or race to hit the power-off button when you realize we’re not listening to Taylor Swift anymore.
Hillary Clinton had mentioned Michelle Obama’s speech made to the Democratic National Convention for its “When they go low, we go high” enjoinder. But as I heard the girls squealing with laughter about a cartoon, I was already thinking about that speech because of the first lady’s warning about Trump corrupting our children.
“This election, and every election, is about who will have the power to shape our children for the next four or eight years of their lives,” she said to applause. “And I am here tonight because in this election, there is only one person who I trust with that responsibility.”
LUCAS GRINDLEY is editorial director for Here Media. Contact him @lucasgrindley.