My girls know the name “Donald Trump.”
They’re 4, so they don’t attach any meaning to his name, like whether he’s a villain or a prince. But I watch a lot of news, so they’re familiar.
They even know Trump is running for president — because I’ve told them so, and I like to flirt with the notion that they care about politics.
You can imagine my fatherly excitement when Hillary Clinton’s picture was on screen as the results of the Nevada caucus were coming in, and Annabel asked, “Is she president?”
“No,” I said, “not yet.”
We didn’t get into the nuance of my punditry there; I figure that’s more for 5-year-olds.
Still, anytime I’m watching the election, I’m hoping for a picture of Hillary Clinton. The twins pay a lot of attention at this age to who is a boy and a girl, and to what that person is doing.
One time they told me that there were no boys allowed in their play tent — which, when you think about it, is a pretty pointed rule when you have two dads. Likewise, I’ve nicknamed them as “pickle head” or “doll face” only to be corrected, “I’m a little girl!”
Naturally, I want them to know that little girls can grow up to be president — even if it hasn’t happened yet.
Back at the start of the primary, when MSNBC’s Rachel Maddow gleefully filled the TV screen with the absurd checkerboard of candidates running for president on the Republican side, I definitely worried the girls might notice. I worried in the same way a dad might when fast-forwarding past the scary snow monster in Frozen. The giant GOP board was all men’s faces, save for Carly Fiorina lost in the corner.
When we adopted the girls, everyone counseled us about “attachment,” and how for other parents it’s easy to say to your daughter, “Oh, you and Daddy have the same nose.” Or, “You have your father’s eyes.” We literally don’t have the same nose or eyes. Instead, we both love flowers, or we both love tater tots, or we both love one another.
In the same way that the girls search for similarities with their parents, I’m sure they recognize shared characteristics in the rest of the world. The quest seems to be starting with what girls can do, and what boys can do.
The other day while listening to Spotify, an album cover for some hipster band was on my TV screen, and Annabel asked, “Is that boy wearing pony tails?” I looked up from our coloring sheets, and sure enough, he was. “Yes,” I said proudly, “boys can wear pony tails if they want.”
Similarly, Annabel points out that she has a mole on her arm, and her sister Audrey doesn’t. They both have freckles, but they’re not in the same place. Imagine that.
It’s like a constant game of Highlights magazine, which we get in the mail. Every issue includes the side-by-side pictures encouraging kids to identify what’s the same and what’s different. Look, that cat is wearing a red sweater, and that one has no sweater! I’m sure there’s some valuable developmental reason to have this skill. But trust me, it would happen regardless, even without a worksheet.
That’s why firsts matter.
It will be important to have the first woman president, just like it was important to have the first black president.
I love the viral video going around recently of the 106-year-old woman who visited the Obamas during a Black History Month celebration. She danced and was outwardly amazed to be in the presence of a black president, and his black wife. She was joyful, and proud. I’m sure it’s a feeling hard to describe, especially for me, a white man.
I joked to my husband that one day he’ll be 106 and dancing at the White House with the first gay president. Maybe then we’d fully comprehend the feeling.
People rise to expectations; at least I know kids do. If you don’t expect them to clean up their space after dinner, then they don’t do it. If you don’t expect them to become president, maybe it works the same way.
If you tell millions of young girls that only men have been president, I can’t imagine that leaves zero impact on their definition of that word, “president.”
With all that said, it’s been disturbing to me how little attention has been paid to the important first that Bernie Sanders would also bring for our country.
The New Hampshire primary marked the very first time in our country’s history that a Jewish-American had won a delegate to become president of the United States. Perhaps unbelievably — or all too believably, if you’re Jewish — that milestone had never happened before. Joe Lieberman never became vice president, and his unsuccessful run for president ended without any elected delegates.
At least we can tell the kids that the Supreme Court includes both Jewish Americans and women. And only a few years ago Nancy Pelosi became the first woman to be Speaker of the House — “Madam Speaker.”
On the Republican side, it was considered a big deal that House majority leader Eric Cantor was next in line to become Speaker of the House because he’s Jewish. Of course, it didn’t turn out that way, with Cantor losing reelection. The country still has never had a Jewish-American in that office, or the vice presidency, or the presidency.
I’m imagining Jewish parents out there somewhere who’d like to keep that information from their kids for as long as it takes to ensure the news doesn’t shape their child’s definition of the offices.
Many of those parents, and their parents, have probably grown up assuming they’d never live to see this country elect a Jewish president. Whether we acknowledge it often enough, Americans have an anti-Semitic past — and present. Same goes in a lot of areas, whether it’s mistreatment of women, or LGBT people, or African-Americans, and now Muslims. It seems there’s always some new group to kick around.
I’d love to show the girls a checkerboard of presidential candidates from all kinds of backgrounds. I want its diversity to be overwhelming, so I can say confidently, that anyone can be president.
Realistically, that’s not the world we live in.
In this reality, someone has to say — because it’s too important to ignore — how impressive it would be to have the first woman president, and the first Jewish president. Or, on the Republican side, the first Hispanic president.
Sometimes I get the feeling that people, the media included, think it’s really no big deal that Sanders is Jewish.
While I don’t support Sanders or Clinton or Cruz or Rubio, I’m a booster for visibility. It’s good for all of us. LGBT people have worked hard to ensure characters on the big screen and the small screen represent us. Nothing about representation means we have to vote our identities.
Activist Robin Tyler — a Jewish lesbian living in California, where she fought a legal battle for the right to wed — is a “100 percent supporter” of Clinton. "I know that Bernie Sanders is Jewish. I am Jewish, a woman, a democratic socialist and was raised under democratic socialism in Manitoba, Canada,” she tells me, going on to note that she likes Clinton’s practical, incremental approach to change, and that Clinton agrees with Sanders on a majority of policies. “So it is not a matter of my Jewish self versus my woman self. They are not in conflict.”
While celebrity Sanders-supporter Susan Sarandon proclaimed, “I don’t vote with my vagina,” that’s not the same as disregarding a candidate’s gender altogether, or their religion, or their sexual orientation, or the color of their skin.
It's not racist to have voted for Barack Obama because you agree with his policies, and also to have put a plus-one in his column because he’s breaking the glass ceiling that looms over all minorities.
On the other hand, it would be discriminatory to put a minus-one in a person’s column based on their race, or gender, or religion, or sexual orientation. That’s what I think is happening to both Clinton and Sanders.
I’ve spoken to Jews who’ve said they discounted his chances of winning because he’s Jewish. They know first-hand the impact of discrimination. Black voters used to have a similar doubt about Barack Obama and originally favored Clinton in large numbers, until Obama started winning.
Likewise, anyone who doesn’t see discrimination against Jews happening right now probably isn’t Jewish and just doesn’t know where to look.
That Sanders is Jewish is rarely ever mentioned — except as part of a list of reasons he can't win in the general. Critics like to call him a radical Jewish socialist from Brooklyn by way of Vermont. Sometimes this list sounds like everyday punditry, and other times it sounds more anti-Semitic. Take, for example, the precinct captain in Nevada who reportedly named being a Jew not as part of ho-hum electability challenges but among a bulleted list of reasons to vote against Sanders — and instead for Clinton.
But really, why put being Jewish on any list of potential barriers to being elected at all? When you're already running against someone who would become the first woman in the Oval Office, isn't it a wash? Wouldn’t both Clinton and Sanders face discrimination? Or, by listing being Jewish, are Sanders' critics arguing it's less likely the country would vote for a Jewish president than a woman?
Pundits like to say that Hillary Clinton is seen as “more electable” in the general election because of her vast experience, which is surely true. But how much of why Sanders is considered unelectable has nothing to do with his age, or his democratic socialism, but is actually about his Jewishness?
The other argument goes that Sanders isn't actually all that Jewish. The International Business Times reported this month on what it called “the ambivalence of American Jews toward Sanders.” There were similarly offensive arguments about Obama early in the 2008 election when he still hadn’t won over black voters from the Clinton campaign. The cable chatterboxes used to say that Obama didn’t talk enough about being black.
Here we are again with Bernie Sanders, who — it’s true — works on the Jewish new year of Rosh Hashanah and doesn't regularly attend services in Vermont or elsewhere. But it's also true that his father's family in Poland was slaughtered by the Nazis. I doubt that had Bernie Sanders been there, he would’ve been considered not Jewish enough to murder.
Those who are prejudiced among us only know one kind of Jewish. Everyone to them is Jewish enough. Everyone to them is black enough, or gay enough.
Mitt Romney was also criticized for not talking about his religion enough, with pundits repeatedly praising the example set by John F. Kennedy, who gave a memorable speech during his 1960 campaign about religion and being Catholic. Voters during his time were weary about the Vatican’s influence on American politics. Well, at least prejudiced voters were. Evangelical leaders such as Billy Graham and their ilk said the country would go to hell if a Catholic were elected.
Likewise, worry among the punditocracy was a Mormon like Romney couldn’t win the Republican primary because of evangelicals. Indeed, I was taught as a child in evangelical churches that Mormons are part of a cult, and that I should steer clear.
Growing up evangelical, I was told gays were going to hell. Everyone knows that. I was also told Jews would be there with me. But almost no one in the media talks about what evangelicals say about Jews. We're all facing down the same collective.
It was sad, my pastors would say, that these otherwise nice people had been misled and refused to acknowledge that Jesus is the son of God. The Bible, they said, guarantees that everyone gets at least one chance to accept Jesus in their hearts. The Jews refuse Jesus, they told me. So they've sealed their fate in hell.
This is not an old timey, antiquated view among evangelicals. Ted Cruz might very well believe it. He was endorsed by the director of the International House of Prayer in Kansas City, pastor Mike Bickle, who said Hitler is the result of Jews refusing to acknowledge Jesus as their savior. Cruz didn’t take several days to disavow the endorsement (like Donald Trump did with the racist and anti-Semitic David Duke), instead he touted the endorsement on his website and in a news release.
This kind of evangelical doesn't trust Jews, or Mormons, or gays. They would never vote for someone on God’s bad side, because that would be the end of this country's favored status and quite likely lead us to the end times.
I know, this sounds insane. And yet here's exactly what pastor Bickle said: “The Lord says, ‘I’m going to give all 20 million of them the chance to respond to the fisherman. And I give them grace. And I give them grace.’ And he says, ‘And if they don’t respond to grace, I’m going to raise up the hunters.’ And the most famous hunter in recent history is a man named Adolf Hitler.”
The Ted Cruz campaign was more widely called anti-Semitic when attacking Donald Trump for supposed “New York values,” which many translated as “Jewish values.” More frequently, though, Cruz is heard jockeying for title as Biggest, Best Friend to Israel. Republicans these days ally with Israel to bolster their credentials as hawks. But this is also the conflicted party that wants to win women’s votes and defund Planned Parenthood, and that purportedly welcomes Caitlyn Jenner but passes bathroom bills.
LGBT people who’ve paid attention to the news know especially well that anti-Semitism can creep in under the radar. Take what happened in Chicago at Creating Change, where a group of liberal activists thought it was protesting Israel's treatment of Palestinians but ended up chanting a phrase — “From the river to the sea, Palestine will be free” — that actually implies the extermination of Israel. I imagine a number of well meaning young people who joined in still don't understand how that happened. How did they wind up part of a crowd that pulled a yarmulke off an old man's head and covered him in a Palestinian flag?
Similarly, Nation of Islam leader Louis Farrakhan said just a few days ago that Donald Trump deserves credit for refusing “Jewish” money, which Farrakhan says is out there trying to control the presidency.
I'm sorry, Democrats, to break it to you. But no matter which candidate the party runs this year, that person will face the quiet and unkind winds of prejudice. Remember all those times Barack Obama was painted as foreign, and other, by calling him a socialist? Now racists can easily hide behind that label because Sanders actually is a democratic socialist. If somehow Sanders upends the delegate math facing him after Super Tuesday, we’ll all have that to look forward to.
Every LGBT person, every minority of any kind, has common cause in electing a person who can overcome those who want so desperately to keep us down — and "Make America Great Again."
I should probably worry, as a father, about what will be on my TV a year from now. Could we be on the verge of President Trump? Before he’s up for reelection, my girls will have lived half their lives with Trump in the White House. If the country wants “four more years,” my girls would be 12 when he leaves office. All of those years Trump would be allowed to define the word “America.”