If nothing else, Donald Trump has provided Americans with a staggering number of teachable moments over the past year and a half.
After all, it was Mr. Trump who created the opportunity for millions of parents to walk their children through the nuances of new and exciting expressions like “grab them by the pussy” and “I moved on her like a bitch.” In the same vein, Donald Trump boldly taught young girls everywhere that if they speak up for themselves and challenge expectations, they can — they should — expect to be referred to as pigs, dogs, slobs and, ultimately, as “nasty women” by the men, boys and man-boys in their lives.
Bonus round: Explaining why a grown man would brag about aggressively hitting on married women is a way to drop even more science on those curious kiddies.
Candidate Trump generously opened the door to conversations about the most effective way to mock disabled people, and no one can doubt his contribution to the debate on whether a nominee ought to condemn or ignore his backers’ calls for the jailing and even the violent death of his opponent. Donald Trump opted for the latter.
Finally, it was Mr. Trump who showed America’s youth that lying — about the nation’s crime rate, about President Obama’s country of birth, about “thousands and thousands” of Arab-Americans cheering the 9/11 terror attacks, and on and on — is something that comes to powerful people as naturally as breathing. (Kids: If your parents tell you not to lie, remind them that Donald Trump’s booty-call relationship with the truth effectively won him the White House.)
Now, while we watch Mr. Trump assemble his cabinet as if he’s populating his own private island of misfit far-right toys, it’s clear we’re in the midst of the most teachable moment of all. In fact, hard on the heels of the Electoral College affirming Trump’s victory, the central lesson our kids are learning from our next president and from so many of his proponents — including the KKK, white “nationalists” and other melanin-obsessed stooges — is that sometimes the bad guys win.
Of course, we’re not supposed to say that sort of thing out loud, or declare it so bluntly. We’re expected to talk about Mr. Trump, his kowtowing enablers (Christie, Giuliani, Gingrich, et al.) and the most extreme of his supporters in civil terms. We’re expected to embrace the charade that however profoundly Mr. Trump debased the national discourse, however cynical his bogus populism might be ― in short, however unprincipled Mr. Trump’s entire run for the presidency certainly was, those of us who distrust him now have to suck it up and treat him with respect.
The people, we’re told, have spoken.
And they have. Sort of.
But let’s not forget that it was Mr. Trump and his fans who giddily ratcheted up the Us vs. Them rhetoric throughout the campaign, painting Secretary Clinton as a traitor who, in the words of one of Trump’s many unsavory advisers, “should be put in the firing line and shot for treason.”
It was Mr. Trump and his right-wing apologists who promoted the caricature of every Clinton-Kaine supporter as a far-left, un-American, coastal elitist. (Imagine: 65 million elitists — and counting!)
It was Mr. Trump who willfully turned his own campaign into a John Birch rally without end — a kind of bile-fueled Rolling Thunder Revue playing to an audience comprised, to an alarming extent, of disaffected, fact-averse, conspiracy-addled white folks.
It was Mr. Trump who, in essence, told millions of non-white Americans and billions of men, women and children around the globe: You and your families are not welcome here.
Admittedly, in many ways, this teachable moment is long overdue, and perhaps we should be grateful to Trump, Pence, Bannon, Ryan, McConnell and the rest of that sour, exclusionary fraternity for helping our children see the light.
For years our kids have watched movies where the hero triumphs, the divorced mom and dad reconcile, the princess finds her prince, the monster reunites with the little girl who taught him that laughter is more powerful than fear. We all wish, futilely, that those feel-good endings might reflect our lived reality. We all want our kids to live in a world where quaint, old-school values — fair play, fellowship, shared sacrifice, good will — somehow prevail.
But they don’t. Not always. Sometimes, the more audacious and unhinged the liar, the more readily people believe him. Sometimes, the misogynist doesn’t have to answer for his hateful words and disgusting actions. Sometimes, the thin-skinned, perpetually aggrieved, race-baiting fantasist wins — and it’s just as well that our kids learn that now.
So, thank you, Mr. Trump, for blessing America with this ultimate teachable moment. And rest assured: few of us will forget its lessons any time soon.