Resist or Survive? Parenting Under an Authoritarian Regime

Living and raising children under an authoritarian regime will force us to confront who we want our children to be.
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This is not the article I was expecting to write.

I thought I’d be writing about how the election of our first woman president would bolster my efforts at raising my son to reject misogyny, rape, locker room talk and the many other toxic aspects of bro culture.

I was thrilled that he’d grow up, over the next four years at least, in a world where the person in the top job, the most powerful person on earth, the single most visible role model for children as they begin to dream of what is possible for them, would be a woman.

As we all know, that scenario, once so seemingly certain, now appears all but dead. Unless the ongoing recount, or some other unprecedented event, reverses the election-night results, we’ll soon have to confront the unthinkable reality of Donald Trump assuming the Presidency.

What that means for our republic is nightmarish. Trump has promised mass deportations of Latino immigrants, forced registrations of Muslims, and criminal prosecution of his political opponents. He’s said he would order our military to commit torture and other war crimes. He’s threatened retaliation against media outlets that cover him unfavorably, and joked about murdering journalists.

All this is straight out of the authoritarian’s playbook, which also invariably prescribes the arrest and detention of anyone who speaks out against or is otherwise deemed a threat to the regime.

As a Latino, I feel vulnerable. Trump openly and disgustingly disparaged Latinos from the very first minutes of his campaign. I’m a U.S.-born citizen, and the son of a legal immigrant. Still, Trump has spoken of eliminating birthright citizenship, and recently mused about stripping people’s citizenship to punish them for acts of protest.

Moreover, his pronouncements are so arbitrary, so erratic, that there’s no telling what kind of executive order he might issue one day. It’s impossible to feel safe under those circumstances.

What Trumpism Means for Parents

That being the case, is teaching my son to be an enlightened, self-aware feminist a luxury I can no longer afford? Might it now be more imperative to begin teaching him about authoritarianism, about the Holocaust, about resistance, and possibly some basic wilderness survival skills?

Our bleak new reality does not change the basic questions parents must ask themselves, though. Last month, in the context of raising my son to reject misogyny, I asked: “What kind of person do I want him to be, and how do I model that?”

This self-scrutiny is more important than ever, with an avowed sexual assaulter soon to occupy the Oval Office, to say nothing of the ongoing nationwide outbreak of hate involving nearly 900 reported cases of harassment, intimidation and violence committed by white supremacists emboldened by his apparent victory.

It feels utterly bizarre to write these words, but here goes: Living and raising children under an authoritarian regime will force us to face who we are, and who we want our children to be, in the starkest manner possible.

I find myself considering scenarios I’d previously only imagined abstractly. A gang of armed thugs starts to beat someone, a Muslim woman, let’s say, right in front of me. Do I physically engage, and risk being beaten or killed myself?

Or, government security forces come to my neighbors’ house late one night and drag the whole family away. Do I intervene, and risk being arrested, tortured, disappeared along with them?

The Choice: Resistance or Survival

How would that help my son? He needs me alive and intact. How would he benefit from growing up fatherless in the age of Trump, perhaps after seeing me murdered before his eyes? What principle of good parenting is served by making his last memory of me the sight of armed men dragging me out of bed, handcuffing me and throwing me into the back of a pickup truck?

How am I protecting him by putting myself at risk? And how am I protecting him by teaching him to resist?

I’m reminded of African American parents who have “the talk” with their children about how to conduct themselves when stopped by the police. Because what matters is getting home alive, not how successfully you litigate the 4th Amendment at midnight on a dark road.

Maybe resistance is itself a luxury, a vestige of an America that no longer exists.

On the other hand, what is my legacy to him if he reaches adulthood knowing that I did nothing, that I kept my mouth shut out of fear?

I am angry as hell that these are the questions I am having to ask myself.